Financial Independence Will Bring Along A Better Sense Of Recognition & Respect For Women: Nishtha Yogesh, CEO, Hunar Online Courses
In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, Nishtha Yogesh, CEO of Hunar Online Courses, talks about the platform and its attempts in training the Indian homemakers to become successful entrepreneurs. Excerpts:
When and how did Hunar come into being?
The inspiration for Hunar came from watching my mother educate numerous women with creative skills. When I was younger, I watched how these women changed the course of their lives with the help of these skills. I wondered if there was a way for us to provide such learning opportunities to women across the country. From there, we started our process to create our first set of courses and with funds from friends and family, the startup formally launched its operations in May 2018 and has trained more than 10,000 women, with more than 10 lakh users downloading the app to watch our free trials.
How did the pandemic impact Hunar?
For us, the pandemic had a silver lining: online education was now much more acceptable and almost became a norm! Women also now had the time to take a step back and think about all that they’ve wanted to learn and achieve, just like so many other people who were caught up in daily life. More and more women that were dependent on income from their partners, now wanted and needed to contribute to the financial situation of the family. So during the pandemic, we provided learning opportunities to our students and supported our students in learning the most out of their courses and encouraged other students to start building skills too. The outcome was amazing as a lot of our students learnt garment making and started creating their own supply of masks, for both commercial and charitable purposes. We realized, if you have staunch conviction in your vision and are ready to go the extra mile to make the difference in the world that you want to, everything else will fall into place.
What is the next step for Hunar?
We are very excited about the growth we’ve seen in the last two years! The fact that the product is desired and loved by our audience has motivated us to now truly grow and scale. We are expanding our reach geographically both within India and outside it. We are adding more courses to our offering like baking, make up and hair styling etc. We are also going to the next level by enabling our students to help generate better revenues for their businesses. Our recently held live digital fashion show was one step in this direction. More than 125 designers showcased their Bollywood inspired collection to more than 15,000 live viewers and these collections were all available to purchase on e-commerce platforms. We hope to provide better market access opportunities to our students and help them take big steps towards financial independence.
Throw some light on the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs across the country and how is Hunar assisting its students to become entrepreneurs?
The first problem is lack of convenient reskilling and up-skilling opportunities and this is the exact gap that hunar is bridging through our tailored course offering with video content created by industry experts in multiple languages, access to 24*7 faculty support, the ability to learn anytime and anywhere and many more features built with the sole purpose enriching the learning experience of our students. With an increased product offering, we will be able to provide world-class content in many more categories soon.
The next problem is access to opportunities, mentorship and guidance to actually take the plunge to start their business. With this, Hunar runs an Entrepreneurship Programme that supports our students with all the necessary training and skillsets to help start their business. We currently offer this service for free to all our interested students.
The last problem though is behavioural – belief and confidence, in yourself and from your community as well as societal attitudes. That one is a mammoth. This monumental mindset shift will happen at its own natural pace.
Do you think financial independence is enough for homemakers/women to gain equal treatment and status in the domestic sphere?
I think it’s a critical start. Financial independence will bring along a better sense of recognition and respect and that will change societal attitudes and behaviours. Gaining equal treatment is a real problem even in more structured and more equal relationships, so that’s a much larger problem that women face; one that may not be solved fully by just financial independence. Having said that, it is most certainly an important start.
What is the future of creative courses?
In the last three years alone, as many as (As per Shiksha) 1,359 photography schools, 822 fashion design schools, 1,338 design schools and 270 colleges of graphic design have been established in India. The number excludes several institutions that offer similar creative courses on online platforms. With the EdTech industry booming in the country, especially post-pandemic, how new creative skills can be taught to the students has become important. Online creative courses like the ones offered by Hunar are well in demand and the eager learners hail from multifarious socio-economic strata. These students are now also receiving support to turn their skills into a fruitful career and sustainable business. So, if you ask me, the future of creative education looks brilliant, hopeful and big.
How many Hunar students went on to start their own businesses?
30 per cent of our students are now running their boutiques, online stores, Instagram businesses etc. This progress has been brought about through our special Entrepreneurship and 'My Boutique' Programme, wherein our advisors guide them and support them throughout the journey of ideating, creating a product line and even marketing it. Our support further extends to management of these businesses too, in an advisory capacity.
Tell us about your journey of becoming an entrepreneur.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I have always also wanted to build businesses. When I was 12 years old, I started interning at local enterprises. I completed my Chartered Accountancy course to get a better understanding of the financial aspects of running a business and through that, I worked full-time auditing other medium and large business outfits. I started my first business when I was 22 years old. And after all this, when I felt like I still had more to learn, I got a master's in entrepreneurship from Babson College in Boston. I don't really know when and why I decided to become an entrepreneur, but the process of finding a problem, solving it and building a business while doing that, has always had my interest and heart.
I’m an entrepreneur with a dream to use technology and education to empower women across the country. I am determined to utilise my skill set for what I had always believed in: Empowering Indian Women through education to earn recognition, respect and financial independence.
Homemakers are a largely forgotten audience, how does Hunar plan to make them financial independent in the coming years? Why homemakers?
The idea is to first provide access to skilling opportunities in a manner that is convenient for homemakers, that’s why our features are designed to help them learn comfortably - easy video lessons, online learning, multilingual courses, 24x7 faculty support and others.
For the students who have finished courses with us, we additionally work to help them start their own businesses through mentorship, access to markets, sales & marketing training and constant motivational support. Currently, 30 per cent of our completed students have started their own home businesses at various scales.
As we scale, we hope to provide more support by way of access to capital and more market access opportunities.
As to why homemakers, can we just say why not? Homemakers have a desire to be respected, to be financially independent and above all, to be recognised. From their previous experience of running a family and household, they also are blessed with the ability to multitask, manage time, show tremendous resilience, grit, intelligence and 'jugaad'. If we could help skill them and guide them, they could be a collective force to reckon with. So as I said before, why not?
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