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  • Why Can't the IsMF Model be Digitalised?

    In a progressive and socially responsible world, embracing technology is crucial for effectively delivering financial products and services to underserved sections of society, particularly in developing and underdeveloped regions. Digital financial inclusion stands as an imperative measure undertaken by governments to foster national survival and growth, subsequently encouraging financial institutions to commit to the initiative as well. Mr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group in 2014, extensively elaborated on the transformative role and benefits of digitally delivered financial services in eradicating global poverty in the long run. This is owed to their inherent accessibility, utilisation of biometric authentication tools, facilitation of seamless two-way government payments, and their overall unbiased nature. Although digital finance and its associated services significantly contribute to societal upliftment, they are still in nascent stages of adoption, undergoing continuous innovation and development. However, despite the migration of financial services such as P2P lending, banking, microcredit, insurance, exchanges, etc. onto digital platforms, several existing models within the financial industry, designed to serve the underprivileged population, have yet to undergo digitalisation. The Islamic Microfinance (IsMF) model is one prominent illustration. Concept of Islamic Finance & IsMF Model Islamic Microfinance (IsMF), also known as Interest-free Microfinance or Sharia-complaint Microfinance, is a branch of Islamic finance that has sparked widespread debate regarding its efficacy and viability. Brought upon by Islamic financing principles, its interest-free model aims to foster financial inclusion, spur entrepreneurial development, and promote balanced economic growth across Muslim and Non-Muslim communities. Financial activities governed by Shariah (Islamic Law), including banking, lending, borrowing, and investing, adhere to two fundamental principles derived from the teachings of the Quran: profit and loss sharing, and the prohibition of riba (interest). Considering its interest-free mechanism, Islamic banks and financial institutions typically earn a profit through equity participation in debtors’ business ventures and activities. Ultimately, this culminates in one of two types of partnership contract: Mudaraba (A contract wherein one party provides capital and another expertise, sharing only profits based on a predetermined ratio) and or Musharaka (A contract establishing a joint venture with equal contributions of capital and expertise, and profit and loss sharing) .  Upon maturity, lenders exit their equity holdings through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), Buyback or simply withdraw their ownership stake. Additionally, Islamic finance prohibits usury, speculation or maisir (gambling), which is fairly contradicting to its risk averse financing principles displayed by the IsMF model. Originally emerging among Muslim businessmen in the Middle East during the Medieval Era, Islamic finance experienced a resurgence in the early 1960s, gaining significant traction among major banking institutions worldwide. This cultural, social, and ethical form of financing and investing, formed on the foundation of strong community trust and interdependence, spawned the establishment of numerous national interest-free institutions in countries such as Sudan, Iran, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as various independent financial bodies globally. The Islamic Microfinance (IsMF) model, a subset of Islamic finance, aims to provide interest-free credit facilities to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and individuals who do not qualify for or cannot afford traditional microfinance due to poverty. Typically structured as Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs), cooperatives, community-based organisations, or social enterprises primarily funded by government subsidies and community contributions, IsMFs prioritise financial inclusion and social impact rather than profit maximisation. While they may generate some revenue through fees and donations, their primary objective is to stimulate entrepreneurial activities and uplift the underprivileged from poverty through accessible and affordable microcredit facilities. To enhance affordability, IsMFs generally refrain from claiming majority stakes in the borrower’s businesses or requiring rahn (collateral). Furthermore, they engage in legally binding contractual agreements with their clients, partners, and stakeholders, operating under the regulatory framework of institutions such as the RBI. A prominent institution exemplifying IsMF principles is the Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance specialised community development bank founded by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Prof. Muhammad Yunus in 1983. Originating in Bangladesh, the bank emerged from a research project aimed at eradicating poverty and stimulating businesses through micro-lending and banking services for rural populations residing in Bangladeshi villages. According to Muhammad Yunus, the bank symbolises “the creativity of human beings”, emphasising the role of entrepreneurial activity in poverty alleviation. As observed, the banks success heavily depends on the principles of social psychology, economics, community support and government backing in its operations. Witnessing a surge of popularity between 2003 and 2007, the Grameen Bank expanded globally in developed and developing countries, lending over $7.6 billion by the end of 2008 to the poor, including several women borrowers. In India, numerous IsMF institutions operate based on the profit-sharing mechanism of Islamic finance, primarily structured as co-operative credit societies like Bait-un-Nasr Urban Co-operative Credit Society, Al-Khair Co-operative Credit Society and Sanghamam Multistate Co-operative Credit Society. A Digitalised IsMF Model: Study of Akhuwat Islamic Microfinance (AIM) Program In discussing digitalised IsMF institutions, it is crucial to consider one of the world’s largest interest-free microfinance programs, Akhuwat Islamic Microfinance (AIM). Launched in 2001 by Dr. Muhammad Amjad Saqib of the Akhuwat Foundation, the AIM program is a cornerstone of their efforts. The Akhuwat Foundation is an NPO founded in Pakistan, which has significantly impacted the underprivileged community through its AIM Program, education programs, clothes bank, Khawajasira Support Program, housing projects and health clinics. Dedicated to creating a poverty-free society, as of 2022, Akhuwat had disbursed over 5.4 million interest free loans worth PKR 180 billion ($650 million) to 3 million Pakistani families, with a national impact factor of 22.3%. Based in Lahore, Pakistan, Akhuwat has a network of 750 branches across the country alone, providing a wide range of tailored interest-free microfinance products, such as family enterprise