Rethink about #Returships, it’s more than what you think about!

This interview took place with the Co-Founder of, Neha Shah. Our discussion was about women reentry to the corporate world and few major defining elements that differentiate a social entrepreneurship company to an NGO or a corporate company. Share your feedback to

A quick idea about our conversation

I recently went to a TEDx event and there the theme was PANORAMA and most of the speakers were talking about their life, growth, and perspectives. One thing common about everyone is, they spoke about it “Social Entrepreneurship”. This combination of words, I know the term before but I never worked it close enough to understand it. I have been Re-searching lately on how social entrepreneurship as a concept works or impacts our society directly or indirectly.

On a nutshell, Social Entrepreneurship is defined as, the use of start-up companies and other entrepreneurs to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues. This concept may be applied to a variety of organizations with different sizes, aims, and beliefs. (Quoted by PBS Enterprising Ideas 2012).

People who do this job or similar job role are called as Social capitalist, Social innovator or Venture philanthropists. One thing I observed is they do get a lot of PR attention, and like anything, I remember from my economics textbooks, i.e., profitable business is developed from or by understanding the demand or the problem and creating a substantial and long term solution by a cost-effective factor with profitable margin is business. And Social entrepreneurship does the same, what makes it so different? Is it a profitable format of NGO or business format of social work.

I wanted to study an up and running social entrepreneurship Business model by a company and how they solve this problem effectively and creatively. To that, I looked at a very interesting Ted Talk by Carol Fishman Cohen on 2nd innings of their life. What she was discussing about is how she re-started her career after a long break approx 7 to 10 years. The most interesting part was how companies were accepting her to get back the work and her initiative to make this happen. I can understand by what she said that was a bumpy ride to convince corporate people to rehire such employes, which gave me a perspective. It would be a great deal to bring a lot of rehires, which would save a lot of money on training new people and grooming the old staff but it is not as easy as I said. A recent study from avtar foundation on a report called ViewPoint 2018, it was mentioned that only 27% at entry levels to 15% at mid-management levels to 5% at senior management levels are working-class women, in the same report its mentioned that every year that graduates, 46% are women. I was shocked looking at these reports. Where is this drop happening and why? As well why isn’t no one speaking about it?

In my further study, I spoke to a few market leaders and influencers who are trying to solve the same problem. I personally had a discussion with them to see what they have to say and how their efforts are helping to solve this crisis.   

Tell me about your company and your work:

Qween basically is a platform for women where we help them to develop connected and network and skill and eventually, so they could restart their career. In terms of work, this started about 4 years ago, with me and Nethi Jain and Deval shah. All three of us had education abroad and worked there for few years and moved there at the same time, so we are friends from a long time, since we moved here and started our families here and had a break and that’s when we realized that the culture here is very different than what it is across overseas. Over there, the daycare and other facilities are much better and now maternity leaves her as well is better. Thanks why we felt that there is a need for a product like such. We 3 had a different lifestyle and once we moved back here, we realized the huge problem and how it affects the women personally and professionally and corporates as well losing huge amount of talent on this cause. That was the initial idea on how we started and the concept of idea s same but the way we executed improved and changed its structure all these years. One thing we observed here is there are a lot of social barriers and for women who got married or who just got a kid mostly end their career by giving up their career. Even they come back they would mostly look for something small or part-time, what we realized is that, there are 100’s of thousands of women who want to get back to their career and they are looking for something small and easy and mostly work from home, even they want to step up for a full-time job, their family and child come in to the play. The guilt of leaving them home or lack of confidence or any lack of other skills.

To this problem what we decided is, find Jobs and opportunities to work on these like working from home, not too much outgoing is required or flexible work hours. We started pitching for companies for this description, the thing is a lot of companies now are working with returnships (Return Internships) and rehire programs, but most of them are full-time opportunities which are not the best options for women. We have a network of around 60,000 women and when you survey them, most of them would be convenient and interested in 4 to 6 hours which companies are not showing any interest in. So we tweaked our process a little, and we changed it as crowdsourcing, we pitched companies that we have these resources and they are experienced or expertise in these fields.

Women in our network are, mostly educated and had few years of experience and they are fine to work on cost-efficient model, as companies don’t need to pay for any overhead charges, the cost for them per person reduces and that gave an opportunity for work from home model and Job roles like Market research, content work, calling related or any kind of BPO service made a lot of sense for them and we as an organization worked as a Project Manager to handle these set of working ladies from home.  We have some happy clients and hundreds are women are working on this model. We are experimenting and testing different potential models that can be efficient for women who can step out of their house and restart their career.

