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As President Obama aptly articulated while addressing a high school gathering in Osawatomie, Kansas in December 2011, “When middle class families can no longer afford to buy goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom…. that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so they could buy the cars they made”.

The lack of a strong middle-class is evident in the north-eastern states of India. In spite of the fact that the states in the north-east rank amongst the states with higher literacy rates in the country (an average of 81.45% compared to a national average of 74.04%, according to the 2011 census), underdevelopment and unemployment thrives in the absence of infrastructure and opportunities. The governance leaves much to be desired and the political will is at best a passive rage against the system. 

The State Governments in the northeast continue to be the biggest employers in the region but because of the saturation of the limited opportunities available, it is creating unhealthy competition that is spawning too many unconstitutional appointments. There is also a lack of big industries and multinational companies coming into the region because of the prevailing harsh realities of political instability and insurgency. The private sector in the region is fighting against all odds of the economic and political climate but remains inhibited and has a long way to go before it starts creating sustainable opportunities for employment and capital formation.

It seems to be a bleak future when vicious economic cycle chain the dreams of development. But there will always be hope for the willing and the able. It all comes back to the building of a stronger middle-class. One of the practical ways of doing so is by providing training and development to the human resource - the educated and the semi-educated - and placing them locally, nationally and also internationally. 

The Government of India, under Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi has launched ‘Skill India’ - a national skill development programme to add value to the skills of 500 million Indians by 2022 - to enable the youth to find gainful employment so that they can be a driving force of economic growth and social development. The programme will aim at accommodating the rural, as well as the urban populace, with the targeted sectors ranging from carpentry, tailoring, hospital management, banking, jewellery designing, real estate, construction, textile etc.  

In Nagaland, organizations like YouthNet, The People Channel and NIAPA have been carrying the VTP (Vocational Training Provider) banner high for a while now. These organizations have been collectively responsible for the skill development and placement of thousands of the young and educated in the state. They have successfully placed their candidates in sectors like aviation, retail, hospitality and banking within the state, within the country and also internationally. Some of the candidates are working with internationally renowned brands like Qatar Airways, Kingfisher, Jet Airways, Atlantis Dubai, ITC Hotels, HDFC and Axis Bank etc. YouthNet has been, with the assistance of the State Government, organizing job and career fairs since 2013 and have successfully placed 2000 applicants within the state and the country. In addition to the annual event, they also operate Nagaland Job Centres in Kohima and Dimapur, which help place, qualified and educated individuals in positions of gainful employment.

It has been said that our region and our ways are backward. That may have been true once, but today, we live in a world that has been miniaturized by its technological ability. The world has been rendered flat because of the advancements in telecommunications. It is a level playing field where opportunities are up for grabs.

Medole Lasuh started her vocational training with The People Channel in 2008 and was first placed as a personal stewardess to Dr.Vijay Malaya on his private jet and later on the 95-meter yatch, Indian Empress (based in Malta). She is currently working with Katara, a 125-meter yatch that is based in the Catalan city of Barcelona. She started with a monthly salary of Rs. 15000/- and is currently earning up to 2.5 lacs (approx). 

According to Rozelle Mero of The People Channel, 54 candidates were placed with the J.W Marriott Sahar this year. The candidates are collectively making 1.33 crores annually, which averages to a monthly salary of Rs. 20000/- each. 

A strong middle class is the backbone that supports and eventually sustains a developing economy not only because of its purchasing power. When coupled with a strong political will, it will enable future-building public expenditure in education and other forms of public utilities, and a more democratic form of governance by promoting an efficient and equitable delivery of government services and benefits. When combined with vision and purpose, it will give birth to robust entrepreneurship that will help develop manufacturing and tertiary sectors and will create employment opportunities to further the cause of a stronger middle class.

These are the makings of a strong working middle class that one day will help break the very shackles of underdevelopment. The revolutions of the French and the Russians were built on the backs of the working middle class. A middle class that refused to submit to the tyranny of the corrupt and oppressive elite. And one day, hopefully not that distant, the northeast will see its own revolution that would be built on the backs of our very own strong and resilient working middle class.

Lezo Putsure is the Chief Strategist at YouthNet with six years of corporate experience. He has an MBA from London South Bank University, London and an executive course on strategy from Harvard Business School, Boston

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