loans, agriculture loans, liberation loans, housing loans, education loans, health loans, marriage loans and emergency loans. Loan durations vary from 1 to 36 months based on the type and only requires principal repayment in easy instalments, with 0% interest and an optional 1% towards its mutual contribution fund. Arabic word ‘Akhuwat’ means Mawakhat (brotherhood), which reflects its reliance on the strength and trust of the Muslim community in Pakistan, emphasizing the organisation's primary funding from society and government donations and subsidies. An article by Vatican News described the organisation as being “a concrete example of human fraternity, by seeking to promote compassion, solidarity and equality through microfinance”. Due to the integrity of the community, the loan repayment rate is at an astonishing 99% despite being sanctioned to low-income individuals, who are misconceived to have an unreliable attitude. Currently, Akhuwat has expanded its physical presence to several countries, including the UK, Canada, Sweden, the USA, Nigeria, Uganda, and Afghanistan. Despite the success of Akhuwat’s Islamic Microfinance program (AIM), its digital platform currently serves primarily as an informational resource about its loan services and their respective procedures. Unlike other traditional microfinance institutions offering and granting micro-credit on their online platforms, Akhuwat merely provides information detailing these microfinance services, which must be accessed through its physical branches only. Even though these branches are highly accessible to rural societies throughout Pakistan, they have limited physical presence in other countries. An evident recommendation would be to transform the entire loan application as well as the sanctioning process online through Akhuwat’s website, to effectively realise their objective of eradicating poverty at a global scale. Nevertheless, it could be contended that the effectiveness of delivering online IsMF facilities is compromised by factors such as limited internet access, a lack of digital literacy, and low technological proficiency among impoverished communities. An alternative perspective to consider is that the adoption of technology in any organisation benefits both its customers and management. Management gains from expansion, quick and convenient data collection, data-driven decision making, internal controls, development of Management Information Systems (MIS), increased oversight and cost savings from closure of redundant branches. Customers benefit from typical digital delivery advantages like accessibility, convenience, ease, availability, and enhanced customer experience. However, digital implementation would expose the organisation to common digital threats, like authenticity of applicants and safety of customer data. Further research suggests that digitalising the process may potentially disrupt the Muslim fraternity and community balance, which the IsMF model builds on. The model is viewed by the Muslim community as social financing grounded in brotherhood and community building. However, the adoption of digital delivery could compromise this objective due its remoteness and lack of physical presence. Since the model relies on the sincerity and trust of the community, digitalisation may result in higher exposure to default risk, which questions its viability in the long run. One noteworthy aspect of Islamic Microfinance programs like AIM is their adherence to cultural norms and practices. For instance, AIM disburses loans to borrowers in mosques, which are often frequented by Muslim men. This practice reflects the cultural context in which the program operates, where mosques serve as central community hubs. However, it's important to recognize that this approach may inadvertently exclude certain segments of the population, such as individuals who do not frequent mosques. Considering this, extending Islamic Microfinance models’ beneficial and socially progressive principles via digital platforms globally, may not be well-received in religiously sensitive and secularist countries such as Russia, Israel, India, etc. An often-overlooked aspect about most IsMF institutions is that it disperses cash-based loans because it typically caters to rural populations with limited access to banking and digital payment platforms. In this aspect, Akhuwat deliberately includes the Mosque as a venue for cash-dispersion, which strengthens the community as a whole and facilitates access and transparency. Akhuwat is commended on intelligently utilising the aspects of religious integrity and honesty in its lending procedure. Religiously, Mosques would engrave a deeper meaning within Muslim borrowers to strive and employ the funds in productive activity with prompt repayment of principal and any profit instalments. Evidently, this ideology and manner of thought would not be possible through digital delivery. Additionally, if digital delivery were to be employed, cash-based loans would be potentially replaced by bank transactions. Banking, specifically digital banking, implements superior governance, efficient transfers, cost savings, government oversight and audit, however as per a recent World Bank report, nearly 1.7 billion people are unbanked, which includes a great many individuals battling poverty. It can be argued that digital lending would promote adoption of banking among rural society in the long run and as a result would increase the impact factor globally. Furthermore, many IsMF institutions around the world are structured distinctly, which could have tax and regulatory implications if they make a surplus through their activities. Hence, IsMF institutions rely on cash-based loans to avoid any complications. Furthermore, research indicates that small scale IsMF institutions would struggle to financially sustain digitalisation without societal contribution and government support. Constrained by its not-for-profit outlook, IsMF models do not emphasise on profit generation, however, it would be useful to view profits as an indicator of successful repayment and instalment rates. Moreover, the downside potential suggests that the credit may not efficiently contribute to the objective of social upliftment, consequently impeding the flow of funds.  Utilising a ‘pricing strategy’ such as a model that determines the profit-sharing ratio or ownership stake in the borrower’s business based on the risk and maturity of the loan, would be useful. Especially for small scale IsMF institutions, it would lead to lower bad debts and would fulfil the social mission. Overall, the Interest-free Microfinance is an impactful and socially innovative concept, implemented in many countries across the world. To eradicate poverty globally, it is an imperative measure inculcating societal commitment and progressive consciousness throughout the world. It improves wealth distribution and could boost economic growth. However, if viable, digital transformation and expansion of IsMF models around the world must be undertaken mindfully, respectfully, and inclusively. By Pia Kothari