  • Provide full time and part-time jobs
  • Giving pieces of training
  • Taking projects that can be outsourced and worked as a project manager (Digital BPO service)
  • Consultancy service firm who can work on connecting people and mentorship alliance. (Hand holding world with creation and structure and development for their business)

If providing jobs is one thing, then another thing is to make women realize that they need a job or to prepare then to get one. What happens here is, as they haven’t been working for a long time, most of the women lost confidence and there are women who don’t know which direction to go in, this is not just mid-level but some top-level doctors, lawyers, and other specialized skilled people also lost their purpose and direction. It’s not just giving them opportunities, but as well to enhance their skills, to train them and to make then market ready and at least some part of the hand held work to direct them towards, what they like to work and what they are passionate about.

Looking at your journey and social entrepreneurship as a whole, if I say you are focused on cause more than profit, Do you agree?

Well, that’s how i initially started as because it started as a personal need and that gave me a perspective and a big picture at current situation. Potential opportunity and reasonable cause and something i can relate to and when i faced this situation, even though i had support and i had my business i was still confused. It was never been about trying to make money out of it but it’s more about a passion for me, i believe it’s untapped talent resource.

Neither companies know the potential nor women had opportunities and guidance.

Does the potential target i.e, post maternity women are interested to get back on their career or just want to spend some time and make money? What are their intentions mostly?

When these women come to us, not all look for jobs. Most of them would be looking for counseling and skill development and some kind of career guidance and eventually, they will start something and growth. I have a real life example of one such person who came to us some time back, who was low in confidence and took training on travel-related skills and later in few months she started working as a travel consultant and making lakhs of rupees in a month, sitting at home and managing her work. We have hundreds of such example, where women come with confusion and realize their skills or may even brush up their old skills and work on them and make amazing comebacks in their careers. Their stories of hustle and persistence are something that inspired us to do the same and even encouraged a lot of others to give a chance to getting back on their feet. That’s the reason we believing in networking and growing connections, this way people know each other and they will understand and may even realize that it’s not just me and looking at other they are also motivated to get back and this also helps business entrepreneurs to grow and it creates opportunities.

What do you think, does physical effort is involved in this process or can it be managed remotely(All this work and process effectively)?

We are in a digital world right, look at us everyone is with laptops and using mobiles all the time and our aim is to reach remote places of India and digital helps us achieve it much more effective, this process will work always when there is a will to do it.

Well, That’s an interesting and passionate answer. Will always out beats problems. My next question is, do you reach people and enlighten them or enlightened people directly reach for your service. How do people know about your services or company?

We do conduct a lot of events, workshops and networking activities all around on regular intervals to connect with new people and to know their perceptions and thoughts. We are constantly surprised by what we see, the passion and perseverance of these talented people, and little guidance and support can and even its proved with many people that can change their life. We believe in “Empowering women to be financially independent” and we are on a verge of making an attempt from our side.

And is your business model a researched idea or it’s just kept evolving from where you started?

We started with different ideas, connecting with companies and understanding of what they need and what would be the ideal surface for Business or what kind of expertise women need to have, part time & full time as well as what would be ideal. Even though our approach changed and our business model developed our aim is to develop women community and our The good thing is, amount of network we have among women is so diverse that we can work on so many potential ideas and models. It’s a time taking process and it took us 4 years to be where we are.  

What’s your views on #Returnship programs and back to work, or any other type of internship or come back programs?

Corporate companies do introduce returnship programs and back to work programs, but they are efficient for only 2% of the market, it’s better for tech skilled women. Most of them know what they are doing because it’s a skill level work and brushing up skills would bring them back to the game, but in the other hand Business development, marketing or sales or any finance or Hr related resource companies are still skeptical of this process and they can’t find anything that can bring these people back to the industry. These are fully trained employees who took a long break, not using their resources would be a very big loss to companies I personally think.

But when we work on the business side of things, companies would be thinking on return on investment and productivity of that personality and if we develop a model or a structure where these set of employees can get back and learn current trends with minimal time and cost and companies with their level of maturity and calmness would be a great asset to their company.

Most of the women, we spoke to know what they are loosing and what and how they need to find it, with proper research and by scanning some opportunity they will get back to it by themselves. But we are not working about them, there is huge no of people who don’t know what to do and until someone comes to them and explain that, this is not uncommon and come with us or join us and we will train and develop you to face the current market. When these women see others as well hustling like them, gives them that we can make this happen and we can work hard. It’s not a problem to be solved in one day, it not physical as it is as personal, it takes time and efforts by them and by supporting parties to develop something like this. There is an underprivileged segment to be considered in addition to that what we and a lot of other people working on.

