For 40 years, Ashok Rane took classes at night and worked tirelessly during the day so he could become an engineer that made a difference to this country.
Growing up in rural Maharashtra, Ashok was born to a family of farmers but was adamant not to follow his parent’s footsteps. An advertisement in the newspaper piqued his curiosity. It was then that the 16-year-old Ashok decided to become an engineering apprentice.
He wasn’t born with a silver spoon and knew he’d have to go the extra mile to be independent and make something of himself. He was based in Mumbai – working in the day to make ends meet and studying at night finish his diploma in electrical engineering.
Today at 56, he is using his skills to empower those who need it the most – just like he did in the past.
Ashok started the Aikya Foundation in 2006, a community outreach program that trains Mumbai’s disadvantaged young people to become electricians.
Trainees or apprentices under the program receive 100 hours of training over a period of two months. From learning how to repair household appliances such as toasters, irons, mixers and radios, the training course runs five times a year and doesn’t require enrolled students to spend a rupee!
The only eligibility criterion is that the prospective trainees must have cleared their Class 10.
These individuals at the end of the course are certified as freelance electricians.
“We can find the best minds by training people of all backgrounds. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. What’s important is that we encourage every young mind to apply their thinking technically,” he says in an interview.
Inspiration behind the Aikya Foundation
The idea behind the Aikya Foundation came up when Ashok and some of his colleagues from the Workers’ Union at Siemens opened a computer education centre for children of the maintenance staff. The idea was to equip young students with computer literacy to further their chances at admissions to high school and better employment opportunities.
The project was funded with their own money, giving children an almost 50% subsidy in the computer training. In a matter of five years, they extended the program to underprivileged children in government schools. Two hours of weekly teaching, helped these students succeed with flying colours, and move on for a secondary education.
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It took him 40 years to climb the ladder in different roles at Siemens. From a technician to a maintenance engineer, Ashok is now a manager at the Siemens R&D facility. He is using the skills he picked up during his apprenticeship days in 1976 to create a job market for the underprivileged today.
Over the last 12 years, his project has donated computers to over 25 schools and trained over 50,000 children in IT skills. About 3,500 students have tuition fees waived off each year too under the organisation.
Apart from electrical training, Ashok thinks there is a growing need for plumbers in residential areas as well. His next priority is to equip them with plumbing and simultaneously extend the foundation’s work to remote villages across India.
Ashok wants the youth in rural India to have the same opportunities as those in Urban India do.
He believes if the course is offered in rural villages, and trainees attend 100 hours of training in 16 days, they will be skilled to earn jobs with a mere three weeks of education.
For over 20 years, Ashok approaches his work through unconventional methods, and this helps him, in the best way he can, tackle poverty and empower less fortunate engineering aspirants.