  • Another threatened by AI?

    By Pia Kothari Unlimited access to open-source artificial intelligence software allows users across the face of the internet to simplify commercial and non-commercial activities with greater efficiency and speed than most traditional methods. The evolution and subsequent development of artificial intelligence date back to the mid-20th century and has since flourished its way into the 21st century. Artificial intelligence, however unconventional and convenient, has its potential disadvantages for society. For this, it has caught the attention of many analysts and researchers, mainly investigating the “grave” dangers of its excessive use and dependence. Focusing on its danger to job markets, predictive and hybrid artificial intelligence software paired with neural networks actively poses as a threat to jobseekers in multi-disciplines and is forecasted to absorb over 90% of jobs over the next 10 years. This has a significant impact on the world economy and may increase international income inequality. Financial management professions tend to be one of the most threatened by AI wherein human capital may be made partially or completely redundant. Ranging from the formation of indexes to the creation of arbitrage strategies, AI has changed the face of the financial management industry. However, the accuracy and ability of several AI platforms like AlphaSense, QuantConnect, Kensho, EdioSearch, Ayasdi and many more remain widely debated upon. Often used together, these AI-powered platforms execute algorithmic trading and investment strategies powered by machine learning and unique quantitative finance techniques. They seek to make fast-paced decisions and calculated risks tailored to fit the profile of every user to take advantage of any opportunity in the market. Common users include MNCs, Hedge Funds, Alternative Investment Funds, LBO Funds, Mutual Funds, REITs, Pension Funds, Commercial banks, individuals and ultimately any market participant. It is to be noted that some of this software is privately owned and patented. In addition to leveraging investment positions, the trades made by these AI platforms are executed in a matter of seconds, almost tracking price movements with agility, beyond the comprehensive knowledge of traditional white-collar analysts. Although agility of an AI system may be unbeatable by human cognition, the accuracy of these AI powered investment recommendation systems seems to be in the grey. The question remains: Can Predictive AI completely replace buy-side analysts? Even though buy-side analysts are time bound, agility is a seemingly rigorous requirement for buy-side traders, tasked with the sole responsibility of execution of transactions and investment strategies of money management firms. The argument continues about AI regarding its lack of direct human creativity in its formation of investment choices and strategies persists among the asset management and banking industry. Most predictive AI models use machine learning to analyse past events, market sentiment, fundamental data, etc. and accordingly make their recommendations and investment strategies. With a successful integration of behavioural and trend analysis, the model may provide near-accurate predictions, however, the problem lies with its lack of ingenuity in combining their results to make an efficient investment strategy with an effective execution layout. To discuss further, buy-side analysts bring a significant amount of human judgement and industry expertise to the table when making their recommendations to fit a client’s portfolio. Many are concerned that AI, as promising as it seems, doesn’t have a “human touch” to it. Not only does AI lack the required innovation and adaptability to strive in the financial management industry, it also doesn’t have a face to it. In such an industry, it is almost a requirement to have a “trustworthy face”, one which people could entrust their money with. This builds healthy client relationships with buy-side analysts, who usually tend to work on the back end of a firm, nevertheless, are required to interact with their clients. Highlighting this fact, many debate otherwise that AI makes the work of these analysts simpler, if not replacing them, by its powerful ability to condense, interpret and present large amounts of unstructured and structured data, which isn’t only constrained to numerical data and text analytics. Based on its data analysis, AI enables analysts to recommend tailored financial products and make investment decisions and strategies at a pace faster than ever before. In a recent development, BlackRock introduced its AI platform, Aladdin, which seeks to provide comprehensive risk assessment and portfolio management solutions. If used in collaboration with human judgement, “AI has a huge potential to increase productivity, increase knowledge base and transform margins across sectors” said BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in a recent interview. Similarly, in order to improve trade execution and efficiency, JP Morgan introduced the LOXM programme, which leverages AI to enhance the execution quality of their trading strategies and minimise the market impact. Interestingly, the LOXM programme is powered by machine learning and effectively performs predictive risk management and scenario analysis using historical trade data. Aside from assisting and improving the primary duties of any analyst in the financial industry, AI also enhances the operational capabilities of their firms. As an example, UBS employed AI algorithms to provide enhanced CRM functions through their SmartWealth platform, which provides personalised investment advice after considering individual client profiles and risk appetites. Proven to be cost efficient for a labour intensive financial services firm, AI streamlines back-office operations in order to improve delivery and efficiency. This is observed in Goldman Sachs, which utilises AI to automate complex and labour intensive tasks and processes, aiming to reduce costly errors and save time. Referring to costly errors, AI also aids in fraud detection, most prominently used in Citigroup as a measure to identify unusual transaction patterns and provide real time alerts. In the hope of utilising AI efficiently as an active cost-cutting measure, firms must evaluate technical, legal, and commercial considerations before committing to complex AI models in their analytical and operational activities. Nevertheless, most AI algorithms may inherit biases present in the data due to their machine learning property, which could lead to potential errors in their analysis. As a preventive measure, AI systems must be regularly monitored and adjusted to avoid any erroneous analysis and interpretation. Like all technology, concerns were raised regarding cyber security of sensitive financial information stored in the memory of AI systems and automation technology. Data of high value may be at significant risk due to heavy dependence on digital systems and lack of cyber security measures. Ultimately, the debate continues to grow and become stronger as and when new advancements are made to existing models and algorithms of AI or the development of new systems and platforms. Many experts and computer scientists believe that Artificial Intelligence is still in its early stages of development. Even though it has already touched the lives of several individuals around the world, many do not know its capabilities and functions to use it efficiently and effectively. In the near-future, with respect to its application in the financial management industry and the possible replacement of buy-side analysts, it is highly unlikely that these AI systems will be able to fill the shoes of buy-side analysts in an investment management setting due to its inability to fully capture and analyse qualitative information, human intuition, and market sentiment. However, the future remains uncertain concerning the potential of Artificial Intelligence.

