Listening and Learning from Leaders

By Keren Nazareth

One of India’s emerging NGO leaders Keren Nazareth, Executive Director of longtime AIF partner organization Saath, was awarded the prestigious Aspen Institute Fellowship for Nonprofit Leaders. Here she reflects on her experience at the Aspen Institute.
Mind, body and spirit are the tenets under which the Aspen Institute Fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders is set up. To sit around a table with an open mind, a thinking ear and a challenged heart with no other agenda than to listen and share. That this experience could have such a great impact on my life was the most pleasant way in which I’ve been surprised this year.

It was a journey that began with the question of happiness, human nature and ended on a note of politics, morality and civility, drawing from Havel Vaclav’s “Summer Meditations.” In between this enlightening dialogue encapsulated human nature, rights, equality, efficiency, power, the State, the Greek play Antigony (performed by us, the Fellows), jazz, great food, an atmosphere of peace, yoga, biking and long walks amongst wild flowers, with the glimpse of a bear, deer, and maybe a fox, a deserted mining town and American classics in karaoke.

Our cohort  of 5 women and 7 men was facilitated by Columnbia University’s Dr. Carol Gluck and MIT’s Dr. Leigh Hafrey. It is amazing what people can teach you, if you’re willing to listen to them. The Fellowship for me was a lot about listening to this group – experience is a fantastic teacher, but listening to an experience, is a crash course on experiential learning.

Sitting around the table with so much talent and insight, we shared and debated unique perspectives on human nature, rights, efficiency, leaky buckets, and stories, stories, stories! People walking away from Omelas, who Powerhouse represented and why Raziel Kaidish’s mother Martha did what she did or whether the Trolley Problem was easier or more difficult than the Fat Man problem and how we all agreed on the letter of Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. was the most effective, soulful, honest piece of prose to blow away the opponent and the bigot. It was a true joy to be challenged by Plato and Aristotle and with thoughts as recent as those on social networking and our changing lives, engaging meaningfully about global issues, global leaders and knowing that it is all interconnected or finding the interconnections not between the issues, as much as between the thinking, “ours” and “theirs.”

Each of the Fellows is a leader in our own right – confident, dynamic, innovative, sharp, intelligent, experienced, and emotional about the issues that move us, the issues that we work to resolve, the people we work with. The Aspen Institute Fellowship challenged a dormant facet of my life – that of being a learner, a constant learner.

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