All Aboard the Entrepreneurship Train
Jagriti Yatra sparks creative enterprise and encourages development through a journey across India.
Jagriti Yatra isn’t your average train trip. This 15-day ride through 12 Indian cities, covering about 8,000 kilometers, embodies its name, which means “a journey of awakening.”
“We are trying to awaken the spirit of entrepreneurship among the youth of the country, so they become job creators rather than job seekers,” says Ashutosh Kumar, executive director at Jagriti Yatra. These youth can go on to “build solutions to the development challenges our nation is facing today,” he adds.
Kumar participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals, on “Innovations for Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators” in 2013.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Jagriti Yatra is set up under a nonprofit organization Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, which is based in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh. The yatra has run annually since 2008, carrying about 450 youngsters, or “yatris” as Kumar calls them, on one train from December 24 to January 8. The train starts from Mumbai (Maharashtra), heading south to Hubballi and Bengaluru (Karnataka), on to Madurai and Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), Berhampur (Odisha), Rajgir (Bihar) and Deoria (Uttar Pradesh), up to New Delhi, and then back through village Tilonia (Rajasthan) and Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
In each location, the participants meet successful entrepreneurs, or role models, who share their stories of starting out and building their businesses, both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, along with tips and advice for pursuing entrepreneurial goals. These entrepreneurs have expertise across seven sectors tied to development: agriculture; education; energy; health care; manufacturing; water and sanitation; and art, culture and sports.
While the participants gain great exposure and knowledge from their off-train experiences, much of the learning and connection-building happens on the train itself. Days are filled with scheduled debates, presentations and conversations, along with events centered on art, music and poetry.
The journey gives participants a once-in-a-lifetime “experience to meet about 450 other entrepreneurs and collaborate with them; learn the art of entrepreneurship from the role models of the country; understand the development challenges of the country; and build long-lasting solutions through enterprise methods,” says Kumar. For Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, the meaning of the word “enterprise” extends beyond business ventures to teaching, medical professions, social work and art—anything that can fulfill the organization’s mission of encouraging development across “Middle India.” According to Jagriti Yatra’s website, this segment encompasses 600 million Indian youth who are literate, have roofs over their heads and eat three meals a day, but are “without a sense of purpose.”
Each year, thousands of applications are received for the Jagriti Yatra. A majority of the participants are selected from the 20- to 27-year-old age group. Some spots on the train are reserved for facilitators, who are experienced professionals over 25 years of age able to mentor the younger participants. Applicants answer around seven essay questions and submit them to a committee of 30 selectors, consisting of entrepreneurs, academics, industry experts, youth leaders and Jagriti Yatra alumni. Three selectors review each application and send their top choices to a chief selector for a final decision. Along with the essay questions, facilitators have to complete a telephonic interview.
“While screening, we look for the passion inside the applicant to become an entrepreneur, the zeal to build innovative and scalable enterprise solutions to the various development challenges our country is facing,” says Kumar. “There are no other academic or professional barriers.”
Jagriti Sewa Sansthan tries to reduce financial barriers for the candidates by permitting different levels of contribution depending on their financial status. Almost 40 percent of them pay only the compulsory registration fee of Rs. 6,000 ($90 approximately), says Kumar.
In addition to the yatra, Jagriti Sewa Sansthan also runs the Jagriti Enterprise Network and the Jagriti Enterprise Center. The network is meant to serve as an ecosystem to support young entrepreneurs from “Middle India.” The center “is a regional incubation program to support small and medium-sized entrepreneurs through services like mentorship, market access and connection to funding,” explains Kumar.
Jagriti Yatra aims to support 100,000 entrepreneurs by 2022, creating a million jobs in the process. The participants are helping it reach its goal through their successful ventures, which include a network of hostels operating in Bengaluru and looking to expand across India; a technology company striving to bring mobile products to underserved markets; a company working to make organic food more readily available while recognizing the farmers that produce it; and a health care start-up that helps connect people with doctors and provide access to medicines.
Jagriti Yatra also inspired Patrick Dowd, a 2010-11 Fulbright scholar, to create the Millennial Trains Project in the United States. The project, which had its inaugural voyage in 2013, encourages entrepreneurship in the millennial generation. It carries about 25 young people from Portland, Oregon, to New York to help them learn about the opportunities and challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the United States.
Kumar sees Jagriti Yatra as a starting point for a network of entrepreneurs who can come together to “connect, collaborate and create” the programs India needs to develop further. Its impact can be as far reaching as participants dare to dream and pursue their visions.
“Such a network of like-minded people has the potential to transform the landscape of the country and the entire world,” he says.
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.