  • Lead or be led

    by Rishika Gupta In human interactions, you may feel there are few people whom you get along with easily, and few people that no matter how hard you try, their tend to be miscommunication and frustrating because there is just such a huge gap between what one conveys and what the other understands. Now picture this happening in a business setting. When working or entrepreneuring, you interact with a spectrum of professionals and you have to prepare to work with every type of personality. A helpful way of gauging human personalities is by understanding yours. Taking a Myers-Briggs Test [MBTI] is a great way of self-reflection. Do note that this is not an accurate representation but a helpful tool in gaining an insight in your personality traits. When you master what motivates you, wonder how you can motivate others? Be a leader in your workplace and life and inspire those around you, or better understand the nature of your managers to adjust your working style to match theirs, or vice versa. As per Ivey Business School, there are 13 managerial leadership styles: · Autocratic: Effective in showcasing strong leadership in times of crisis. For example: Elon Musk at Twitter. But what that may do is alienate the workforce as it essentially means that it is only the leader/managers whose opinion matters. · Affiliative: They consider their team as their affiliates and important to business decisions. It’s people over profits and integral to ensuring that their opinion matters. · Bureaucratic: Bureaucratic leaders tend to be traditionalist and believe in forms, policies and procedures. · Coaching: A coach takes a mentor like role for their associates. They nurture their talent by identifying which characteristic is best suited for a role and provide opportunities to grow and succeed. · Democratic: Involves considering their teams’ inputs in form of opinions and efforts. They believe that employees are closer to the problem than leaders and value their contribution. · Laissez-faire: The leader takes minimal decisions and delegates the work. For example: if an upcoming event is to take place, delegating the preparation and decision-making power to his/her subordinate · Emergent: This involves a sort of style which you may embody yourself. Emergent leaders are ones who take up the leadership mantle when no leader is elected or assigned. They earn goodwill within the organization for taking initiative and convincing teammates to organize and work together. · Pacesetting: A leader who leads by example and would expect of his team members what he/she expects of himself/herself. Setting goals to achieve and surpass consistently is a key feature of a pacesetting leader. · Servant: A servant leader places more emphasis on the stakeholders they’re responsible for. A CEO may be accountable and prioritizing shareholder interest, or a manager may do as the line manager says, with little consideration for himself or his team. · Strategic: A great thinker who considers all aspects before making a decision. Growth is the name of the game and one who is empathetic but also strategic. For example: would help schedule leaves in such a way a team member is not left to manage the entire workload. · Transactional: Such a leader is focused on the tasks completed, ensuring required needs are met and would do little to go above and beyond for his employees. · Transformative: Someone who encourages you to go the extra mile little by little. If a target for 100 sales calls is set, they would motivate you to fit in 10 more and reward you for it, in turn helping you exceed your expectations and work better. · Visionary: Finally, such a visionary is one who can bring about change. A changemaker to inspire and extract creativity to take the company ahead. Learn more about leaders, leadership styles and see how you can grow in your career, sign up for the WorkEx Bootcamp’s Leadership Track featuring Leadership Principles by HBS Online in collaboration with Podar Enterprises.

  • Negotiation across your career

    by Rishika Gupta When you’re in college and just starting out on your career, questions of self-doubt can plague your mind. When you’re on the cusp of entering the real world, a key skill that not many discuss is the art of negotiation. As an employee, the first stage of negotiation you would come across is at your first job. Through your course you may have taken up internships, but a key difference here is that in an internship, your salary is fixed and your main goal is to gain exposure and experience. The priorities when you’re starting your first job are very different. Now you’re looking to set up your own life and earn a living, in order to maximise that, it is important to keep self-doubt aside and negotiate your worth, while being respectful to the company budgets, policies and bosses. The best way to reach and identify common ground is to do your research. Speak to mentors and professionals in the industry to identify what is the average pay range for your role. Also be mindful of the experience you bring to the table. For example: if you’re a fresher with minimal internship experience, you would not be in a place to negotiate a higher salary package; but if you have 4-5 internships under your belt, safe to say that the HR team would respect the experience you bring as compared to someone more inexperienced as you would require lesser training as well. Within your role, if you work with vendors especially, finding the best value for money sources would enhance your value to the firm. In a place like India, you can always find the next best or in most cases, more affordable option for any item. The key differentiator can be creating strong connections with those suppliers so as to form your own base to advance in your career and knowledge. A key differentiator between junior and senior members of a team is yet again, experience. Negotiation is a nuanced art wherein the right way of talking can result a 10% cost reduction and strategizing partnerships for long-term benefits. As a student this may seem daunting especially since the world is more ruthless than ever. When speaking with someone, always try to identify what their motivations could be. Most likely, they too have some targets to meet. Forming a friendship can mean that you form a level of commercial trust and receive best prices from both sourcer, supplier and seller. A great way to practice this skill is to participate in events or select roles in internships that involve speaking to outside stakeholders. Negotiation involves the process of extracting value from a scarce resource, which may not always be money. Within the organization, finding a mentor to give insider advice on how to get your proposal approved, or which is the best place to find the cheapest source of office equipment. The benefits are endless. Negotiating for time with them is also important in highlighting ‘your edge’ as someone who knows how to help both parties involved in the deal. As you’re up for the promotion, these skills would be the necessary soft skills a leader ought to possess to drive incremental value for the people, purpose and profits in an organization. Create your own learning journey, or make the process just a little bit easier by learning tips, tricks and theories from the one of the world’s best business schools, check out the Negotiation Mastery course as part of the WorkEx Bootcamp, sign up today!

