“I know that there are a lot of talented people in India, but they’re not getting the right kind of opportunities due to a lack of facilities. While selecting the team, I try to make sure that at least one of them has a computer but the biggest problem is that they don’t have internet connection.”
Known for its ancient and intricate temples and age-old cultural traditions, the rubber-growing 2500-year old city of Madurai has become home to one of the most impressive feats of technological innovation, with 200 young women here learning how develop mobile applications.
Senthil Kumar’s conversation on the Technovation Youtube channel will leave you humbled and in awe of his incredible entrepreneurial spirit and sheer perseverance. An engineer at Qualcomm working in the wireless department, in Bangalore, he and his sister Mani Mala (an educator in Madurai) learned about Technovation and promptly took it upon themselves to bring the international technology entrepreneurship program and its curriculum to the girls.
Mani Mala first conducted a trial session in Madurai, with Senthil sending over the material from Bangalore, which received an overwhelming response of over 200 registrations from two arts and science colleges in the city - Madurai College and Thiagarajar College. Senthil mentions that he decided to start off with these colleges as opposed to engineering ones, because he felt the students here had no way to explore their creative technological ideas, and he plans to bring the programme to schools and engineering colleges next.
He explains that Madurai, while known for its ancient heritage and beautiful temples, lags behind in technological facilities and there are no sponsorships or mentorships to support programmes like the one he is initiating. He has been shelling out on his own to provide facilities for the young women of the programme, who, he says with evident pride, have really impressed the sibling duo with their range of innovative ideas.
The logistics of the whole programme are perhaps what will make you stop and think about the difference between people who make excuses, and those who make things happen. Since the girls in Madurai don’t have internet, Senthil takes the night bus every Friday night from Bangalore and reaches on Saturday morning after a 10-hour journey. He teaches the girls, working around the internet issue using an offline version of App Inventor, and then downloads the girls’ codes on pen drives. Sunday night finds him doing the 10-hour night journey on the bus back to Bangalore, to make it in time for work on Monday morning.
The Technovation programme, aiming to bridge the tech gender gap, lasts 12 weeks and Senthil Kumar and Manil Mala have already been doing this for a few weeks, but we can only imagine how hectic it must be getting. With more mentors on board for the program, their workload would be much easier to shoulder, and the young women of Madurai would be successfully be able to work towards the completion of their apps and business plans. Not only would it support the young women towards completion of their apps and technology solutions, it would be a tangible step toward Empowering the Third Billion.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari