06 Jul 2018 21:23 IST

Creating value-conscious, innovative leaders

TalentEase conducts leadership programmes in urban and rural schools and colleges

Does education begin and end at schools and colleges? Is the knowledge we acquire at such institutions enough to develop the leader in us? Leo Fernandez, CEO of TalentEase, believes that traditional teaching methods most often focus on academics, leaving students unprepared for real life.

This is why he and Pradeep Anthony, the COO, created TalentEase in 2012. The company supplements the knowledge young learners gain at educational institutions with skills and values that will shape their personalities. “Since we began, we have run leadership programmes in over 75 schools and colleges for children, young adults, principals, teachers and parents. Unlike courses that are designed as single or short-burst interventions, we accompany the children from one year to the next,” says Leo. This is in hopes that they go on to become value-conscious, innovative leaders.

He says three pillars of thought hold up the company. They are: What skills will today’s children and young adults need in work and in life; what do employers look for as skills and values; and what is the best way this can be learnt.

Explaining TalentEase’s teaching methods, Leo says, “The student is at the centre of our sessions; we believe that every child or young adult already has leadership qualities within them and the onus is on us to help them discover, develop and unleash those qualities. Our content, facilitator selection and training, delivery methodology and quality processes are all based on this belief.” The trainers use games, activities, movie clips and video inputs to facilitate this leadership learning process.

Over 15,000 children and young adults are currently participating in ongoing programmes.

LightLives project

According to McKinsey Global Institute, there will be more than 4.2 billion consumers from emerging markets by 2025. In an attempt to train leaders from developed markets to work in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment like India, Leo and Pradeep started the LightLives project in 2016.

The programme provides foreign students the opportunity to hone their leadership skills by working with underprivileged people in India. “Emerging markets are the future. If someone from a developed market is to serve an emerging market, they will need experiences that facilitate ‘glocal’ thinking. As a part of LightLives, we host students from foreign universities and schools, and get them to work on different projects at low-income schools and orphanages for a designated period,” explains Leo. They currently work with 13 orphanages across Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

“It isn’t about doing charity or volunteering work; it’s a leadership programme. The first thing we tell the students is that they shouldn’t sympathise with the people they work with – both sides learn from the other. In fact, the foreign students do 70 per cent of the learning,” he adds.

Since individuals are easier to handle than larger numbers, LightLives has tested the potential of the project with one student at a time before moving on to groups.

New experiences

Dominic Baber Norris, from Southampton University, UK, was the first person to participate in the LightLives project. He was asked to teach at a Tamil-medium school in Ennore. After the first day, he wanted to go back home as he had a difficult time communicating with people. “But I asked him to stay for a few more days and see how it goes,” says Leo.

Dominic decided to stay, and the month he spent in Chennai changed his life. “I was able to develop and learn a lot about myself, which will help me in the future. It’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone. At times, I was frustrated and felt like giving up. However, I always got back on track and this experience has shown me that I can do anything, with a little time and patience,” he says.

New territory

In June, they hosted two groups from National University of Singapore (NUS) at St Charles School, Yelagiri, Tamil Nadu, for two weeks each. The first group, which could not interact with the Indian students as they were on vacation, re-designed the school library. The NUS students brought around 300 books with them, for readers of different ages, and labelled and organised the book shelves. They also painted the walls and did some interior decorating work.

The second group divided itself into sub-groups and worked on two projects. While one bunch taught students from Std 6 to 9 the basics of robotics and coding, the other worked with local farmers to create an e-commerce platform called ‘Yelagiri Mart’.

Funding

The company was started with a registered capital of ₹1 lakh and the co-founders later invested ₹15 lakh. They also received an angel debt investment of ₹20 lakh, which helped with content development.

Talking about the business model, Leo says, “TalentEase charges the school or college it works with a fee per student, based on the type of leadership programme and its duration. Some of the profit is used to fund our work in the LightLives division and we also receive sponsorships that help cover our costs there.”

TalentEase has been profitable from FY2016-17.

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