Project Potential: Boosting Entrepreneurship at the Grassroot Level

Based in Bihar’s Kishanganj, Project Potential aims to promote entrepreneurial skills at the village level to tackle unemployment.

The urban landscape in India is dotted with entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. But when Zubin Sharma first visited  rural Bihar, purportedly one of the most ‘backward’ parts of India, he saw immense potential in the people. Project Potential, Sharma’s brainchild, was born out of this observation and the belief that everyone has talent, one simply needs the confidence.

The aim is to train 10,000 entrepreneurs from rural India in the next five years.

The unemployment rate in Bihar is 2.5 times higher than the national average, and the literacy rate the lowest in India, at 63.82%. Project Potential, for three years now, has been changing this picture, and in a bottom-up manner. The aim is to train 10,000 entrepreneurs from rural India in the next five years by involving the community right from the ideation to the execution stages.

Sharma first started the Seekho Learning Centre where volunteers from across the world were selected and trained to work with the local community towards learning and skill development. It acted as the precursor to Project Potential which then sought to create model villages by selecting, training, and supporting village level changemakers called Village Visionaries.  

But problems of unemployment persisted, and so, Project Potential took the path of creating a space for entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the crisis. The Udhyam Shiksha Program was later founded to encourage an ethos of entrepreneurship. “We carry out different kinds of team activities to learn, so that a sense of confidence is generated”, says Sharma.

Project Potential, by identifying and honing the skills of the young people of rural Bihar and by instilling a sense of confidence in them, is a platform for the young to give shape to their ideas. Rohan, a young Project Potential entrepreneur, is using the skills he has learnt to develop a sustainable income model for the pineapple and sugarcane farmers in his village.

“Why don’t we store the produce and create products out of them which we can then sell in other cities and states? The farmers won’t be selling the produce at throwaway prices and will also have a source of income all around the year,” says Rohan. Some of the farmers who were trained by Project Potential have started adopting new farming techniques that they have learnt and developed with trainers and volunteers.

The ‘arth’ in e-Arthshala stands for a sustainable financial situation as well as a meaningful life.

The initiative now runs out of a campus in Kishanganj called ‘e-Arthshala’. The ‘arth’ in Arthshala stands for the earth and a sustainable financial situation as well as a meaningful life where one thinks not only of one’s own well-being but of the community and the environment as well. It is considered a space for "regenerating the environment, the economy, and our existence." 

“Our daughter is doing well at the programme and if she continues to do well in business, there can be no bigger source of joy for us,” says Nagmuddin, thanking Project Potential. His other daughter is also happy that the programme is dispelling the shadow of unemployment.

Not all families are as supportive. Bharti, who works with her community to solve problems of rural infrastructure, connectivity and alcoholism, does not have much support from the community either. But she continues to do her work unperturbed because she believes that it is important. “I hope all girls and women have the same kind of freedom,” she says.

The motto of Project Potential is ‘the power to do’, turning the conventional understanding of power as a top-down concept on its head and writing a bottom-up and collective story of empowerment.

Video by Community Correspondent Shorat Pravin

Article by Alankrita Anand, a journalist in the VV editorial team

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