What do you think the progress is on non-technical backgrounds such as Skilled labor, Management related or specific job roles people and professionals, what’s happening with such kind of jobs, do companies are giving any such push to get them back to the game?

Well, nothing as such as an initiative is happening in India but we are working on how to develop and create an opportunity. We need to do a lot of hand-holding and physical counseling and training so that they can choose their career. If I ask that how many of them would be interested to restart their career by work from home or similar commitment then hundreds of thousands of women show interest but the problem is how, how to find a career and how to get back and how to stand still and grow. That’s our major challenge now. It might be possible for us to choose another side i.e, women who know what to do and by providing jobs would surely give us money, but we believe and work on both sides. Not just providing jobs but also enlightening people. We do start as a different business model but as time-shifted our perspective on this social problem explained and we are doing our level best to make sure and contribute the same.

Do you ever think that you lost your cause or deviated from where you started and are you going in the right direction?

We do sometimes wonder and brainstorm on how we are taking this problem and solving, are we at the right pace? Are we going ahead or behind and how good are we solving this problem? During these times, when we look at people we placed or women we worked with and developed their skills and their success stories makes us believe in what we do.

Looking at competition and at your company structure and founder’s history, can I assume that all you three studied in abroad and came to India and saw the injustice or a huge problem and created a social start-up. My question would be if that was not the scenario and may be one of the founders came from India then your intensity or vision would different (This question was raised by considering the major part of competition and market share by remaining companies are owned by women leaders and they all have similar stories)

It does help when we came to India and saw this situation. Due to the exposure we had, we looked at this situation, we thought that I can be solvable to an extent and think to form a different perspective. I am not sure if I would have been stated in India then I would have come across on this or not.

What do you think about men facing the same problem and as well LGBTQ community?  

We never worked on especially on these fields, but we support the cause but we, for now, are very focused on women development.

After listening to her answers, there are few points i believe worth revising.

Women who reach them are generally two types,

  • The first kind, they know what to do and are smart enough to figure out their career, need a little push and help to connect to the right audience.
  • The second kind, they might be smart, even skilled and professional people but are completely clueless and lost confidence in getting back to their career. Companies like qween, avatar & jobs for her work on developing a handheld connection by providing mentorship, training, and counseling and then help them to get back to their life.

My suggestions to women who want to get back in their career life.

  • If you want to try to get back in the game, the first thing to do is to brush up your skills and update your any technical skills you have to the present market requirement from your end. That saves a lot of time and other resources to companies looking for hiring you.
  • You need to cross check that whether you are ready or not, to compete with the real world, to make sure this doubt, work on an internship or part-time companies to get a view of the current market.
  • If there’s any kind of mental block or any other confusion, consult a professional or a mentor or any kind of career trainer to evaluate your opinions. A lot of social entrepreneurship companies like qweens are doing such a job to encourage women.  
  • When you get back to work, do your job wholeheartedly, that will create more opportunities and confidence for your inner self to do more.
  • If you previously worked on a job role-based work like business development or client servicing then try shifting your career to call, or content or recruiting or research or any other career directions, expertise on multi-job roles will give you a kick start on your career.
  • From my survey, one of the common answers for the reason women don’t want to take jobs is because of Guilt they have towards not being with or taking care of their family or kids. In that situation find the solution according to the the level of dependence your family has on you. Highly dependent then work from home and if not full time.
  • Finally, if you did all right and get back to your career and corporate people don’t pay you enough, then don’t get disappointed rather prove them that you are better as a leader or a good fit for this role because of the unique handling skills you learned as being a mother and your decision-making skills can be used for a better extent. A most common reason a company would not be ready is a return on investment on a person.

If you prove your company what you are capable of then by asking a probation period to work on or to solve real-time company problems, you can build trust from your employers and thus can ask or work on your terms to deal with the company. Remember this going to be a time taking process, getting back to career is a big deal and you are smart and confident enough to this far and will definitely do a few more steps for sure.

Looking at their business model and thought process, I believe that your team is working on solving the problem and monetization is a result of it rather the other way. Which defines that when the money making part disturbs or doesn’t work properly it will not affect the cause of the business & your team still will take this objective forward.

Interviewed and Transcripted by Sai Nikhil Dintakurthi


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