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Manjula Dharmalingam found success for herself by inspiring it in others as the founder of Her Second Innings, a social technology platform that’s helped over 50,000 women professionals in India return to the workforce after a family sabbatical. She now plans to help more people find careers internationally with her TBDC-incubated startup, The Next Innings.

Where Her Second Innings supported women returning to work, The Next Innings will provide job and cultural training for people who have the ambition to find a career but may lack institutional support, including people such as recent immigrants and those from under represented communities, said Dharmalingam.

“People need ambition, but they also need an ecosystem to make success possible. This is especially true for immigrants, women, and people of colour,” Dharmalingam said.

To her ventures, Dharmalingam brings three decades of industry experience in technology, business, training, and human resources and a passion for empowering professionals, especially women, youth and people who face social and structural barriers. She also brings tenacity, optimism and an ability to pivot and bounce back from failure.

“In India, I founded Her Second Innings to create career opportunities for women who were on sabbatical to raise a family; it’s a big challenge there for various reasons, as women are supposed to take care of the family after marriage,” said Dharmalingam. “When they start out in their careers after college, young men and women are on an equal footing, but after marriage, a woman’s career takes a back seat.”

Her Second Innings has created tens of thousands of career placements with dozens of firms, including multinational and large domestic clients. Its corporate clients include manufacturers like GE and Mercedes Benz, tech service firms like Infosys and Cisco Systems, and consultancies EY, PwC, and Capgemini. While is now an unqualified success, it required perseverance and the ability to rebound from adversity.

In her first attempt to start the business in Mumbai, India’s financial centre, Dharmalingam experienced what she calls “a miserable failure.” That’s common for startups, as in some markets, as many as 90% of startups fail, but Dharmalingam took lessons from the initial foray and rebuilt something more resilient.

“Mumbai is a financial district, and I was offering them tech skills, so there was a big mismatch,” said Dharmalingam. “At that time in the finance industry, they needed people to be in the office, and it was really hard to convince the traditional financial domain people to accept women and bring them back to work.”

A Second Chance for Her Second Innings, Pivoting in Bangalore

After relocating to the southern Indian tech hub of Bangalore, Her Second Innings found a second start, as domestic and international technology and service firms were more open to employing retrained women, were fast-growing, needed technically skilled workers, and had more innate commitments to diversity and inclusion compared to financial firms.

“In Bangalore, there was no resistance to getting women back into the workforce, and people were truly encouraging saying ‘hey, this is something we needed,’” said Dharmalingam, noting that both India’s outward-looking technology industries and multinationals had already developed diversity and inclusion programs that meshed well with the career services Her Second Innings provided.

“We started our Banglore portal in 2015, but it took a year and a half for me to get a major client, which was Cisco,” said Dharmalingam. “We now have corporate clients and partners like Infosys, GE, and Mercedes Benz, and consultancies like EY, PwC, Capgemini. All of them come to us with their customized requirements, and our portal can deliver on their demands.”

Bangalore-based tech and service firms were also more open to remote and hybrid work than their Mumbai-based financial sector counterparts, even before the pandemic made such arrangements commonplace. That made it easier for women to train and transition back to the workforce. The move to remote and hybrid work also contributed to interest in the online training and mentorship portal. 

“In Bangalore, it became easier to build the portal because the tech world is online and less dependent on in-person work, and many tech firms are also multinational corporations that see diversity and inclusion as a pillar of the strength,“ said Dharmalingam. ”So those are all the reasons why we were able to break through in Bangalore.”

The Next Innings: Expanding Globally From Toronto

Now in Canada, Dharmalingam is seeking to do the same for international clients, particularly new immigrants and others who need to build technical and cultural-social skills, with her new Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC)-incubated startup, The Next Innings.

This new portal builds on the vision of Her Second Innings by offering a revamped and internationalized online learning platform for an expanded client base that gives personalized guidance and skills development—particularly for new immigrants to North America.

“The reasons we came to Canada are twofold: One, Canada is diverse, and people are adaptable to ideas, open to innovation, and Canadians believe in diversity and inclusion; and second, there are big challenges in Canada because the high levels of immigration and the number of new residents who need to work.”

Immigrants looking for work face many of the same issues as people returning to work after a sabbatical: they may need to update their technical and soft cultural-social skills for the market.

“Wherever we connect with Canadian immigrants or newcomers, we always hear that unless we are culturally adapted and have Canadian experience, we don’t even get that interview,” she said. “It’s a problem to solve, and because Canada is basically relying on immigration to fill its economic targets, it is of great importance to have people culturally integrated and skilled.” 
Similar to how Her Second Innings partnered with corporations and industry associations in India, in Toronto, The Next Innings seeks to partner with industry, government and civic associations.

“With The Next Innings, we want to create a similar success story where the government and industry come together to become a single platform that provides the skill training and Canadian experience.” and the right opportunity. 

The first Canadian project, the Tech Ontario initiative, will enrol 100 women in a free five-week program to gain business analyst accreditation in a program that’s partnership with automation firm UiPath. “Because Canada is basically relying on immigration to fill its economic targets, you need to have people culturally integrated and skilled.“

While the first enrolees are women, as the change from “Her” Second Innings to “The” Next Innings indicates, Dharmalingam’s new enterprise will not be focused on women only but will be for a broader range of people who need to reskill and get reoriented to the workforce.

“The Next Innings will provide an employment opportunity for everybody, but we want to build it starting in stages, “The first program is for the women segment, but in the future, It’s just not going to be only for immigrants; it will be for First Nations, and for all people who have been deprived of opportunity or aspiring advance in a career.”

As Toronto is both a technology and financial centre – filling the roles of both Mumbai and Bangalore – The Next Innings will be targeting the financial sector as well as technology,

“We’ve held discussions on bringing women back into the banking industry, and there is a need for tech skills plus soft skills, such as Canadian experience,” she says. “Once the Ontario Women in Tech initiative is complete, our second initiative will be for 100 women in Ontario for banking.” 

The Next Innings will be expanding into new areas over the next two years, with a plan to start career-skilling programs in new fields, and there are plans to scale the business to provide job skills and cultural training to people across Canada, the U.S. and internationally.

“Our two-year vision is to start career skilling programs for IT, healthcare, manufacturing, and other sectors depending on the province,” she says. “ And we are looking for a collaboration between the economic development industry bodies plus universities to join the collaboration and then create programs across Canada to create the employment overall.”

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