Awakin Calls » Pavithra Sundareshan
Pavithra Sundareshan: Business leader, social entrepreneur, visionary employer
Sep 7, 2019: Bringing Dignity to the Differently Abled
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Nuggets From Pavithra Sundareshan's Call
Pavithra Sundareshan was 22 years old when, together with her husband and business partner, she started Vindhya, a business process outsourcing organization in Bangalore, India, which may be the first and only for-profit enterprise in which the majority of employees are people with disabilities -- physically challenged, hearing or visually impaired, socially disadvantaged women, or on the autism spectrum. Since it began in 2006, the company has grown from employing 5 “differently-abled” individuals to one that is comprised of 1600 employees, more than 60% of which (or 900 employees) are differently abled, and 70% of which are women.
Vindhya’s unique employment profile came about because Pavithra wanted to start a social enterprise, while her husband was interested in creating a business venture. They managed to strike a balance and bring both interests together when they launched Vindhya in 2006, says Pavithra. Her husband adds, “bringing business and philanthropy together for a cause and keeping charity as the main aspect, but helping people live with dignity. That is how we started the company.”
The focus on providing dignity to the lives of differently-abled persons came about when a young boy in a wheelchair came one day to Pavithra’s office asking for a job. “After going through his profile, I told him to wait for a couple of days for the response and also informed him about the unavailability of any ramps or lifts in the building which can help him climb to the office on the first floor,” she recalls. “The boy enthusiastically said that he could prove his ability and asked me to climb stairs upstairs. Then I realized it’s not about physical abilities, it is about willing to work and attitude towards life that counts.”
Since then, Pavithra has come to realize that “the only disability in life is bad attitude.” Since she first learned sign language to communicate with some of her hearing-impaired employees, sign language has become the official language of the company. She and her husband have been proactive about building a “platform for [the differently-abled] to showcase their abilities and become independent, gain self-respect and dignity by owning a house, becoming breadwinners, getting married, having children, and ensuring that their siblings are educated and their parents are taken care of.” They have traveled to rural areas to tell the differently abled about the opportunity to work at their company and to “encourage them to come out of their shell.” Vindhya in turn provides training opportunities to those who respond to the call, and has worked to “bridge the gap between perception and reality” on the part of customers and the community.
According to Pavithra’s husband, “We want to give top-notch training to our employees and best quality services to our clients to ensure that we don’t lose any client. We have not lost a single customer because of delivery in the last 12 years.” The couple’s vision is to create 5000 jobs for the differently-abled on an accessible campus. Vindhya is setting up an IT campus in Hyderabad on 10 acres that will employ only persons with disabilities. This campus will train the staff, provide them residential accommodation and also employment. It will have about 2,500 employees and Vindhya’s ambition is to have similar campuses in Bengaluru and Pune.
Pavitra has been selected by Times of India as one of the “25 Leaders of Tomorrow” and has been a recipient of the “100 Women Achievers Award” under the initiatives of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Facebook. She was invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s house) for lunch with the President of India. She was chosen and recognized as one of the 12 Transforming Women of India in 2016. A graduate of Bangalore University, she completed her Executive General Management Program from IIM-Bangalore.
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