Serve, Learn , Lead (and stay motivated while doing it!)

I have spent the past few months supporting a cohort of Clinton Fellows who are now part of development organisations across the country. As I observe their fellowship journey, I see the similarities with my own experience as a new entrant in the sector and that of other younger colleagues I have worked with at later stages. How many times more complex can the experience be when the country, its cultures and languages are unfamiliar? Navigating these striking, subtle, beautiful and disturbing complexities are a batch of 28 Clinton Fellows that I work with and I’m continuously surprised by how they adapt and cope with challenges that this experience throws their way.

Most fellows come armed with intensive reading and virtual explorations on India, their host organisations, and experiences of others who have worked in the development sector here. Yet, there always are struggles and challenges in working in such unfamiliar environments. Here are some tips on staying motivated through the fellowship. This is based on a combination of what some fellows have shared as well as my observations on what can possibly help fellows stay motivated and optimise the fellowship experience. Thanks Janelle, Maitreyi, Shruti and Tsering.   

Bank on the experiences of others: Read about the fellowship experience through the AIF blog and draw insights from the experience of past fellows. The fellowship blog brings together reflections, stories of impact and challenges. It is representative of the journeys of past batches, and their encounters with many questions and some answers along the way. Reading about them can help you accept that a degree of uncertainty is to be expected, and maybe even welcome!

The fellowship cohort is a fantastic resource: It might take the first few months to realise this, but the year’s cohort will be full of people with resources and empathy that you might require through the year. Share and connect with your cohort early. There will be many ways you can help and depend on each other. This year in the small group that I engage with regularly, there were exchanges on research and questionnaire designing, advise on communications and marketing strategies, monitoring and evaluation as well as conversations about dealing with challenges in the project and host organisation.


The 2017-18 AIF Clinton Fellowship Class at Orientation.

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes: Each fellow is assigned a mentor from the host organisation.  Based on each of our experiences the term mentor evokes different reactions and expectations. While some of these expectations are met in the primary mentor-fellow relationship, there will always be some that are not. Make a list of the expectations you have from your mentor. Maybe use the initial interactions to talk to them about the kind of support you require and understand their style of mentoring. Look at your list and modify it at the end of the first two months. Only this time, against each need or expectation, add a list of other people who can help you. Probably, you will find that some these expectations or needs can be fulfilled by others in the host organisation, Fellows, Senior Fellows, and The Clinton Fellowship Team. One person cannot work with you exactly like you need, it takes a combination of people. Combine this with some calibration of expectations, that will do the job. Start exploring early!

Take breaks and find time for self-care: Culturally, there are very vast differences in how people perceive self-care. This might mean different things to you and your colleagues. Some fellows share that they find journaling very helpful and still others have set aside time over the weekend to either cook and eat food they are comfortable with or visit cafes that provide such options. This might mean different things to different people but find out what helps you refresh and reboot and commit time for it. Diligently.

Keep the goal in sight and make the middle path your friend: There are many reasons why you signed up for the fellowship. A common desire is to experience working on development concerns, to further rights of marginalised communities or like the fellowship motto goes, ‘to Serve, Learn and Lead’. Looking at experiences in this light can help you interpret them constructively. A project you have been working hard at might suddenly come to a standstill, if the host needs all hands on-board to address an urgent priority. Some fellows who can write persuasively may find themselves being asked repeatedly to support grant writing and publications while they themselves may have hoped to get more hands-on work experience with the communities. Find ways to combine the needs of the hosts with yours. In most cases it is possible to reach your goals, sometimes by changing the route you take and at others by realigning the goals.

Roshni Subhash has been associated with public health and women’s rights for the past thirteen years. Her expertise is in the realm of development communications where she has worked with multiple stakeholders such as government agencies, international and national NGOs. She has worked on strategy development for social and behavior change communication, formative communications research, conceptualizing and designing packages for behavior change communication as well as capacity building.

In the past few years Roshni has been part of core teams that developed communication strategies for national programs such as Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) under the Ministry of Urban Development, as well as Family Planning under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (both supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). She now works independently and supports organizations in developing strategies and packages for social and behaviour change communication.

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