I always wanted to choose a career where I could “make a difference”. After working in the corporate sector for 5 years, I finally decided to take the risk to quit my job, and started preparing for UPSC civil service exams. It was during that time that a chance conversation with a fellow aspirant brought to my attention the existence of fellowships like the India Fellow program. On reading more about the fellowship, I realized that this was exactly what I was looking for and went ahead with filling the application.
Fast forward four months and I was at Udaipur, joining 30 other young people at the induction training which marks the commencement of the 13-month long social leadership journey. During the course of this training, I got to know that I would be working with Milaan Foundation based out of Lucknow; for the rest of the year. There was excitement in me to learn more about the organisation and my project, the Girl Icon Fellowship program.
The Girl Icon Fellowship is a leadership development initiative for adolescent girls (12-18 years) from disadvantaged communities, that equips them with knowledge, skills, courage and confidence to stand-up, raise their voice and take charge. This includes capacity building workshops, mentor-ship program, social action grant, learning grant and access to the alumni network.
My initial role was to design and pilot an alumni outreach program for the graduating Girl Icons as well as to assist with the mentor-ship program for Girl Icons in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The aim of alumni network was not only to connect the outgoing Girl Icons with each other but also with organisations based on their skills and requirements.
While working from Lucknow, I got to understand the program better and learnt the how a non-profit organisation functions. It was interesting to know the different perspectives on the same issue, those of the management, and of field staff. Simultaneously, we were planning to launch the same program in Hubli (Karnataka), and I was offered the opportunity to work as a program coordinator there. I grabbed the opportunity with both my hands.
This was a completely new experience as I had to work from the office of Deshpande Foundation, the donor for our program in Hubli. This was also the phase where my learning curve throughout the fellowship was at its steepest. I learnt to network with other organisations, to navigate through the bureaucratic systems to get the required permissions, to pitch the concept; and to tailor the pitch according to the audience whether it’s the donor organisation, partner organisation, parents, teachers, students or government officials.
One of my major learning was also a major challenge – to understand and manage the dynamics with the donor organisation. Considering how most of the non-profit organisations heavily depend on funding from external sources, this was invaluable.
I was also surprised to realize how useful my experience in the corporate sector turned out to be here in the social sector, especially that related to Program Management. My work now included hiring new employees, implementing the entire process of the Girl Icon Program, and training the girls.
Getting to know the Girl Icons across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Hubli, was awe-inspiring. It was wonderful to see how they fight for their rights and stand up in their communities for what they believe in, despite the constraints and limitations in their lives. By the time I completed setting up the team in Hubli to start working with the selected Girl Icons, I had to move back to Lucknow. But, there was a sense of satisfaction that I had been able to contribute something to the program, organisation and the community within the time that I spent there.
At the beginning of the year, I was hopeful that I would have clarity on my career path. To be honest, the confusion has only increased. The more you find, the more you seek!
One thing I am sure about, is that no matter how my life turns out to be, these past 13 months can be counted as some of the best experiences in my life. Learning from here will always stay with me in my future endeavors.