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In a first, Chennai-based social inclusion startup, PeriFerry, is working to find employment for the transgendered community. Claiming that they focus on the ‘human’ in human resource, PeriFerry helps transgenders with entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. They also provide training for jobs and soft skills and identify relevant job roles. They aspire to build workspaces with empathy and emotional intelligence.

Shaina, who was placed at Datri, an NGO working towards blood stem cell registry in India, as a front desk executive, spoke to The Tech Panda. Recalling her traumatic childhood, Shaina says, “I wanted to stand on my own feet and write my own story”.

Shaina has been working continuously towards that goal now even though she has faced a lot of discrimination. “I personally believe that my community has immense potential and if directed in the right way, there is nothing that one cannot accomplish” she says.

Thanking NGOs and PeriFerry, she says, “These organizations working for the community are an incredible platform for us to bring out our potential. All these organizations give us immense hope to be self-sufficient”.

“Every time I used to step outside my house, I would cover my face. I was always conscious about people judging me. But today, I proudly walk outside, with my head held high because I have found acceptance within myself. I’ve learnt to embrace myself completely. Being in a job liberates my soul and is a huge empowering force every single day and I hope to wake up to that feeling for the rest of my life”, she adds.

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While India is an inclusive society that includes individuals from different communities, speaking different languages, or belonging to different cultures, there is no denying that we are conservative. In a country where women are still struggling to find equality in the society, you can only imagine what transgendered people go through on a daily basis. Most of us go through our lives without a thought for this community, or maybe we want to be blissfully unaware of their existence.

Although the Supreme Court verdict in 2014 recognized the transgendered community as the third gender, they struggle when it comes to gaining and maintaining employment.

A large part of accepting this community can be done by a workspace. When employers accept transgendered employees and ensure a conducive workplace for them, the community receives a boost of confidence. Hence, a significant part of the PeriFerry program is to prepare employers to receive individuals from this community. The startup conducts workshops for workplaces to make them more inclusive and diverse. These workshops discuss aspects of gender identity, gender expression, and diversity, and make use of interactive tools like social experiments, art or other theatrical elements.

Neelam Jain, the founder of PeriFerry, came up with the idea when she was with Goldman Sachs. In an internal competition, where everyone had to come up with an idea for a social initiative, Jain thought of a program that could help the transgendered community. Jain became serious about this idea, and PeriFerry begun in 2017. Ever since it has been helping transgendered individuals find jobs, as well as sensitizing workplaces to become more accepting of these individuals.

Bharaa Bobby was placed by PeriFerry in SB Cinemas Corporate Office on assigned projects. Like Shaina, Bharaa’s story too begins in pain and rejection, but ends in a fierce will to excel, when Bharaa walked to the podium on graduation day clad in a saree, becoming the first transwoman to be conferred the gold medal in engineering (Electronics & Communication) with a CGPA of 7.9/10.

In a chat with The Tech Panda, Bharaa, who is also a passionate Bharatnatyam dancer said, “I had applied to twenty-five companies, and in spite of being a gold medalist, I still couldn’t get a job. I am really thankful to PeriFerry for giving me this opportunity. I never hoped for this. I really love my job, enjoy the work, and there is no discrimination. People talk to me and treat me like a friend.”

Neelam Jain told The Tech Panda that it was important for PeriFerry to ensure that the workplace is accepting of transgendered people. “We send a candidate to the workplace only after we get a sign-off from senior management that they are accepting of transgendered people. We also ensure that the workplace is inclusive by sensitizing co-workers and getting feedback from them.”

The name, ‘PeriFerry’ was derived from the word, ‘periphery’, which means edge, indicating the people who live on the edge. PeriFerry wanted to be the ‘ferry’ that helps transport people from these excluded communities.

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The process starts when PeriFerry identifies transgendered people who want to work in mainstream jobs. After finding out about their interests and skills, PeriFerry gets them interviews in their field. They are also trained for personality development, communication, body language, and interviewing skills. After placement, PeriFerry also follows up with the candidates to make sure they continue to work hassle-free. The FAQs of the PeriFerry website ensure that details of all candidates are kept confidential and only necessary information are released to companies.

PeriFerry, which is not a non-profit organization or an NGO, is currently running from a co-working space in Mylapore, with a group of women leading it. Apart from Neelam Jain, the company counts Trishala S as Head of Operations, Jeyanthi Chabria as Awareness Program Lead, and Aishwarya as Head of Training and Development. PerfiFerry has given people like Shaina and Bharaa a will to fight discrimination by claiming their independence.


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