Lisa Heydlauff came from the UK two decades ago to find out how children go to school in India. While she found her answer in quick time, she also realised that children, especially from indigent homes needed to be shown the entrepreneurial path to have any chance at cracking the future.
This led Heydlauff to launch Map of Me (MoM), a mobile channel that celebrates young entrepreneurial efforts in India. MoM is part of Going to School (GTS), a not-for-profit company founded by her that makes design-driven stories, books, graphic novels, games, and television series to teach impoverished children. Heydlauff speaks…Excerpts:
When did the idea of MoM come to you and what made you think of this approach?
The idea came to me when stuck in traffic in Bengaluru I looked over and saw young people on a bus, also stuck in traffic, scrolling on their mobile phones. I know I impatiently wanted to get out of the traffic to go where I needed to go, yet they seemed patient and knew what to do with three hours. It gave me the idea that the long commute to work by public transport, trains, buses, metros, if you could design a skills platform for that then you’d enable young people to use that time to learn the skills they need to get new jobs or make the jump to becoming entrepreneurs. It wasn’t the same captive audience as schools, but another audience of young people who were already at work and wanted to do more.
Do you believe the Indian youth has it in them to become excellent entrepreneurs?
Yes, I think we all do. We need new narratives and stories though to encourage young people to think that being an entrepreneur is a choice, not a fall back option. The narratives we see still are of wildly successful businessmen who are multi-millionaires. Then we talk about bootstrapping, ‘jugaad’, or social enterprise. Let’s just go straight to it and be honest with young people – the global economy will never be able to create enough jobs for everyone, and even if it could, would you as a young person want that job which will always be insecure? Why not look at what you can control.
The world is a mess. Full of problems. Every problem is an opportunity for you to be a problem-solving entrepreneur to solve the problem for you and everyone around you. Young people in India, or every person across the globe has the potential to be an entrepreneur, they just need to find the big reason why, the problem they want to solve and take a risk to begin.
In your experience is there gender differences amongst entrepreneurs which you may have gathered? Do women score better or worse?
The data on young women entrepreneurs is not robust and that’s because we’re up against a lot, women are still largely in traditional careers and sectors when they do work or become entrepreneurs, food, childcare, sewing/fashion, beauty – and we are not expected to make it long term because of marriage and children and balancing a home.
There are so many things that have to come into place from families, culture, support systems like childcare, to enable women to make it. Often entrepreneurship for women is seen as home-based; what can she do at home? On her doorstep? Someone once asked me, I want her out of the house, so other young women see her, a proximity role model, riding a scooter, taking the bus, participating in the world around her, going to work in a new field – clean energy, solar, biomass, STEM careers, coding, running a funky food truck – doing whatever it is that women haven’t done yet at scale to open the doors for many more women to the same. I often think we’re waiting for someone else to go first.
Time has run out. India needs us at work, fully participating in all new sectors and ventures to balance the odds, to take on Climate Change, to make our cities safe, just, inclusive. Being a woman at work, a woman entrepreneur is not just about work, it’s about changing everywhere we go by sometimes just turning up.
Who is the youngest entrepreneur you have encountered so far?
I met a boy who was 13 who had a story, a business in his mind, a second-hand shoe story he called it, he told me an amazing story about quality, pricing, marketing and he had super clean white shoes to go to school.
How will you take MoM offline when schools start?
MoM works online, for young people age 18-23 it’s a free platform powered by video, young people we hope will tune in, visit the site, app every morning on their commute to work on public transport to learn skills for work, explore new enterprises, answer our quiz questions to win fun stuff like a bicycle and helmet to cycle to college or work.
For our secondary audience of young people in Grade 11 and 12, there are 26 steps to making a new life plan focusing on school to work transition. The benefits of MoM is that it’s free, funky and in each language of each city with bespoke content. With a global telecoms supporter of BT, the platform and content is set up to reach millions of young people on the way to work to enable them to discover new things they might like to do and dually to reach young people in government schools who are currently offline – by BT volunteers taking the content on mobile phones, tablets, laptops to schools young people not only get to make new life plans and online bullet journals, they meet young people with jobs they might like to do and can ask them lots of questions about how they did it.
Has the lockdown proved a bit more beneficial for MoM, given that the young are increasingly online?
Not really, I think we still want to meet other people in real life and we get our ideas for what’s next by coming together. Turning up, talking in person can’t be replaced by technology especially when it comes to how young people learn at school, which is together with helpful skilled adults chatting equally.