About two weeks ago, I was sitting at dinner with family friends attempting to describe my fellowship placement in Kolkata. I realized just how miserably I was failing when a guest caught me in the middle of a big bite, perhaps to elicit a simple yes or no, and asked, “So basically you are working for one of those call center outsourcing companies.” Between bites I try my best to articulate, “No…well, yes…but its not really what you think.”
The question, “What exactly are you doing on this Fellowship?” seems to have haunted me these past couple weeks as I try to explain not only to a seemingly endless stream of friends and family bombarding me with those exact words about my year long adventure in India, but also to myself.
My mind immediately jumps to the social enterprise that I will be working for in West Bengal: Anudip. It is, of course, not in the least “one of those call center outsourcing companies.” Instead, as the story goes, Anudip was founded from the results of a study conducted in the Ganges Delta, the region south of Kolkata. The study said that a reduction in unemployment could drastically improve local economies and help to alleviate desperate poverty in the region. The tool that Anudip is using today to accomplish this task is a company called iMerit- new, energized, and extremely inspiring. In essence iMerit is a business designed to harness the growing IT market in India to create new employment opportunities for rural marginalized communities living throughout West Bengal. As the business grows so unemployment drops, or, put more positively, the success of the business creates more opportunities for young men and women to achieve steady employment and start building a way towards alleviating poverty one town and village at a time. I hope as a Fellow this year to be a part of this movement.
The questions that iMerit and I will face are numerous. How do we ensure that employment helps the region? Is it enough? Does it create change or just a marginal benefit? Does it help men and women equally? Are we aiming for self-sustainability? I hope, in roughly 300 days when my year as a fellow winds down that I will have some answers. Obviously not the answers, but perhaps ones to show how we are building something to bring about change in the region. Then, at the end of next summer and in years after, when I am asked that same question, What exactly did you do on this Fellowship?” I can explain clearly and proudly my small part in the Anudip movement as an AIF Clinton Fellow in Kolkata.