  • Design Think(ing) to Innovate

    by Sakshi Chavan Design Thinking is about taking a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from a designers toolkit to integrate the needs of the consumer. Simply put, it is about thinking about a business problem with sensitivity, and not basing the innovation process solely on numbers, adding a touch of human intuition. Commonly referred to as creative thinking, this process plays a pivotal role in shaping the products and experiences that you hope to translate in the customer experience. Integrating Design Thinking into development processes unlocks business potential. It adds a layer of assuring that the products intended for customers is not only meeting a consumer need, but also economically viable in terms of feasibility and profitability. The approach is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—it is especially useful in open-ended and abstract problems. Some of the most successful organisations such as Google, Apple and Airbnb have employed it to notable effect. Design-led companies such as Apple, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and SAP have outperformed the S&P 500 by an extraordinary 211%. As per IDEO, an organization who is often credited with inventing the term “design thinking” and its practice, believes that the concept of design thinking is such that: “Give someone a fish, and they’ll have food for a day, teach someone to fish and they’ll have food for life”. Similarly, if you launch a product, it may give you temporary success, but if you learn design thinking, you would have cracked the code to pushing out successful products consistently. Design Thinking and the Process Design thinking’s value as a driving force in business makes it a popular subject at leading international universities. With design thinking, teams have the freedom to generate ground-breaking solutions. Using it, a team can gain hard-to-access insights and apply a collection of hands-on methods to help find innovative answers. The process involves the following 5 stages: Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users' Needs This step involves obtaining an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as design thinking because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs. Consult experts to find out more about the area of concern and conduct observations to engage and empathise with your users. You may also want to immerse yourself in your users’ physical environment to gain a deeper, personal understanding of the issues involved—as well as their experiences and motivations. Empathy is crucial to problem solving and a human-centred design process as it allows design thinkers to set aside their own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs. Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Needs and Problems Next you accumulate the information gathered during the Empathise stage. You then analyse your observations and synthesise them to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements. One can create personas to help keep your efforts human-centred before proceeding to ideation. The Define stage will help the design team collect great ideas to establish features, functions and other elements to solve the problem at hand—or, at the very least, allow real users to resolve issues themselves with minimal difficulty. In this stage, you will start to progress to the third stage, the ideation phase, where you ask questions to help you look for solutions. Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas Next, you’re ready to generate ideas. The solid background of knowledge from the first two phases means you can start to “think outside the box”, look for alternative ways to view the problem and identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created. There are multiple ideation techniques we can use—such as Brainstorm, Brainwrite, Worst Possible Idea and SCAMPER. Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea techniques are typically used at the start of the ideation stage to stimulate free thinking and expand the problem space. This allows you to generate as many ideas as possible at the start of ideation. One should pick other ideation techniques towards the end of this stage to help you investigate and test your ideas, and choose the best ones to move forward with—either because they seem to solve the problem or provide the elements required to circumvent it. Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions This is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. A team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping. Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out Evaluators rigorously test the prototypes. Although this is the final phase, design thinking is iterative: teams often use the results to redefine one or more further problems. So, one can return to previous stages to make further iterations, alterations and refinements – to find or rule out alternative solutions. In the Define stage, you will organize the information you have gathered during the Empathize stage. You’ll analyze your observations to define the core problems you and your team have identified up to this point. Defining the problem and problem statement must be done in a human-centred manner. In employing design thinking, you’re pulling together what’s desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows those who aren't trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges. The process starts with taking action and understanding the right questions. It’s about embracing simple mindset shifts and tackling problems from a new direction. When done right, design thinking will help you understand the mindsets and needs of the people you're creating for, surface opportunities based on these needs, and lead you to innovative new solutions starting with quick, low-fidelity experiments that provide learning and gradually increase in fidelity. The Four Principles of Design Thinking There are four principles of Design Thinking as laid out by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Stanford University, California, are: The human rule: No matter what the context, all design activity is social in nature, and any social innovation will bring us back to the “human-centric point of view”. The ambiguity rule: Ambiguity is inevitable, and it cannot be removed or oversimplified. Experimenting at the limits of your knowledge and ability is crucial in being able to see things differently. The redesign rule: All design is redesign. While technology and social circumstances may change and evolve, basic human needs remain unchanged. We essentially only redesign the means of fulfilling these needs or reaching desired outcomes. The tangibility rule: Making ideas tangible in the form of prototypes enables designers to communicate them more effectively. Design is transforming the way leading companies create value. The focus of innovation has shifted from being engineering-driven to design-driven, from product-centric to customer-centric, and from marketing-focused to user-experience-focused. For an increasing number of CEOs, design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organisational change. The Takeaway To conclude, Roger Martin, former Dean of Rotman School and author of The Design of Business, asserts, “Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business… to create advances in both innovation and efficiency – the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.” Learn more about Design Thinking in Startup Design 101 module, part of the WorkEx Bootcamp. References

