Article: Nasscom Foundation’s Nidhi Bhasin on the power of technology to drive social impact


Nasscom Foundation’s Nidhi Bhasin on the power of technology to drive social impact

In conversation with Nidhi Bhasin, discover how nasscom foundation is reshaping the landscape of digital literacy, skill development, and gender diversity, guided by their unwavering commitment to TechForGood.
Nasscom Foundation’s Nidhi Bhasin on the power of technology to drive social impact

Nidhi Bhasin, CEO of nasscom foundation is spearheading transformative initiatives underscoring their core philosophy, TechForGood. With a steadfast commitment to gender equality and empowerment, Nidhi is reshaping the landscape of the tech industry.

Beyond simply embracing technology, technology is used as a catalyst for social change, particularly in addressing the needs of marginalised communities. Through a spectrum of programmes, nasscom foundation is unlocking the potential of technology to foster inclusive growth.

In this exclusive interview with Nidhi, we discover firsthand the innovative initiatives. It's an opportunity to witness the transformative power of technology in action, guided by a visionary leader at the forefront of change.

Here are some key excerpts.

Nasscom Foundation has been instrumental in enhancing digital literacy in aspirational districts across India. Could you elaborate on some of the key initiatives and programmes aimed at achieving this goal?

To bolster the government’s Digital India vision, nasscom foundation launched its Aspirational Districts Programme in December 2022. The core objectives are twofold: first, to create a digitally empowered society by prioritising digital literacy, and second, to bridge the skilling gap amongst youth at the grassroots level. Through our digital literacy and e-governance program across India’s aspirational districts, we have covered 45 districts across 20 states. This initiative aims to make technology accessible to the last mile, thereby empowering communities to become digitally literate and enabling them to access government schemes.

The establishment of Digital Resource Centers (DRCs) is central to bridging the digital divide, playing a vital role in allowing technology access and fostering digital literacy among community members, including youth, women, senior citizens, and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). These centres assist community members in accessing government welfare schemes via e-governance services. This is facilitated through training sessions led by trained Digital Ambassadors who, being deeply integrated within the communities, are adept at understanding and addressing the unique challenges of imparting technological training.

Through our recent collaboration with DXC Technology, we have successfully digitally empowered more than 300,000 beneficiaries in digital skills.

What challenges and opportunities exist in bridging the skill gap among India's youth in Tier 2 and 3 cities, and how do you address them through your programmes?

In a nation as vast and diverse as India, equipping the youth with the skills to thrive in the digital age presents a complex and rewarding challenge. While there is significant progress in upskilling youth with both emerging and foundational skills, a critical gap remains in job opportunities, especially in the IT sector. As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in the October to December period last year, unemployment in India’s youth aged 20 to 24 years rose to 44.49%, from 43.65% in the previous quarter. 

Additionally, the widening gap between academia and industry also highlights the need for creating a supportive ecosystem and programmes particularly in smaller cities witnessing an influx of young graduates each year. While urban India races ahead with access to advanced technologies and training opportunities, a significant portion of the youth population especially in Tier 2 and 3 cities lack the critical skill sets demanded by the modern workforce. Yet, it is precisely within these cities that we see immense potential – a burgeoning talent pool brimming with enthusiasm and eager to contribute to India's digital economy.

Bridging this skill gap is not just about economic empowerment but also about creating a future where every young Indian has the chance to excel in their career fields.

There is also the issue of skill mismatch, where aligning the skills taught with the actual demands of the job market can be difficult. As per the National Scholarship Portal, only 2.7% of India’s workforce has received formal skill training, compared to 52% in the United States, 80% in Japan, and 96% in South Korea. The explosion of digital technologies has increased the responsibility of industry because they need to work hand-in-hand to bring academia up to speed. There is a massive demand and supply gap of talent skilled in digital technologies. Furthermore, there is often a lack of awareness about the importance of digital skills and available opportunities, coupled with low motivation among youth to pursue these skills. 

Despite these challenges, there are significant opportunities that can be leveraged. The growing demand for digital skills in various industries presents a substantial opportunity to equip youth with relevant skills that can lead to better employment opportunities. Initiatives could include:

  • Utilising online learning platforms and digital tools to help overcome geographical barriers and provide flexible learning options.
  • Encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial ventures to help the youth create their own job opportunities and drive local economic growth.
  • Developing training materials in regional languages and contextually relevant content to make learning more accessible and effective.

By addressing these challenges and leveraging the available opportunities, nasscom foundation is making significant strides in bridging the skill gap among India's youth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The Skilling and Employability Program equips young talent, particularly from Tier 2, Tier 3 cities, and rural areas, with in-demand technical and contemporary skills crucial for employability in the evolving digital economy. Implemented in collaboration with various tech-based organisations including Adobe, Accenture, Gen, Statestreet etc. the programme has skilled over one lakh beneficiaries empowering them to meet industry requirements and enhance workplace productivity. 

