Hayathi and Raghav PR belong to different states i.e. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively, have different lives, backgrounds and circle of friends. However, one thing binds them together. Strength, Courage and the will to live a life with dignity and respect. Belonging to the trans-community, life has not been easy for them, yet when the threads of their lives connected to the startup — PeriFerry, things changed, for the better.
“I faced physical and sexual harassment because of the way I look. The worst part is I could not be myself. This really affected my health. At one point, I even had to work as a vegetable seller for three hours in a day where I was making only about Rs. 100,” recalls Hayathi (30).
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“I was treated differently than everybody else. My colleagues refused to call me by my preferred pronoun. They would say offensive things, comment on my body and constantly pestered me and asked me to show them my old pictures,” shares Raghav PR, (25).
PeriFerry is an organisation that strives to create equal opportunities for LGBTQIA+ community through training and education, employment and entrepreneurship free of cost. During the two years of its existence, the startup has trained over 250 people from the trans community and placed over 90 people in software jobs, HR jobs, banks, in the hospitality industry among others.
“We are a startup working on a social cause at the core. The idea is to not charge money from those who come to us for help because they are in no position to pay us. We sustain our model by charging for the services we provide to our clients,” says Neelam Jain, 25, who founded PeriFerry after quitting her corporate job.
PeriFerry—Scope and Reach of the startup
Job training is one of the key services that Periferry provides that comprises of English communication, Computer basics, Interview preparation, resume building, soft skills, life skills etc.
“A lot of people focused on issues that affect women but two members and I thought this would be a good opportunity to understand about the trans community,” she says. So, over a period of one and a half months, the trio did extensive research on the community and the problems that they faced on a daily basis.
In addition to that, the startup also provides counselling services to the beneficiaries with the help of professional experts who volunteer with them.
They also work with companies, large and small, to help sensitise the workforce on LGBTQIA+ issues through workshops. These companies also get in touch with them with placement opportunities for those being trained by PeriFerry. For these services, PeriFerry charges these companies.
“We also perform field visits in efforts to maximize community outreach. Word of mouth amongst the community members also assist us greatly in our cause,” says Neelam.
Periferry-The Founding Story
Neelam was only 23 years-old when she founded PeriFerry two years back. After she acquired her B.Com degree from Stella Maris in Chennai, she joined a leading investment banking company as a financial analyst.
She quit her job on the belief that she could do something to help the trans community by creating a sustainable model of livelihood for them. She did ground research to understand the issues that the trans community deals with. The project was to understand their problems and come up with possible solutions to remedy these issues.
“This was the period when I realised that this is an issue I was truly passionate about. Due to social stigma and prevalent discrimination, a major portion of the Indian transgender community earns their living through begging and/or sex work. Families often reject them from home, employers reject them from workplace,” she says.
Neelam says that while there are a few LGBT organisations in India, a focused and long term sustainable approach is the only way forward to truly uplift the socio-economic conditions of the trans community.
Based on her interactions, Neelam feels that conveying to the trans community members that there is an alternative mode of livelihood is a challenge. “Due to social stigma and also the ironically closeted environment within the trans community, a majority of the members are under the impression that engaging in sex work and/or begging is the only way for a transgender person to earn their living,” she says.
Neelam says that skill gap is another issue. “Often times we find that individual interests do not match with the industry requirements. However, we are hoping to resolve both of these issues as we move forward,” she says.
Raghav came out to his parents two years ago. Once the initial shock subsided, his parents have now accepted him. Yet, his professional life came to a standstill when he left his job at a construction company at Ernakulam, Kerala.
Fortunately, a friend put him in touch with Periferry. He has been receiving training since August this year in soft skills so that he can get placed in a job. “They are polishing my communication skills, and helping me learn how to self-motivate,” he says.
“It feels great to be a part of the startup and they are doing some great work by not just providing training but also shelter and food to those who need it. More than anything, PeriFerry has given me the mental support which I really needed at that point in my life,” he says.
As for Hayathi, she is now working as a service desk analyst at ANZ Bank’s office in Bengaluru since the past 14 months.
“In the past eight years, I have changed jobs eleven times because of the ostracisation I faced on multiple levels. This is despite the fact that I have a B(tech) degree and a Diploma in aviation,” shares Hayathi.
“I am thankful for the emotional support that I received at the time. Neelam even went to the extent of reaching out to my parents as they weren’t accepting of me. I am really grateful to her for making this effort,” says Hayathi.
“We have sensitised over 15,000 corporate employees on LGBT issues to help build workplaces fueled by empathy. Our client base includes – ANZ Bank, Bank of America, ThoughtWorks, Koskii, RmKV Silks, Valeo, The Lemon Tree Hotels, Adobe, Walmart Labs, Naturals Salon, The Lalit Ashok Hotels among other respective names,” says Neelam.
A positive spirit and determination to make a change led to at least 650+ members of the community reaching out to PeriFerry.
PeriFerry’s work has also been recognised by various platforms. They were one of the six total winners at the 3M CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards 2019 which had more than 800 applicants. 3M CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) is identifies young leaders with ideas that deal with serious social issues.
Neelam was also named Southern India’s Most Vibrant Entrepreneur award by Edex in 2018 in the 40 Under 40 category.
Other than corporate jobs, PeriFerry has also placed people as graphic designers, make-up artists while others are working in the tech support industry, food delivery industry etc.
Now, they are developing TransInn, a residential-cum-corporate training facility. The first iteration of TransInn is already underway in Bengaluru in collaboration with the ANZ Bank where 20 community members are under a thorough training program to help them venture into the corporate world. “We wish to establish units of TransInn in all major cities to expand our reach and benefit more,” she says.
So, what keeps Neelam going?
“The kind of work we are doing gives me and my team such a high sense of fulfilment. The fact that no one is bound by circumstances to beg on the streets or do sex work makes me feel like we are making a difference. My only hope is that parents be more accepting of their children who come out as this would help their children in embracing who they truly are,” she says signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)