Bengaluru resident Santosh Mahalingam started social impact startup Mikro Grafeio to help people living in Tier-II and III cities get jobs in their own towns without having to migrate to bigger cities.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of freshers migrate to new cities in different states and countries in search of jobs, leaving the comfort of their homes. While Indians top the list of educated migrants in rich countries — with over 3 million tertiary-educated migrants — 51 million migrants move within the country for jobs. The composition of migrants was explicitly visible at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what if they get equal job opportunities in their hometowns as well?
Bengaluru-based Santosh Mahalingam’s social impact startup Mikro Grafeio is hoping to do just that, by helping people get jobs in their small towns. With this, he is also attracting corporations, entrepreneurs, and startups to move their operations to Tier II and III towns by providing them necessary infrastructure and trained workforce to fuel local businesses and empower the local economy.
Santosh hails from Kozhikode in Kerala. He recalls that around 30 years ago, despite his education credentials, the MBA graduate could neither find a job in his hometown, nor in nearby cities. He had to move to Bengaluru, nearly 350 km away, leaving his family behind.
Keeping his own struggle in mind, the 50-year-old started the company in 2021.
Finding an opportunity
“During my childhood, I would find this bank, Standard Chartered, very appealing. Whenever I would cycle to my college, I’d pass by that branch. Often, I would wonder if someday I could work here. This dream came true when I joined the bank. But I had to leave Calicut to work in the Bengaluru office,” Santosh tells The Better India.
“Since then, I have moved around in the Middle East, Singapore, then again the Middle East, then come back to India,” he adds.
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, while he was working with a Dubai-based bank, that he observed the magnitude of migration and scope of working from anywhere.
“COVID broke the myth that we all need to be together in a single city for work. People can work from their hometowns while living with their friends and families, away from the hustle of metros, where half the time they spend commuting,” he explains.
So, after working for 27 years in the banking industry, Santosh quit his corporate career and started Mikro Grafeio, which translates to ‘a small office’ in Greek, along with his colleagues Mohan Mathew, Jaishankar Seetharaman, Ranchu Nair, and Shyam Kumar.
In India, a large chunk of the workforce moves to metros including Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. Santosh believes India cannot flourish with fewer thriving metro cities, many towns and cities have the suitable potential and infrastructure.
As part of his work, Santosh and his team reach out to companies in India and abroad, and encourage them to shift their operations to Tier II and III cities. The team helps the company set up the workspace and assists them to recruit local talent.
“Our primary job is to bring jobs to these towns. From a company’s point of view, easy talent attraction and cost advantage adds to the benefit. And from an employee’s perspective, their cost of living reduces and their social environment is secured. We have found that many migrants are willing to even take a pay cut to shift to their hometowns,” he adds.
“The next growth of India is in rural areas, as well as Tier II and III cities. That is the social revolution we want to bring into the lives of people,” he smiles.
But the journey has not been easy since it is not an easy task to convince clients. “Companies are skeptical to move operations. It is not an easy task. They are unsure if they would be able to get employees and the necessary infrastructure to set up the company in the new location. We help them overcome these challenges,” informs Santosh. They have now successfully worked with more than 50 clients in India, who are operating from 21 cities including Trichy, Coimbatore, Kochi, Pondicherry, Bhopal, and Lucknow.
For instance, they have been able to create jobs locally in the town of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu for fresh college graduates and postgraduates in the required IT courses for global IT companies.
After a gap of five years, Mumbai’s Revathi Ndurai got a job opportunity in Tirunelveli some time last year. She had earlier wanted to settle in the town after her marriage, but had to take a break since there were no related jobs. But now, she is working with software company 3i Infotech in Tirunelveli.
“The work opportunity is the same compared to Mumbai. We get good projects here as well. Earlier, there were not so many IT companies here. In this rural belt, freshers would move to other cities for IT jobs, but they are getting jobs here itself. Now, they do not have to leave their families to go to metropolitan cities for work. It is cost effective as well,” the 30-year-old tells The Better India.
So far, through the company Santosh claims to have generated over 1,000 employment opportunities in 21 cities across the country, largely in IT-based companies, as well as finance, accounting, retail, architecture, and digital marketing. By the end of the year, the company aims to expand its reach to 44 cities in India.
“It is a sense of deep satisfaction that the graduates from my college are getting job opportunities in their towns and will not be forced to migrate like me. With this work, I am able to give something back to the town where I grew up. I am moving back to my hometown next year because that is where my heart is,” he notes.
Edited by Divya Sethu