AIF Fellowship 2020-21 COMMENCES

It is with great honor that we welcome eleven exemplary passion driven change makers that started their Fellowship journeys with us in this rather unique year. Refusing to get deterred by the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic and staying committed to the idea of service, the Class of 2020-21 were inducted into the William J. Clinton Fellowship Program with a week-long orientation in early November. Over the coming months the fellows would be working on a wide variety of projects across a diverse range of areas such as education, livelihoods, climate action, health, gender integration, criminal justice reform and organic farming etc. The projects, such as those about developing innovative business models for accelerating the adoption of energy efficient technologies in India and beyond and designing a roadmap for an indigenous museum etc., often lie at the intersection of multiple thematic areas and aim to arrive at innovative, interdisciplinary and localized solutions to complex development challenges.

The William J. Clinton Fellowship program- the oldest running program within AIF’s umbrella, is now nearing its completion of 20 glorious years. With the U.S.-India bridge-building mandate at its core, the program aims to uplift and enhance capacities of Indian civil society organizations by deploying an eclectic mix of young change makers to these organizations for a period of ten months. The fellows, chosen as a result of a rigorous process, from India and the U.S. combined, work on sustainable, replicable and scalable projects, closely linked to the Sustainable Development goals, primarily in the areas of Public Health, Education and Livelihoods.

Orientation – building trust

In addition to contributing to the project goals and the subsequent organizational development, these young leaders also emerge to be culturally aware, global citizens who continue to remain invested in the U.S.-India dialogue and represent the shared values of democracy and power of collaboration between the two nations, at a global scale. Our alumni have gone on to establish some leading nonprofits in the country, have served with the government, think tanks, corporates and continue to carry forward the rich legacy of our program, while serving to guide and mentor incoming fellows every year. To date, the program has deployed 490 fellows to enhance capacities of 214 civil society organizations across 25 states in India and aims to continue developing and strengthening the U.S.-India ties by remaining invested in the power of people-to-people linkages between the two nations.

This pandemic-stricken year, while appearing far from ideal on the surface, actually marks an interesting episode in the trajectory of the Fellowship Program. Having started as a humanitarian and disaster relief program in response to the horrific 2001 earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat, we now find ourselves, almost twenty years later, faced with a different kind of disaster: the global Coronavirus pandemic. This distinct, yet comparable situation demands service and concerted action, thus accentuating the spirit and relevance of the Fellowship program now more than ever before.

To the Fellowship Class of 2020-21: I applaud you for your zest and determination to serve during this particularly trying year. Continue to be brave and move ahead with purpose by making effective use of the Fellowship community, your host organizations and other resources to have a meaningful Fellowship experience. Remember that you are special in many ways and while your experiences might not be identical to those that constitute a normal fellowship year, you are making history by being the Program’s first-ever cohort that started their fellowship journeys virtually, in such unprecedented times. Use the coming months to learn, unlearn and make stories that you can tell for years to come. I hope your individual journeys over the coming months, both on personal and professional fronts, exceed your expectations and that each of you emerges to be the change that we hope and want to see in this world.

Chandni Wadhwani is Senior Manager, William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India at AIF’s India country office in Gurgaon. She holds a Masters degree in Economics. Prior to joining AIF in 2019, Chandni has worked for over eight years with organizations namely United States-India Educational Foundation, Collegify and Roads Test prep.

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