Anu Wakhlu is helping middle-aged Indian housewives to identify the individual skills and strengths from which they can choose appropriate careers and help break down the prejudice and structural impediments to their employment. Her programs also help young people better identify educational paths and career goals and subsequently break through the barriers to their employment as well.
Anu Wakhlu knows that housewives and students are employment resources waiting to be inspired and motivated. She has designed a program to help both groups realize that they not only have significant work skills and strengths, but they also have various employment options from which to choose. More important, rather than simply offering the women employment choices, Anu is helping them discover what they want to do with their lives and assisting them in implementing their goals.Anu's "Good Work Center" and Pragati Foundation help potential job seekers define their concerns about entering the workforce, identify their skills and abilities and plan a course of action for developing their careers. Anu's program focuses on positive thinking, creativity and innovation. It includes stress management and communication skills, and facilitates career planning based on individual aptitude.Her program for youth emphasizes gaining admission to higher educational institutions and accessing available jobs. The job planning process for helping students with their career choices incorporates self-analysis, brainstorming about career possibilities and using a job bank that matches students with actual employers. Anu has also encouraged students to be entrepreneurial and to explore unusual career paths. For example, she encouraged three students who had knowledge of botany to establish a plant nursery that rents plants to hotels and other businesses. Anu also encourages the idealism of young people by providing a channel into local volunteer programs with community organizations. Anu's career programs for women target urban middle-class housewives who have never been employed. This is a talented group that has been restrained from seeking employment by a tradition that defines their identity in terms of family and home. Anu designed a process and materials for the program that is the first of its kind in India to help participants identify their individual skills and develop career action plans, in turn reinforcing one another. She teaches the women to set priorities, manage their time, work in a group setting and manage the stress of adjusting to a new career. To help the women gain confidence in themselves and in their decision to pursue a career outside the home, the program also addresses issues of career women as parents and builds awareness of the positive role models that working mothers can provide for their children.
Few schools in India promote career guidance that is based on individual choice, rather than the dictates of social structures. In addition, the modest and superficial efforts are limited to counseling and do nothing to enable the student to market his or her skills and interests or to network effectively.While, at least in theory, the need for students' career counseling is recognized, no one has addressed the needs of urban middle-class housewives. Often dismissed as the "chiffon brigade," these women have both the time and inclination to contribute their skills and talents but require considerable assistance in learning how to break out of their traditionally limited role. Those who do attempt to enter the job market are often viewed as rebels by their family and society and have no support group to help them legitimize their need or desire to find a meaningful career outside the home.
Anu begins by recruiting and training citizen groups, educators, social workers and others to reach out to students and women. Her program is publicized through informal and formal meetings with women's and students' groups, and through seminars and conferences, newspaper publicity and by word-of-mouth. She publicizes her program in a number of local languages to reach the broadest possible audience. Recruits are trained through the Development Internee program of the Pragati Foundation.Anu also brings her system directly to her target groups–mainly colleges and universities–through films and books that describe her approach, present relevant case studies and teach how to apply the approach on their own. She personally visits schools and colleges to tell students about the need to use creative and systematic thinking when planning for a career. Corporations that have shown an interest in having the wives of their executives develop their talents are also using Anu's program.To help them through the preliminary search process, Anu links the women with individual volunteers who are typically from local citizen groups. This part of the program is essentially self-help and teaches the women to make use of relevant information and networking to find appropriate contacts. In effect, Anu is creating peer support programs to back up her work that build and broaden the women's awareness. The Pragati Foundation provides a job bank in the form of a database with more than 2,500 jobs. Housewives and students can use this as a resource to learn about job opportunities, the qualifications and skills required for positions and to obtain a list of educational institutions.Because the theme of Anu's work is "Productive Work for All," she has also created a program to recruit and train students in volunteer work titled "Mobilizing Youth Energy for Socially Productive Work." A similar program, "Golden Years," is planned to enable women over 55 to volunteer their services.
Youth and women have been at the center of Anu's work since 1979, when she began her career with the Indian Council of Child Welfare. She set up her own nonprofit organization, "Pragati," to reach out to nongovernmental organizations, educational institutions, teachers, women's organizations and youth and women more generally with a host of creative training and human resource development programs. Gradually her human resource work developed its current focus, backed by an effective set of approaches and tools.Anu's own creativity was fostered through a commitment to theater while a student, and later through travel on a Rotary scholarship to Austria, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.