ulaunch Guest Interview- Capt. Indraani Singh

The journey of Air India commander Capt. Indraani Singh is one of breaking barriers to soar into the skies while changing numerous lives she touched in her inspiring journey. She is worlds’ first woman commander of Airbus 300 and the first Asian woman to fly the Airbus 320. Team ulaunch had the honour to interact with Capt. Indraani Singh, Founder of Literacy India and Indha, to know more about her journey and vision.

Here are some excerpts from the interview which provide great insight to youth in general and budding entrepreneurs in particular:

Q. What inspired you to choose flying as your career? 
Since childhood, I preferred outdoor activities over studying. This exposure to outdoor activities from the start helped me enter the fields that are typically taken up by males. My first Glider pilot experience inspired me to take up a career as a pilot. 

Q. You’re the world’s first woman commander of Airbus-300 and the first-ever woman in Asia to fly the Airbus 320. How do you define this feeling?
My senior colleagues were very encouraging. They used to tell me they saw potential in me and said I would go places. But honestly, I was focusing on my job and responsibilities and the tasks at hand were my priority. I didn’t think about the other things too much but things kept shaping up the right way and this beautiful and fulfilling journey paid dividends.

Q. Is there a person who inspired you to do more? If yes, how?  
My dad usually looked up to the heroes of movies and how they saved the day. His romanisation of heroes inspired me to become one myself. It was etched in my subconscious memory as a child. This helped me break barriers and achieve many firsts as a pilot and with Literacy India & Indha. 

Q. Was there any particular event or reason that led you to work in the social development sector?
I have wanted to help people since childhood. My experience as a National Service Scheme cadet and as a pilot provided diverse exposure to the problems faced by vulnerable Indians. I ventured into the social sector in 1996 when I and my colleagues adopted a few street children to look after their upbringing and education. Soon it was realized that it’s easy to start energetically but difficult to sustain the work continuously without a proper team in place. That’s when Literacy India started taking shape.

Q. What are the major activities done by Literacy India and Indha? And in what manner have the efforts uplifted the lives of beneficiaries? 
The activities of Literacy India and Indha focus on women and children from underprivileged backgrounds. Some of the major work areas are Functional Education and Skilling, employment generation and empowerment, cleanliness and sanitation, theatre groups, coding and robotics. A plethora of up-skilling and re-skilling activities are conducted for farmers, cooks, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. Because of the efforts of the team, many children from lesser privileged backgrounds have gone on to become Software Engineers, Chartered Accountants and Actors in the film industry. The fulfilment of having changed more than 6 Lakh lives keeps us going and reaching out to more people.  

Q. Please tell us more about Literacy India and how the first major success was achieved.
The initial work focused on children living on the streets in Delhi. They are pushed into begging, exploitation, sexual and substance abuse. Despite the efforts of the team and consequent improvement, they would relapse and come back to the streets. We tried everything to change that but were unable to do so. This was because they had become habitual to live on the roadside and it was easy to beg and play all day. While working with them, we found that these children were fascinated by screens, movies, animations etc. Thus an offline program was launched wherein laptops were used for teaching the children at the roadside. Since the program was in Hindi and the methodology suited the students, the experiment was successful.

Q. Let’s talk about Indha. What were the initial phase and journey like?
The initial products that were made by Indha artisans were quite simple and commonplace. I received the feedback that there was scope for improvement in the quality of the products. That’s when it was decided that the products should be of high quality that creates value for the users. The artisans and tribals put in a lot of efforts to come up with products having top-notch finishing. We are evolving and adapting to the need of the hour to bring out new products. For apparels, we partner with entrepreneurs, designers among others to provide the required apparel goods. We have realized that there is ample demand for ethnic handicrafts if the quality is maintained. With a community focus, we also include aspects of recycling, eco-friendly and sustainable manufacturing, which add to our uniqueness. The supply chains are based across different states like Jharkhand, West Bengal, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh. We’re coming up with a new sportswear line because of the increasing demand for health and fitness.

Capt. Indraani Singh

Q. Can you tell us about Gyantantra initiative and its impact which has invited fascination from the e-learning industry and provides a lot of learning for budding entrepreneurs? What strategy is the team adopting to benefit more children via the program?
Gyantantra is a software-based, learning program developed by the Literacy India team. It focuses on strengthening the learning fundamentals of children across different ages. It spans over 250 hours and includes different subjects like Hindi, English, Maths, Science, Social Science. Dropouts can take this program over a few months and improve their learning outcomes. This helps in mainstreaming of the needy- dropout and migrant children. We have collaborations with government schools, large corporations and NGOs across India. To increase the reach further, we’ve subsidized the license fee. We are also enabling customization in Hindi and English as per the user’s convenience and native state.  

Q. How was your experience while working with rural women? Any interesting insights?
I, personally, derive immense satisfaction from our work that improves the lives of rural women. Some of the women even got elected to the Gram Panchayat and transformed their village. These women tell me that I give them strength and courage. But it’s actually their perseverance and dedication that helps to transform their lives as well as those of other villagers. The outlook of orthodox husbands and males of villages who were initially reluctant towards women participation and employment in community work etc. was gradually changed. An unimaginable demand for beauticians in villages was uncovered by the team. This has resulted in a roaring business and employment generation for the rural economy.

Q. How do you manage your busy schedule and juggling the roles of captain and founder of organizations like Literacy India and Indha?
My mantra for managing the work is to Conserve Energy. I try to remain physically and mentally fit despite the odd working hours, continuous travelling and nature of work. After hectic working days, I wind down and once the equilibrium is restored, I come back with fresh energy and ideas.    

Q. What are the important lessons that you learnt from your experiences that will help our youth in general and entrepreneurs in particular?
My major learning from the journey till now has been to feel the pain of the vulnerable community that you intend to serve. The entrepreneurs should put in their own money along with their efforts. The investors won’t invest in your idea unless you’ve invested yourself. Failures are bound to be there and are a critical part of the learning curve. The values and culture of your company should focus on the people, communities and aim for collective growth. That’s what separates successful companies from others.

Capt. Indraani Singh with her Indha team

Capt. Indraani believes that India has tremendous potential that should be harnessed efficiently. Her selfless and inclusive approach towards the vulnerable groups of society has gone a long way in changing countless lives. Moreover, the trickle-down effect generated by her initiatives is bound to positively impact future generations and inspire others to engage in social upliftment. Problems like heavy population burden, law and order and lack of accountability need to be addressed comprehensively if India is to become a stellar global leader. Transformational work done by her and her colleagues inspires the youth to be the change that they want to see.

Leading by example, the work done by her exemplifies the call for Atmanirbhar Bharat and stands testimony to the achievements possible through sheer hard work and selfless dedication, an indispensable quality that an entrepreneur must possess.

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