The Women Wizards Rule Tech Program has been a game-changer in revolutionising gender diversity in India's tech industry. Could you share insights into the program's objectives, achievements, and future outlook?

The Women Wizards Rule Tech (W2RT) Program aims to upskill women professionals in emerging technologies through a comprehensive curriculum and a collaborative industry initiative. The key features of the programme's curriculum include an in-depth understanding of 7 emerging technologies such as AI, ML Big Data Analytics etc. The programme also offers professional life skills sessions conducted by C- Suite level leaders to ensure participants are equipped with technical expertise and the necessary skills for career growth and success.

The impact of the W2RT program on women professionals, particularly in terms of career advancement and transitioning to higher-level tech roles within their organisations, has been profound. One of the programme's unique strengths lies in its accessibility, welcoming women participants regardless of their prior tech experience. The programme is meticulously designed to accommodate women with varying levels of technical experience, ensuring inclusivity and effectiveness across all participants. Its structure encompasses the foundational aspects of each emerging technology, progressing to advanced levels throughout the cohort duration. This unique approach enables individuals from diverse job roles, whether technical or non-technical, to develop comprehensive expertise in technology by the program's conclusion.

The impact of the W2RT program has been significant, empowering 12,600 women professionals and 60% of alumnae from Cohorts 1 and 2 transitioned to higher-level tech roles.

The programme has created an ecosystem involving over 190 companies, more than 100 SMEs, 500+ mentors, and 34 role models through four cohorts. Participation has expanded to the APAC and EMEA regions, with each cohort engaging in a one-year blended self-learning model.

The program's long-term objectives revolve around raising awareness among women across various job roles about the capabilities of future technologies. In 2022-23, the program saw over 2,500 participants and 1,900 graduates, highlighting its success in fostering inclusive growth in tech and this year 3,000 women will be onboarded. 

Beyond skilling and training programs, what other avenues does the nasscom foundation explore to create an inclusive ecosystem for women in technology, and how do these efforts contribute to long-term sustainability and impact?

At nasscom foundation, we are deeply committed to fostering an inclusive tech ecosystem where women can thrive. Empowering women in technology forms the very cornerstones of most of our programs including Skilling and Employability, Women Entrepreneurship Program and Social Innovation. 

The Women Entrepreneurship Programme has empowered over 1,00,000 rural women entrepreneurs to leverage online platforms such as YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and WhatsApp Business to promote their products, access relevant government schemes, and reach a wider audience to enhance their businesses. We extend support to the existing women entrepreneurs in rural areas of India by providing digital skills training to women from marginalised communities, enabling them to achieve better livelihoods. By building on their digital skills, many women in rural areas have excelled at market linkages and financial literacy. They are also able to showcase their products on technology platforms, becoming more competitive.

Recognising that women are underrepresented in the IT sector compared to men, we are actively working to bridge this gap. Our Skilling and Employability Programme focuses on upskilling more women (60% women), enabling them to become an integral part of the workforce. The female labour participation rate in India has seen significant improvement, rising from 23.3% in 2017-18 to 37% in 2022-23, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey. However, India still ranks as the 13th lowest in female labour force participation among 187 countries for which data is available for 2022. To address this, nasscom foundation is not only providing women with the necessary skills but also advocating for greater employment opportunities for them in the tech industry.

Our efforts contribute to long-term sustainability and impact by fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which is essential for the growth and innovation of the tech sector.

Nasscom foundation's Social Innovation for Youth (SIFY) Programme has also witnessed a rise in women-led startups emerging from the initiative with 37% of learners being women. By fostering creativity, curiosity, and hands-on experiences with cutting-edge technologies like IoT, AI, ML, and 3D printing, the programme is empowering young women to become pioneers in their own right. Through the Innovation Spaces created under SIFY, students, particularly women, have access to state-of-the-art technologies and guidance from experienced mentors. This helps unlock their potential, enabling them to turn ideas into tangible solutions and contribute to technological advancements The increase in women's participation and the emergence of women-led startups in the SIFY Programme demonstrate the positive impact of the organisation’s efforts in creating an inclusive ecosystem for women in technology. 

Based on your experience leading nasscom foundation's initiatives, what advice would you give to organisations and individuals looking to contribute to bridging the gender gap in the tech industry?

Organisations must invest in technology for social impact. Providing accessible digital literacy and training programs is essential. These programs should be tailored to meet the needs of marginalised communities including women, youth, PwDs from diverse backgrounds.

Creating supportive environments is also vital. Establishing mentorship programmes and support networks can guide and inspire women in tech. Role models and mentors play a crucial role in helping women navigate their careers and overcome challenges. Additionally, developing and implementing policies that promote gender diversity and inclusion is important. This includes equitable hiring practices, flexible work arrangements, and clear career advancement paths for women.

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Topics: Leadership, Technology, Learning & Development, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

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