When I stepped off the plane in India, I came with a wide range of experiences and, subsequently, expectations about what I would find. There were some things that I recognized. Many of India’s development issues are also global challenges, which I had seen in other countries in Africa and Asia. Technology and innovation are pushing change forward in India by providing more opportunities for economic development. Social media is increasing the rate of social change, for better or worse.
Despite these similarities, India has a unique character that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The streets in Jaipur are crowded and noisy, but you can always stop for sweet, milky chai and freshly fried samosas. Passers-by wear colorful kurtas and saris while auto rickshaw drivers beep for passengers and you will usually see a cow wandering boldly into streams of high-speed traffic. At the same time, India embraces modernity with its own unique twist. In Jaipur, Bollywood songs blast at every night club and young people at trendy cafés switch effortlessly between English and Hindi.
Jaipur isn’t the biggest or most impressive city in India, but there is energy and a hunger for change that is undeniable. The metro is being built, various other infrastructure projects are underway, new businesses are popping up, all while keeping the Pink City vibe that Jaipur is famous for. Exchanging introductions when meeting new people is endlessly interesting. I’ve met international and local fashion designers, furniture makers, researchers, bakers, app developers, photographers, and social workers both from Indian and abroad who have gravitated to Jaipur. Being a part of an ecosystem that values breaking norms and following your passion has been a source of inspiration for me, which I’ve gotten from both my experience living in Jaipur and my work at Frontier Markets as an AIF Clinton Fellow.
Frontier Markets was a risky venture when it was founded by former Fellow Ajaita Shah, and it continues to embody the ideals of dreaming big and exploring the unexplored. This attitude strengthens my confidence and encourages me to see opportunities where others only see challenges.
Frontier Markets proves that there this an alternative to the status quo for companies and non-profit organizations. Jaipur proves that value can be developed in a modest city and that innovation can take place everywhere if we’re open to it.
For me, the excitement of India is exploring a culture that has a strong sense of itself but that is also open to new ideas. The mix of old and new, of being part of India’s rapidly transforming society and economy while working in the relatively new and undefined sector of social enterprise has been the most remarkable part of my Fellowship journey.
Now, having recently completed my Fellowship with AIF, my cohort and I are headed back to our normal post-Fellowship lives in different cities and countries. As we do, we are forced to decide what the next step is. This Fellowship is meant to be a platform where young professionals can learn about the development sector in India and deepen our understanding of the challenges and opportunities in India, but it’s difficult to know how to leverage our experiences to further develop our careers.
Of course, with such a diverse cohort there is a wide range of interests and aspirations. Some are pursuing post-graduate degrees, others are going into research, and still others are continuing in the social sector—whether abroad or closer to home.
As this chapter of my life ends, it’s time to say goodbye to the people and places that I’ve grown to love. It’s time to transition to a new phase, but I will leverage the experience and insight that I gained from the Fellowship to find new solutions in our rapidly changing world.