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Vedica Scholars programme: Breaking the mould

The programme aims to get more women into the corporate workforce and retain them

Anjuli Bhargava  |  New Delhi 

After two years of working in the development sector, Tania Tauro, 27, realized she lacked something. It didn't take long for the young professional - with a master's in development studies from Aziz Premji university in Bangalore - to come to the conclusion that she needed a deeper understanding of business, finance and money - integral to any career - before she plunged fully into her chosen area. Yet she knew the "traditional MBA" was not up her alley. Tauro chose the 18 month Vedica Scholars programme - a first of its kind MBA aimed only at girls - as it offered a "management understanding" with a whole host of liberal arts components. Tauro remains focused on a career in development - public health in particular - and is looking forward to shadow (for the month of August) Poonam Mutreja, who works for the Population foundation of India and is co founder of Dastkar. Through the 18 month programme, she feels she has felt a "sea change" in herself. Mayuri Dixit holds a chemical engineering degree from BITS, Pilani. Dixit worked for three years on the evaluation side of marketing campaigns when she realized she too lacked something. While she had the technical competence, Dixit felt she lacked the soft skills and the thought processes to better navigate her career. She felt she was in danger of "stagnating" if she didn't work on this. So Dixit decided to go in for the Vedica programme - which she says has been "thrilling" for her, an experience she doesn't want "to see the end of". She says her male mentor - Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, CEO for Akshay Patra in the UK - has guided her tremendously all the way. She heads to Bangalore for August to shadow entrepreneur Meena Ganesh, who heads Portea Medical. After Vedica, she feels better equipped to go back to her corporate career and focus now on both evaluation and business development. From August 1, 36 senior women professionals in India - CEO, COOs and even CIOs, will have a shadow following them around for a month. They will be shadowed by a bunch of young girls - in the age group of 21-30 - who are about to finish their studies at Vedica Scholars - a uniquely designed MBA programme exclusively designed for girls.

The girls will get an inside view of what it takes to be the CEO, how women at the top achieve a work-life balance and what it takes to stay somewhere once you have got there. The whole idea of Vedica is just that : to ensure that women who come into the workplace and spend several years don't at some stage just drop out - a trend that is commonly witnessed in India and globally. Launched about one year ago by founding dean Anuradha Mathur and co-founder Pramath Sinha, the first batch of 39 girls passes out this December and enters the workplace. Operating from the Shri Aurobindo center for arts and communication, the programme is residential and while it is an MBA, its design is unique with a far wider exposure to the liberal arts and effective communication skills - a factor often missing in management education as we see it in India today. Besides having a male mentor to guide them through the duration, the girls are regularly exposed to speakers from all fields and visiting faculty from all over the world. The idea of an MBA targeted at women struck both the founders almost three years ago with multiple strands of thought coming together. Mathur, who is founding director at 9.9 Media was concerned about two factors - one, women are poorly represented in the corporate world and even more worrying many were dropping out of the sector at various stages. Two, she felt that management education had to stop pretending that the world of work was the same for men and women - it was not and it would help if women recognised that early on and prepared themselves for the challenges that they invariably would face. "Very importantly, young women are not prepared at all for how to cope when they are at crossroads in their lives - either by their families or their institutions; they aren't taught that they must be responsible for themselves; that working shouldn't be a 'choice' for them while it isn't a choice for young men - specially if they want equality in the real sense of the word", says Mathur. She argues that women who enter the workforce can have a meaningful home life and career. "An ordinary aspiration should not remain an extraordinary challenge like it is today". Some of the things that young girls typically are not made aware of is the importance of being financially independent, statistics that show them their chances of marrying late, not marrying at all, or becoming single later - and therefore the increased importance of financial independence, and finally, how difficult it is to come back after taking a break. "They need to understand that they will get married, they will have kids and it's ok", says Sinha. Sinha for his part was seeing what was happening at Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad (where he was founding dean) where they were doing their best to increase enrollment of women (it's now reached 31 per cent from 16 per cent when it started) whereas at the Young India fellowship (YIP) at Ashoka there were many more women (ratio was almost 50-50). And Sinha realized that a lot of the women coming to YIP were those who were resurrecting themselves from a failure at the IITs and other competitive examinations. "Girls don't seem keen to take coaching classes and these kind of competitive exams which is perhaps another reason for their lower presence at MBA schools", says Sinha. Many questioned the relevance of an all-girls programme in today's day and age but the founders feel that the all girls environment forces the girls to take up roles and challenges that would not happen if they were in a mixed environment. "You see any festival or show organized say at a co-ed institution and you will see girls doing the typical roles - hospitality, catering, receiving guests and so on whereas all physically more challenging tasks will be handed over to the boys. An all girls environment breaks these traditional molds", says Sinha, who has been on the board of Welham girls school for several years and seen this closely. Will girls like Tauro and Dixit be in a better position to cross the hurdles that millions of working women face when they arrive at them ? We'll know in a decade. An attempt to help them do so is certainly on.

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First Published: Wed, August 03 2016. 00:30 IST
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