  • The Importance of Strategy

    by Vedant Podar and Rishika Gupta Business Strategy teaches tools to imbibe and grow in a fruitful manner. Simply said it gives direction to targeted efforts and achieve the desired results. To a student, strategy can help chart out the path to education. Today, education is an investment and each parent and individual invest considerable capital to prepare their child or themselves for the competitive world we work in today. The schools and colleges we went to shape who we are today. When choosing an educational board in India today, we are spoilt for choice: SSC, CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE, IB and more. Each have differing financial commitments as well. Parents may choose to save up to send their child abroad for international exposure, or the individual may prefer staying close to home to build the career in the place they want to be. Crafting the education strategy at each stage can help make the most of investments, institutions and individual effort. When applying for colleges, now more and more students opt for career counsellors to guide their decision. A strategy is curated for target scores, essays, testing, schooling and career options. Similarly, a job search strategy can differentiate successful from unsuccessful applicants. Today it takes more than merit to land your dream job. Networking, attending events, online courses, recommendations, university degree and extra-curriculars are essential to demonstrate leadership capabilities and skillsets necessary to fulfil the role. LinkedIn can be the largest tool at your disposal as you craft connection requests, pitch yourself for the role, and secure recommendation or an interview. In the world today, we’re spoilt for choice with new roles coming up on a daily basis. As we work with advancing technologies, the scope for new skills and education opportunities arise as well. Today more and more people are opting for a degree in Data Analytics, Information Systems or Computer Engineering. With WorkEx Bootcamp, we look forward to bringing these essential skills from Harvard Business School and in-house courses curated by international faculty. Just like the concept of strategy plays an important role in the operations of a large corporation, similarly it is essential for entrepreneurs too. A strategy not only forms initial milestones for a startup which it should achieve, but also creates a roadmap – a path which guides how the business should run and the targets it must hit to continue growing, be it in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years and so on. A strategy inherently defines a business and contains a set of values which gives it purpose – essential for an entrepreneur, especially when he/she must work with new individuals who are a part of the team. It gives the company, and everyone working in it, a vision, which guides their actions and decisions. However, one thing necessary to remember is that for an entrepreneur, a business strategy, though necessary, should not be rigid in nature. The startup ecosystem is constantly evolving and is facing challenges due to changes in the external environment. Pandemics, Technological Disruptions, Political crisis, etc. are all factors which can threaten the life of a startup. In such times, the ability to adapt one’s strategy, and pivot in the times of difficulty, is critical to thrive in the long run. Thus, strategy should be flexible and should be reviewed from time to time to make sure that the entrepreneurial activities being undertaken are in constant alignment with the opportunities present in the external environment. Come discover the ideal personal and business strategy for you as you explore what your next step should be: as a student, as a professional or as an entrepreneur. WorkEx Bootcamp’s rigorous and accessible course will give you the boost to level up! Register now for the WorkEx Bootcamp.

  • Our CEO: Vedant's Entrepreneurship Journey

    by Vedant Podar I always had a dream to start my own business, to run my own company and create a positive difference in people’s lives through a product/service, but I always thought it was an eventual, not an instant. By that I mean I had envisioned it happening after having worked a corporate role for a few years post college before starting on my own entrepreneurial journey. In summer of 2018, with free time I decided to intern in the family business. It is a privilege to have a place to work and grow something that is part of my family and I’m so grateful to my parents for creating such a platform for me. I worked on a research project about the education landscape in India and we were brainstorming what form of online course we can launch to fit the needs of the market. One of the ideas was to create a short course which would focus on upskilling young professionals in India, by teaching them a combination of hard and soft skills which would make them more employable and provide them the skills to differentiate themselves in India’s incredibly competitive employment landscape. We were looking to tie up with a prestigious university and offer the courses a lucrative price point so that we could roll it out to the masses as an equal opportunity course to boost one’s employability and attractiveness as an employee or student or both. It was a very enriching experience, where I gained my first inside into the education and edtech industry, after which I resumed university. Co-incidentally, during the next semester, I became friends with exchange students who were marketing and finance majors. We bonded over shared interests and in a short span of four to six created an underlying trust for both the friendship and each other’s skill sets. I approached these two friends with the business idea that had stayed with me from the internship. Over the next year, in our free time we brainstormed the idea, researched about its feasibility, spoked to potential consumer audiences, and worked on creating the perfect product. The pandemic hitting in 2020, gave us a new boost in terms of time and energy to focus more on our goals. The pandemic changed a lot for us. One of our main difficulties with our business idea was people being averse to the concept of studying online. However, due to the pandemic, there was a rising trend in online education, and the sudden acceptance of online learning created the optimal environment to launch our start-up – Podar Eduspace Tech. With online education we also had more time available to really invest in Podar Eduspace – be it branding, financing, or launching. Every business idea needs funding, and we did take out a loan that we had to manage alongside launch expenses. It was a risky decision just like any business launch. But being an entrepreneur means taking a chance in the idea you believe in. This is the simple story of how Podar Eduspace Tech came to be, just being in the right place at the right time with the right people. The initial launch has now progressed to a mature business requiring adaptation to ongoing challenges. With education and offices returning to physical locations, people have reduced leisure time and we need to pivot to a new strategy and adapt to new threats and create an opportunity. We have seen that the Edtech industry is slowing down in terms of growth, with some large names having to lay off people to cut costs. Every industry has its up and downs, and we still believe online education is the future to provide affordable, impactful learning across locations worldwide. Time will tell of how Podar Eduspace progresses, but we remain committed to our creation of a knowledge system of students, professionals & industry-leaders to share, create, and mentor experiences and upskill and empower Indians to reinvent.

