Samyak Chakrabarty, Founder & MD X Billion Skills Lab, recently spoke to NewsX as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, Samyak not only shared the journey and mission of his passion project X Billion Skills Lab but also how India can eradicate the problem of unemployment.
Speaking about the concept of X Billion Skills Lab and how did he came up with it, Samyak said, “My journey began when I adopted a Marathi-medium primary school in the Dharavi slums in Mumbai. I thought that adopting a school and funding the education of children and doing extra-curriculars will give them the knowledge they require to build great careers. But, one of the young boys came up to me and said ‘What is the point of learning all this? My elder brother went to a good college and got good marks but even then he is unemployed since past 3 years.” That one conversation got me thinking that it is true. Every year millions of people graduate with degrees in our country and then you read these articles that 97% engineers are unemployable and so on. I did some research to find out the problem, I met employers and asked, “What is lacking?”. They said something funny and said we lack people who know how to think and think on their own. I said that is a great insight because our education system doesn’t teach you how to think and respond independently and creatively because usually people are used to following instructions. That got me the idea that if I want to make a dent in solving the problem of un-employability, which is that we don’t have enough able people for the jobs that exist. I thought that I want to make it my life’s purpose. The solution of this problem, according to me, is to train people how to think in the context of the expectations of the new world of work. Today, whether you join as a sales person, a marketing or an admin person , companies expect you to independently solve, think and respond because every situation is so unique and dynamic. That’s when the idea of X billion skills lab was born, which is to give people the intelligence and exposure required to succeed in the new world of work.”
Giving us an insight into XBSL programmes and how they are designed, Samyak shared, “We have researched on the applications of human intelligence. In fact, somebody told me that the only way humans will survive artificial intelligence is by enhancing their own intelligence. We realised that the skills that employers really want instead of academic qualifications are things like emotional intelligence, creative problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, story telling, negotiation, remote communication etc. So, what we did is that we understood the application of these skills and the workplace and then we worked backwards and created an entire learning journey, which includes animated modules, a personal mentor, master classes with CEOs, founders and other professionals. This will essentially give you ways to think. We are not going to tell you that to apply emotional intelligence at workplace, do A, B, C, D. We will tell you different combinations AB, CD, DA. So, for example, you may know the statement, “Don’t give man fish, teach a man how to fish.” We take it to another level and say we won’t just teach you how to fish, we will tell you that there is a fishing rod, a bait, way of wishing but it all depends on the kind of water, kind of baits and so on. In the context of these skills, so you can apply your own mind.
For example, Covid. This is not something that someone taught us how to respond but if you harness your intelligence, you can do it. The problem is that most of the graduates don’t get that exposure. People in big cities might have that exposure, but if you are in a small city or a smaller town, you don’t have that exposure., We decided to capture all these different ways and then convert them into modules, which make use of Bollywood, sport, Indian politics so people really understand. Context is not about language, it is also about understandability.”
When asked about how the challenge differs in India as compared to other countries, Samyak said, “Firstly, I think India is not a uniform entity. You have various grades of the kind of companies, of the kind of work one has to do based on where you live, the size of city and the economic prospective of that city. Like I said, we realized that we need to first focus on the innate intelligence and then equip it to adapt to reality. Secondly, yes artificial intelligence is taking up manual jobs but it does not mean that jobs will go away. There will be new kind of jobs and AI will take jobs that are manual in nature. Only those jobs will remain that require superior thinking abilities, which still AI does not have. I don’t see AI as a threat, I see it as a call to renew what your understanding of work means and adapt to the new reality.”
Reflecting on his journey so far and where does he see himself and X Billion Skills Lab in 5 next years, Samyak shared, “When I was 16, I was suspended from school for performing badly and for writing a letter. My teacher said you know, you are good for nothing and nothing will happen to you. I said to myself that no, a teacher or anybody cannot write me off just because I was a naughty kid or I didn’t perform well in exams. I said I’m going to start my own business and I’m going to learn the ropes of the world on my own. I had this idea of organising a Model United Nations conference, which is where students kind of assume the role of world leaders and debate on global issues. That became my first business because I would charge students to attend it. It was great thing because we had about 5000 students participate over the course of 3 years. Then, I got a business idea that now that I understand the youth so much, maybe brands would want to target youth. Brands like cola companies, car companies, FMCGs and this was a pre-Facebook, pre-Orkut data marketing world. I started consulting brands on how to engage youth and I got hired by a larger MNC. I earned a lot of money at a very young age. What happened after it is that I realised the meaningless of that money because certain events happened in my life . I thought to myself that I made money by telling brands how to market perhaps harmful products to youth.
“That’s when I gave all of it up and adopted a school in Dharavi. I entered a bit of low in my life and I think when you enter low and kind of a circumstantial depression, is when you really meet yourself. So, that low period of finding purpose and this experience of the school and conversation with the children, all of those dots got connected. I still remember I was in Khajiyar in Himachal Pradesh on top of a small cliff and I told myself that your life’s purpose is going to be ending or trying to make a significant move towards ending unemployability for India and in India. That’s my beginning. Then when I went up to Anita Dongre, whom I knew, I told her about this idea and told her that I don’t know what I want to do but it has to be something that give skills to people to become employable and build their life. She said that I have faith in you, go ahead and build something. I had a few investor friends who helped. It has about seven years. It took a while, as I did not want to hire an expert to build the curriculum. I am on my path to become a social entrepreneur and build X Billion Skills Lab. In 5 years, I see myself and X Billion Skills Lab touch 1 million people across the country,” he added.