Home > Feature Top Home page > Inspirational Woman: Pooja Gianchandani | German Chancellor’s Fellow on Skills Development

Inspirational Woman: Pooja Gianchandani | German Chancellor’s Fellow on Skills Development

Pooja is an International Skills Development Consultant for the Federal Institute of Vocational Education & Training (BiBB), Germany with experience of programme development and policy advocacy in Asian, African, Pacific working closely with other developed markets. She passionately pursues her ‘Skills for All’ mission, working to aggregate stakeholders, for bridging the skills to jobs gap. Presently a German Chancellor Fellow at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education & Training (BiBB),Ministry of Education, Germany she is researching on the topic – ‘Social & Economic benefits of Vocational Education & Training’.
Previously, as the Director & Head for Skills Development at FICCI she played an active role in shaping the National Skills agenda by engaging Industry, especially in the area of setting up Sector Skills Councils & Industry led skills training programmes. She has also lead the Global Business and Policy divisions at IL&FS Education & Skills, a leading service provider in India, that implements social programmes at scale.
Pooja is a Post Graduate in Social Work from the prestigious Delhi School of Social Work and is a World Bank Certified CSR practitioner.Pooja Gianchandani smiling in a zebra print

Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently skills

I am a dreamer. A dreamer on a mission. I dream of an India where young people can chose careers by choice and not chance. I dream of a world where every young people can hone their skills and talents for jobs/self employment without any entry barriers.
Having gained 360-degree exposure of policy development and advocacy, business acquisition, development communication, programme design and implementation as part of the Skills Development industry in India, I am deeply amazed at the Talent potential of young Indians when Skilled. IT, Finance, Engineering & Medicine are shining examples of this. The contribution of our Skilled craftsmen in Textile/Handloom, Construction, Automobile and other sectors is also well known. However, Integrated approaches that actively bridge the Industry – Academia gap by engaging private sector, Government and bilateral institutions are missing when it comes to delivery of Education and Training.
In 2011, I took charge of setting up the FICCI Skills Development Forum to make an active contribution towards the National Skills agenda through numerous policy dialogues, industry workshops and projects. The forum, now a successful congregation of 1100 + members from 11 countries, contributed immensely towards Policy, Industry Engagement and International Collaboration due to the greatest level of collaboration between all partners.
More recently, my responsibility as the Head for Global Business and Policy Groups at IL&FS Education & Skills (a leading service provider, implementing social programmes in education, employability and employment space) took me to some very interesting economies such as Nigeria, Philippines, Oman where I worked with public & private sector on ideas for education technologies and skilling youth.
When In April of this year I was selected as the German Chancellors Fellow to represent  India by the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, i took a chance and plunged into Academics with a single objective : How do the German (and other European nations) make Vocational training an attractive investment? With my host the Federal Institute of Vocational Education & Research (BiBB), Government of Germany, I am certain I would find some answers into this inquiry.
When I am not immersed in my project work, I enjoy traveling to new places and interacting with people and exploring cities like locals. City cycling, Cooking, Adventure sports, all kinds of music and movies keep me going through the ups and downs of life.
In all of this, I have been very blessed to have the support of my family and partner in pursuing my professional and personal aspirations. I also strongly think that we are a lucky generation born at the right place at the right time with so many different opportunities. 

Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote

Despite the political will, private sector interest and demographic advantage, India continues to struggle to bridge the Demand – Supply gap. Experts have cited lack of integrated education and skills system and sustainable business models as two factors slowing the pace of the skills development in the country. To look into this deeply and look at the merits of an integrated, industry led system, my research project is focused on studying – “Do Investments in Vocational Education and Training have long – term social and economic impact” – using the German Dual System of Training as a case. I am looking at evolving a cost – benefit analysis taking specific examples from the Construction, Automobile and Retail industry in Germany. The outcomes of this project shall form an empirical case for encouraging the large number of Corporate, Medium & Small Enterprises to adopt Skills Development practices that improve their productivity. I am also hopeful that more than 150 Institutions across Germany, Europe and India shall support my project.

My company, Atom Advisory, is an India based International Development Consulting which works in the key areas of Market Entry, Development Communication and Solution design. We chose our projects very carefully giving utmost importance to outcomes and long term people impact. Although in its formative stages, Atom is actively providing inputs on skills development and contributing towards the dream of Skills for All.

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

My biggest challenges was to break the glass ceiling not only as a woman, but as a ‘young’ woman who was not afraid of hierarchy, problem solving, was ever eager to learn and ready to roll up the sleeves and ‘muck in’ .
Although I worked with the most reputed and pro-women organisations like NTPC, FICCI, CII and People Plus (UK) that encourage women in leadership positions and are very supportive, I have instances of being challenged or not getting the timely recognition due to gender insensitivity/ stereotyping. Naturally, I had to work harder than many others to constantly prove capabilities. For instance, I remember often being pulled up by my colleagues for small practices such as keeping a strict weekends off and compulsory annual vacations policy for myself and my teams. For some reason wanting to work hard and yet have a normal life seemed a privilege and as a woman changing that I was setting a wrong precedence.
India is a young country and more and more young people will join the workforce, reaching leadership positions. Women will form an important part of the workforce and hit harder to break these stereotypes or glass ceilings. Many of my fellow colleagues struggle through work life balance due to lack of systematic and non judgmental mentoring structures in companies.
Luckily, I had mentors who gave space and opportunity to pursue my projects and set up the divisions/ business for the companies. In 2012, when I received the ‘Power 30 Under 30 award by Apex Society USA in recognition of my achievements in Business, it reinstated my believe in smart and honest.

What has been your greatest achievement personally?

My involvement with Skills Development started in 2007 when it wasn’t even recognised as a sector in India. We worked tirelessly with the industry and policymakers to provide numerous inputs through sector dialogues, pilot projects and international exchange. Being part of that journey has been a steep learning curve. Today, when the Honorable Prime Minister of India announces Skill India as his KRA engaging the top leaders of Industry, it is indeed a proud moment for us all who worked tirelessly then. However, the last ten years have just been the beginning. Many more initiatives and much concerted effort is required to realise the potential of Indian youth.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?

That’s a very interesting question. I think I would definitely have been a travel show host discovering some of the most unknown places and sharing people-centric experiences. I believe that in a lifetime, for any working person, life presents a maximum of 30/35 opportunities for holidays where you can cut your self off from the world. Most people lose out on these because of other responsibilities always keeping experiences for self as secondary. I would have launched hand curated & customised journeys for all in form of a life travel plan.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

It has to be my mother. She is a superbly talented lady who is an ocean of wisdom and knowledge of life sciences, ayurveda, nature and many other subjects. Her capabilities and hard work are my motivation. Although she is a homemaker, she has shown us courage, humility, care for others and respect for environment in many different ways.

From the world of business, I am very inspired by the Mrs Indira Nooyi of PepsiCo. I can only imagine her will power and talents that have made her reach such heights in both professional and personal life.

What does the future hold for you?

The future holds new opportunities and possibilities to position India as the Skills capital of the World. I am very hopeful that my company Atom Advisory will make its mark and will be one of the top Development consultancy firms in the next five years. I am an optimist so the future will be very bright not only for me but for all of us, together.

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