Many many years ago, 15 young people set upon a daunting task, that none before them had undertaken. No … there weren’t going after dragons or princesses. This was 2009. They had committed to go and work with grassroots organizations for 2 years. Selected as part of a fellowship program, designed by a visionary, Dr. Nachiket Mor, and two enthusiastic IRMA guys, Shalabh Sahai and Rahul Nainwal, who were co-founders of iVolunteer, an organization working to connect enthusiastic volunteers with non-profit organizations on short term assignments.
The new program created was called the ICICI Fellowship and it aimed at finding young people from diverse backgrounds, grooming them to be leaders to impact long term social change. After 3 years and 3 cohorts, the name was changed, and some of the structure too. Learning from across the years were put together and mistakes were bettered. India Fellow was born and Anupama Pain, from the founding cohort came forward to run it along with Rahul.
These are the introductory characters of our story. Today, India Fellow has its 10th cohort ongoing as you read this. But for the purpose of being concise, this is what we are:
India Fellow is an experiential social leadership program for young Indians that include working full time for a year with a field partner organization (called host organization) on a specific project or issue together with training, peer learning and mentoring. This experience will empower India Fellows to find their own leadership potential, shape their futures and make a difference.
In the current chapter of this mystery/action series, there entered some new characters. Some more fellows decided to join the challenging battle of finding such valiant youth and putting them in trying circumstances. Some characters that we would like you to know of are Nikita D’cruz, Swati Saxena and Saurav Verma. All alumni from across the years. The team finally decided to call this program what it was; a commune run program, where fellows had the ownership to design, experiment and take the program forward. Anand Murali, has also very recently joined the team to help it grow further.
We recently made new friends. Apart from having nearly 70 partner and support organisations, 163 fellows, many experienced mentors, we now have financial support from CSR of InfoEdge India Ltd., WaterAid and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Training resource partners also came in, in the form of Vidya Bhavan in Udaipur, Indian Social Institute and Sanskriti Kendra in Delhi. We have best friends who support and advise us along the way, who can sing about trees and mountains as well as help in organization development, visioning and reflective processes.
The journey embedded in this story is not an easy one to be part of. It spans across cities and villages, plains and mountains. More importantly, it spans mindsets. Challenges appear and lots of hurdles are passed, but the heroes and heroines are not alone, they have each other. In the end they emerge stronger, wiser and with open hearts and mind about realities of the country and the love of the community. Where do we go from here? Well we are just beginning. With the dream of filling many more characters and chapters in this book, we hope to engage with a growing number of young people every year, in the hope that the leaders of tomorrow have a social consciousness and their own understanding of the world, so that together, we can bring about change.
Now the moral of this story is … well, that’s the beauty of it. Each fellow has their own. We are here, trying to create ours. But we’ll let you decide yours.