  • Understanding Soft Skills

    by Sakshi Chavan In a constantly changing environment, the one thing you can count on, is the skillset you possess. Over the past 5 years, constant shifts in the global economies have spurred digital transformation in education, workplace, and home life. The pace of modern life has accelerated, and in order to keep up, the student today is constantly looking for new skills to add to their arsenal and remain relevant. Soft Skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. These skills are essential to the next job interview or application. It is something that would help in differentiating from competing applicants and show how valuable one can be to the team. in order to climb the career ladder, here are some soft skills to develop: 1. Problem Solving Problem-solving will help in effective crisis management. There are times when a situation may get out of hand due to numerous reasons and being an effective problem solver helps one remain solution oriented. Students should know how to effectively adapt and solve problems with an appropriate solution for the situation. 2. Creative Thinking Thinking creatively is of great importance as it leads to the using the power of imagination and expanding lateral thinking. Students need to be creative in their approach in every aspect and it helps them understand the world in a better way and come up with answers that might give the rest of the world a new perspective. Ideation and creation are, thus, very elemental parts of education. 3. Teamwork Teamwork is the most essential skill required at every stage of one's career. Working together will always help in producing more. Students must understand the importance of unity. No work is free from conflict, and a key enabler of success is one’s resilience to confront the problem rather than each other. 4. Decision-making When faced in a perplexing spot, to become effective leaders, one has to learn how to weigh pros, cons and possible outcomes to consider. Forming your unique perspective is important to express your viewpoint and amalgamate the experience and knowledge of peers to choose the option with the most favourable outcome. One of the earliest decisions made is the stream Indian students in the Indian system need to choose, forming the foundation of their career journey. 5. Intra-personal skills Skills that help you understand yourself, your emotional intelligence, your thoughts, your beliefs and opinions on topics are key features of intra-personal skills. Only when you try to understand yourself, will you be able to understand others. Knowing your own strengths and weakness will help choose complementary skills (be it with business partners or groupmates) to achieve desired results. 6. Leadership Skills Class elections, student union elections and club presidency are early forms of testing whether you like to lead or to work with leaders. Being one isn’t easy and such experiences help train for the future. A quick-thinker can make the right decisions, coordinate other people and pull off an event as well. Stand out by investing in leadership position to stand out from the pack. 7. Positive Attitude The ability to exude positivity in an intense atmosphere, such as in an educational setting, makes one a joy to be around and is a soft skill which just makes one pleasant to work with. Enthusiasm, confidence, cooperation, patience, respect, and a sense of humor, being a vivacious personality helps put everyone at ease and will make your career a happier one as well :) 8. Communication skills Be it a student or a working professional, this skill is required for every individual. This is a basic skill required for everyone to communicate. Sensitivity and calm response to aggressive behavior helps develop emotional maturity to manage and work with multiple personality types. We must work with other humans and most errors in the working world happen due to a lack of simple communication. Brainstorming: Having strong communication skills allows you to contribute to group discussions and produce thoughtful ideas to help the company as a whole. Seeking advice or help: Communicating effectively allows you to ask for help regarding a problem you’re facing. The better and clearer the communication, the easier it is for others to understand what you’re saying and provide you with the assistance you require. Active listening: When you’re an active listener, it’s easier to fully understand what someone says. For example, when you’re in a business meeting, actively listening to the speaker ensures you know the points that were discussed and what’s expected of you. 9. Flexibility When you’re flexible, you’re better able to cope with sudden changes in the workday. When you cope well with change, it can even inspire others to do the same. Patience: This refers to your ability to accept or tolerate certain situations that arise. When you work alongside other people, having patience can help you reduce conflict and better achieve long-term goals. It also helps you establish greater professional relationships in the workplace. Adaptability: When problems arise, you need to be able to move your schedule to fit the company’s current needs. Being adaptable not only helps you remain calm during stressful situations, but it also shows your boss that you’re willing to set aside your pre-planned schedule to accommodate emerging problems. Interact with like-minded peers and invest in holistic development of yourself. Register now for the WorkEx Bootcamp.

  • Skilling Gap and the way ahead

    by Sakshi Chavan In today’s digitalised world where automation and artificial intelligence are no longer considered the distant future but rather a technological transformation that amplifies business processes and enhances the customer experience, we need our youth to be skilled. The COVID-19 pandemic has also deepened the existing skill gap, and millions of young people, specifically those marginalized, have now been left with inadequate access to education and skill-development opportunities. Even before the pandemic, the education and labor system was struggling in its ability to prepare young people with future job skills. Unemployment is not a new issue in our country. According to India Skills Report 2022, only 48.7% of India's youth is employable. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) released the unemployment status report of India for December 2021. According to the report, the unemployment rate in the country was 7.91% in December. It was 7% in November. The highest unemployment rates were reported in Haryana (34.1%), Rajasthan (24.1), Jharkhand (17.3%), Bihar (16%), and Jammu and Kashmir (15%). While the youth population (ages 15 to 24) grew 30% between 1999 and 2019, the labor force participation rate globally decreased by approximately 12%. With automation coming into play, the jobs held by the youth are at risk of being automated, at an accelerating pace. In a survey, 36% of CEOs said they were focused on improving productivity through technology and automation. The world’s youth deserve much more, and the entire nation has a part to play to ensure their participation in the global economy. From businesses to governments, nonprofits, and NGOs, there is a need to recognize the urgency of this skilling challenge and prepare now for a more sustainable future. A study made by PwC in association with UNICEF reveals how the skill gap in India can be reduced. The process suggested by the paper includes the following steps: a) Identify the skills needed for jobs of the digital future b) Helping the youth obtain the skills necessary c) Creating a system to certify the skills the youth has acquired Here are a few suggestions on Closing the Skills Gap: 1) Creating a national skills mapping system that includes a taxonomy of general skills and categories with ways to measure skills competence. 2) Using corporate training to support a national skills-building engine that features proven private-sector upskilling programs and government policy frameworks that are efficient, scalable, and affordable. 3) Building a national digital skills verification trust platform — like a secure distributed ledger or blockchain — that enables youth to register and store their skills credentials. 4) Developing skills forums to improve information-sharing among key stakeholders that address trends in the job market and identify skills gaps, skilling programs, and skills youth need to thrive. Upskilling It is another crucial step towards reducing the skill gap. Upskilling is not simply teaching people how to use a new device. That device may be obsolete by next year. The upskilling experience involves learning how to think, act and thrive in a digital world that is sustainable over time. Understanding what skills are required in a particular country/ or in an organization is equally important. Answering this question can help to build a pipeline of workers suitably trained for the future labor market that requires both digital and relational skills, whether in regular employment, entrepreneurial ventures, or the gig economy. Building a national digital skills verification trust. Beyond interviews, aptitude tests, and online portfolios, employers lack a standardized, low-cost way to verify the skills new employees claim to have — regardless of their formal education level. Creating a global or national verification system enables employers to identify the most useful skills for their current employees and set up new hires for success by indicating what additional training they should consider. Although micro-credentials and digital badging are a start, a national system built on a technology platform such as a distributed ledger or Blockchain will help employees track and store their skill base and provide employers with a trusted and easily verifiable assessment method. India is one of the youngest nations in the world with the average Indian being 28 years and with 59 percent (88.97 crores) of its population between 20 and 59, India could be the world’s largest pool of youth resource. To convert this pool into human capital will require a steadfast focus on skilling and education. The skill gap which is a bane can be transformed into a boon for the Indian Economy through our conscious efforts and by embracing technology.

