Smita Majumder, Co founder & COO- Youngpreneurs
Passionate about education and entrepreneurship, Smita switched gears to do an MBA in entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins University despite having a Bachelor in Biomedical Technology, a Masters in Cancer Biology. Education has always been one thing she has always enjoyed. During her MBA at Johns Hopkins, she truly learnt what entrepreneurship is, the science of entrepreneurship, the art of entrepreneurship and most importantly the entrepreneurial mindset. She co founded a tech startup while she was in business school. Smita believes the entrepreneurial mindset can be imbibed and the skills for entrepreneurship can certainly be learnt. She moved to India and co founded Youngpreneurs- the first entrepreneurial academy for teenagers.
Besides entrepreneurship education one of her interest is the specific Indian youth population and their role in socio-economic transformation. India is about to have the largest youth population in the globe by 2020. “Train them to know their capabilities, acquire the right skills, innovate with the future in mind and most importantly for them to be aware of their role in solving world problems through a ‘think globally, act locally’ outlook.
She believes that this is something that needs to be taught through a systematic awareness campaign among youth – young people want to be part of the solution; they just need to be made aware of the ways in which they can make a difference. For this reason, she founded an organization called Organization for Youth Engagement in Sustainability, India (https://www.facebook.com/youthinsustainability/) – through partnerships with organizations like AIESEC chapters.
Their sole mission is to create awareness about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of 2030, educate youth about the 17 SDGs and help them engage in various local and national projects that align with the SDGs. “This is the only way that we will actually come close to attaining the goals by 2030, by setting this amazing youth potential in motion”, she says.
Smita shares her ideas & plans with team ABT in the interview below.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
At the risk of sounding conceited, I think it’s the ‘what’ that inspires me more than ‘who’. Of course there are so many people till date who serve as inspiring role models, but I have always been more inspired by their intent rather than their achievement. My mom has always been a role model, and even though she was a full time math professor who managed to do a PhD while raising three children, it’s her child-like inquisitiveness and eternal enthusiasm in learning anything new, that always inspired me.
Now, the idea of young people finding their own voice and acting out of their self belief inspires me. The thought of a kid with an idea being entrepreneurial enough and having the support to make it a reality, inspires me. The irrational optimism of an uninitiated mind inspires me:) Most of all, the pursuit of my own happiness inspires me. Happiness is an often overlooked factor in the context of work, but the truth is that our most impactful work can only happen when we feel fulfilled. Peak productivity can only be attained with a sense of happiness around the work that we do.
Tell us about the journey of Youngpreneurs and what does it offer.
Youngpreneurs was founded in early 2017 with the aim of introducing entrepreneurship at the high school level. Our mission is to create the next generation of globally competent, creative entrepreneurial citizens. We foster entrepreneural mindset in young people and train them to recognize problems as opportunities to create positive change.
The receptivity of our concept from the schools was really encouraging, but more exciting was the readiness in the students and their enthusiasm in being part of this youth entrepreneurship movement!
Do you feel Indian students lack Entrepreneurship? What measures would you suggest?
I certainly don’t think Indian students lack entrepreneurial spirit. If that were true, how do you explain Indian kids in the US and Europe excelling as young entrepreneurs? If you Google teen entrepreneurs in the US, you’ll find Indian kids regularly making the Forbes ‘under 18 entrepreneurs’ list!
What I do think is that the Indian education system is not conducive to developing an entrepreneurial spirit in students. By that I mean the method of education, the academic pressure, the mindless emphasis on grades by memorizing answers rather than conceptual clarity – all of this forces student to fit into a certain mould that gets them from one grade to the next. They are neither taught nor encouraged to think for themselves, and soon their primary mode of functioning lies in following instructions. How well they do in school depends on how closely they follow instructions and that student then goes on to become an employee who is only comfortable with following instructions. You take an American kid and bring them up in this exact system, and watch them act the same way.
So the problem is not with Indian kids, it’s with the Indian system of learning and the lack of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is yet to recognize the importance of nurturing entrepreneurial thinking at an early age. What Indian students lack, is not the entrepreneurial spirit, it is the exposure to entrepreneurship at an early age, which is usually how the western countries sow the seeds of entrepreneurship in young people.
The remedy is three fold: on the school-side, parent-side and the ecosystem-side.
The remedy on the school-side, for obvious reasons, would be to include some sort of entrepreneurship education module in the curriculum or co-curriculum. Introducing it in school makes sense because students spend so much time in school, so including an entrepreneurship curriculum/co-curriculum maintains consistency and regular exposure.
On the parent-side, there are countless ways to bring up an entrepreneurial kid but that’s a separate conversation, although encouraging kids to believe in their own abilities and pursuing their natural inclinations would be a good start!
On the ecosystem-side, higher education institutes should join hands with industry partners to encourage entrepreneurship education and competitions in schools. If you look at the US, most universities have a summer entrepreneurship program where they bring in a bunch of high school kids on campus and they go through a summer of hands on entrepreneurship training. This makes common sense because they recognize that if they invest in these kids early, these are the same kids who will attend college/university in a few years and be much more productive as university students. The industry partners with the universities to sponsor prizes at these summer programs. They pose real-world industry problems as projects for these competitions, that way they have a skin in the game. This creates a true ecosystem where each component nurtures as well as benefits from the others. The IITs and IIMs are stepping up to the plate, and creating platforms to encourage entrepreneurship among students, but there is a lot more that needs to be done and the industry needs to be a lot more involved and proactive in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What three pieces of advice would you give to millennials who want to become entrepreneurs?
– Always know your natural strengths and get good at it because that is what will translate to your success. Don’t focus on your weaknesses because you can always find someone who is good at something you aren’t, that’s the beauty of a team; your own strength is your biggest asset, so keep improving on that. It’s what will keep you relevant.
– Never ever, ever dismiss soft skills – you might not be the smartest coder in the room but have a really high emotional quotient or great conversational skills, well, then guess what, you might just be the most powerful person in the room because deals are made with conversations not code. Always remember that.
– Innovate with ‘sustainability’ in mind – besides being the responsible thing to do; ‘sustainable’ innovation is also the common sense thing to do, because it’s what the world is moving towards.
Here is the link to the TedX Talk by Smita Majumder.