San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara metro region of Silicon Valley, which would seem like an affluent epicenter of innovation and wealth to most, is home to 20,000 disconnected youth as of 2017. These young adults are disconnected from education and employment and characterized by problems of poverty, lack of a supportive family system and often, an inadequacy of social skills. Despite these problems, many of them are highly self-motivated and possess enormous untapped talent. They seek a chance to transcend their past their barriers and seize opportunities that can put them on a track to success. There are 44,000 more such disconnected youth in the San Francisco–Oakland–Hayward area, not too far from San Jose. The sheer number of the disconnected youth, which would seem like a daunting liability to most, seemed to me like an opportunity to help them overcome their current challenges, and assist them to get back on their feet with the hope for a better future.
A part of the confidence and the consideration to seize this opportunity and tap into “opportunity youth,” came from the knowledge that I had done it before in India. After working in the IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) sector for over 3 decades in the US and Southeast Asia, I decided to move back to India in 2009 and realized that the BPO industry in India is characterized by a poor quality of life for most employees, who often come from small towns or villages, leave their families and farms behind and yearn for an opportunity to have jobs where their families are – away, in their villages. Armed with intimate knowledge of the problem, in 2009, I decided to launch RuralShores, a social enterprise that creates BPO job opportunities for rural youth in India. After three years of initial struggle, RuralShores, now scaled to 16 centers across 9 states in India, is employing more than 4,000 rural youth. These youth process 50+ million transactions annually, for more than 25 marquee clients across four continents. In the 9 years of its operation, RuralShores has provided professional career paths to nearly 10,000 youth. We are today the world’s largest impact sourcing services provider, a feat that makes us proud.
Despite the success of RuralShores, while I was content, happy, and truly making my vision of creating positive change a reality, I knew I had to do more. The yearning mostly came from the fact that while I was born in India and spent my initial formative years there, it was the US that had given me my first job and thereby an opportunity to create wealth for my family. Given that RuralShores was operating like a machine, with stable client relationships getting managed efficiently by a talented leadership team, I decided to give into my yearning, and moved back to the US – which I have come to call my fatherland (India being the motherland, of course)!
The first thing I did was to enlist a group of socially minded successful entrepreneurs who liked the idea of importing the successful RuralShores model to the US in order to address the problem of unemployment in underserved US communities. We knew very clearly, and very early on that we wanted to create job opportunities for not just “opportunity youth,” but also for veterans, youth from industry towns as well as native Indians. But we did have to start somewhere. San Jose and Silicon Valley happened to be a geography we all understood well; this is where innovation and entrepreneurship seemed to perpetually converge, and this is where the scale of “opportunity youth” was large enough that we became interested in finding out more. Thus, we came to launch PeopleShores PBC, a social enterprise with a mission to empower talented and disadvantaged youth by providing them skills-based training, and making them part of the full-time workforce at PeopleShores with a promise of career progression.
Legally, PeopleShores is structured as a Public Benefit Corporation and currently operates out if its first center in North San Jose. The first cohort of 10 PeopleShores employees came on board in October 2017, and the second cohort of 8 employees joined in January 2018. Homeless, victims of domestic abuse, people on the autistic spectrum, and refugees are the way some PeopleShores employees can be described, but those gradually become things of the past, and no longer a defining characteristic for them. They become skilled on tools such as Adobe Captivate, Adobe Premier Pro, Google Analytics, Microsoft Excel, Python, SQL and Java programing, and also begin work on PeopleShores’ client processes. Many employees have started exhibiting great aspirations to assume leadership roles and have become hungry for professional betterment. The instinct for survival seems to have taken a backseat, and the driving forces of empathy and ambition have come to the forefront of their lives.
Our hearts warm at the initial success we are seeing, but it is not enough. There are thousands more youth who are longing for an opportunity that PeopleShores can give, and it is going to be our mission to give them that. In the near future, by 2020, we would like to have 1000 employees hired by PeopleShores and have a dozen centers spread across the US. Some of our initial discussions with well-wishers of PeopleShores suggest that we may well be on track to reaching such a scale, with one potential center in Mississippi Delta as well as one in San Diego catering mainly to the veteran population. We are grateful for what we have achieved so far but stay hungry to help more. If what we have set out to do inspires you, and if you would like to know more, my team and I would love to hear more from you. My dream for the “opportunity youth” of America started with a few of us, but it can come to fruition with all of us.
For further information and enquiries about PeopleShores, please contact Aparna Gole, Director of Marketing and Business Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Murali Vullaganti is the Founder and CEO of PeopleShores PBC. He is also the Founder-Director of RuralShores, India and a Co-Founder-Director of Compassites Software, a Bangalore-based business ideation and innovation company. Before that, Murali held executive roles at Electronic Data Systems (now HP), Misys and Xansa.