  • Metaverse Madness and its meaning

    We’ve been surrounded by the constant hype around the metaverse, the Google definition of it is described as: a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. It is essentially the next frontier for technology. The current internet that we’re connected to – be it from our phones to our tablets and laptops, we connect to Web 2.0. The internet as a whole has passed through multiple evolutionary phases: Web 2.0 was the shift from the use of the internet to look up information, to now being used as a platform for user-generated content, and to interact with each other: be it through social media, communities on Reddit or video gaming. The metaverse concept is based on the future of online interaction. We have currently reached the highest level of experience possible on the current frontier, and now to conquer the next frontier, the world is gearing up for Web 3.0. Web 3.0 is the third generation of evolution for the internet. The future of technology lies in the metaverse where users can participate as avatars. This is the basis of the booming cryptocurrency, NFT and innovation investments. NFTs are essentially pieces that you can have verifiable ownership and is the first step to creating your online status symbols. One of the industries predominant presences in the metaverse is fashion. As such, they invest in individual expression in the metaworld where these pieces help them create a realistic version of themselves in the virtual space. The easiest allusion to metaverse-world is to look at video games. Interactions in the metaverse would mimic the video game world where users interact with one another. Recently, Fortnite held a Balenciaga event, and Timberland opened a shoe factory. LEGO is creating a virtual world to educate and teach children through LEGO. This might seem overwhelming, but what is key is how we view the metaverse as the next step of digital evolution and interaction. In the late-90s, we were sceptical of the internet’s purpose and usage. Just as the internet has now become the norm, we pre-empt a similar adoption of the metaverse. With any change there is hesitation, and we are at the cusp of exploring the new. Very little is known about the possible applications of the metaverse. For example, there is scope for it to be used to reduce loneliness amongst the aged and immobile by giving them a place to interact and move while being in the same location physically. With social media creating a new opportunity for influencers and content creator industry, the metaverse holds great scope for exploring and innovating. The reason we see brands and companies investing early on is to be part of the early adopters. Any technological disruption faces an innovation cycle. The metaverse is at the early adoption stage and to prove its applicability and becoming the norm, it needs to cross the ‘chasm’. SOURCE: WikiMedia Commons The chasm represents the fundamental threats it may face and the true test of the next big disruption in technology. Some of the threats the metaverse would have to address is availability and safety: 1. Availability: a current but accurate image is that to truly immerse oneself in the metaverse, we require VR headsets and, most definitely, access to the internet. Just as Facebook and Instagram have become commonplace, the metaverse yet has to prove its mettle as the chosen medium for interaction. It may heighten the existing digital divide present in the world and marginalise communities with lack of access to these technologies and create opportunities for those with access and hinder active and complete participation. 2. Safety: Since the technology yet has to gain widespread adoption, not enough is known about its safety. As the metaverse becomes more popular, we would see greater scope for scams and attraction of crime. Just as cryptocurrency thefts have increased, the safety and privacy in the metaverse yet is to be tested. Overall, we do see how metaverse presents numerous opportunities and it is important to be aware of the ongoings in the world of technology. It is something that if leveraged correctly, can result in your idea being the next big thing. Learn more about the metaverse, crypto and innovation in our new module MetCrynN, part of the WorkEx Bootcamp, register now!

  • The Meaning of the Metaverse

    What is the metaverse? Metaverse is defined as a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. Did you know? The term first originated from a 1992 sci-fi novel: Snow Crash – a story in which they describe a story where software agents (spies) and human avatars of the protagonists interact in a 3D space. Metaverse is where you can interact and explore a digital world. The buzz originated from Facebook's rebrand to Meta. Brands such as Balenciaga and Fortnite are creating the ecosystem for the next in the metaworld. Form a deeper understanding about the potential this new technology will bring. Learn more about the latest in metaverse in our new module — MetCrynN, part of the WorkEx Bootcamp!

  • NFT and the industry

    NFTs have been trending everywhere, but do you know how they have been disrupting different industries? Here are a few of the industries! Gaming, arts, fashion and sports! Disruption signifies something that is innovative or ground breaking. In the industries, here are examples of NFTs: Gaming/Sports Industry: Tokenised point system The tokenised point system is another way to monetise fan contribution. The gaming companies can essentially by creating virtual assets of team rewards, players, gear and fan-based incentives to provide verified ownership of authentic team apparel and also providing transferable value as these items can be sold. Arts Industry: Programmable art It is art built on the blockchain. They are digital and interactive paintings that can be created and sold. The art piece's value can be tracked on the stock exchange. It blends and blurs the boundaries of traditional art and digital art. Check out for more! Fashion: Digital outfits As part of their marketing efforts, Balenciaga had launched minigames for a significant event in China. Additionally, Lancôme launched exclusive NFTs in collaboration with a well-known NFT-creator to build momentum and derive added value to launches. These are all ways in which fashion etches onto the next frontier of fashion and self-expression: creating luxurious value in the digital landscape as well. Find out more about NFTs and their value and applications in our new module — MetCrynN, part of the WorkEx Bootcamp - register now!

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