Over the past 10 months, a batch of young leaders from the U.S. and India served on the ground with communities to support social development as AIF Clinton Fellows. Due to COVID-19, many of them had to finish their service remotely during this unprecedented time. Since we couldn’t host the Fellowship Endpoint closing seminar in person, we hosted a virtual series instead. Over the course of a week, we heard their stories of resilience, hope, and change while celebrating this past program year. What did the past 10 months look like? Each day, Fellows took us along on their journeys through storytelling, impact presentations, poetry, and videos to show us the importance of U.S.-India bridges in light of the current times. Here are some highlights.
Day 1: Sustainability & Human Centric Design in Practice
“I found myself absolutely in awe of what our Madhya Pradesh program coordinators [Pramila and Tausif] could do… Addressing the crowd, they confidently started belting the lyrics ‘May our hearts become one,’ acknowledging the unspoken but very much present issue as a man from the city, an outsider, addressing this Korku tribal community, as well as a city educated Korku woman.” – Jessie Standifer
On the first day, four Fellows from the 2019-20 Cohort—Donald Swen, Jane Hammaker, Jessie Standifer, and Anjali Balakrishna—discussed how the topic of sustainability and human design related to each of their individual Fellowship projects. From Donald’s discussion of a new framework for addressing the climate crisis based on stories he gathered through need-finding interviews; to Jane & Jessie’s presentation on the necessity of forming personal relationships with those around you in order to create successful programs and have an impact; and to Anjali’s investigation into the key factors that allow social enterprises to achieve a triple bottom line of financial, social, and environmental impacts; the Fellows took their individual experiences on the ground and generated new and important insights into the world of international development. The session concluded with a Q&A conversation with the audience, where Fellows answered pressing questions such as: “Who must lead the conversation about climate change?” “What did the surveys you used encompass and how were they developed?” “Are there any tensions between clean energy and women’s empowerment?” Full video here.
Day 2: Working with Diverse Communities: Stories from Mahabalipuram, Dharamshala, and Pondicherry
“Nari Adalats [women’s courts] make access to justice very easy for people who wouldn’t have approached the court system directly. There is a sort of comfort when it comes to Nari Adalats because the adjudicators are people from their own community who understand what goes on in the backdrop.” -Ayushi Parashar
Day 2 of the week-long “Stories of Service” virtual seminar focused on stories and experiences that four of the 2019-20 Fellows—Naomi Tsai, Ayushi Parashar, Tenzin Tsagong, and Srisruthi Ramesh—had across India. From Naomi’s conversation about conservation and education initiatives based on her time at a crocodile habitat, to Ayushi and Tenzin’s presentation on alternative dispute mechanisms in India such as those in Tibet as well as Nari Adalats (women’s courts) in rural regions, and to Sri’s discussion on the state of menstruation and women’s health in India. Each of the Fellows then tackled tough questions posed by the audience at the end of the session, such as: “Should zoos be modeled as profit-making entities?” “What mechanisms within Nari Adalats help resolve issues which are more criminal in nature?” and “How are the grievances of Tibetan women currently addressed and resolved?” Full discussion here.
Day 3: Technology & Innovation
“Technology enables spaces that were previously inaccessible and allows people with disabilities to navigate and be active participants in these spaces.” -Anant Tibrewal
After kicking off the week with two great discussions, we reached the halfway point in the week-long event. The third day focused on how four Fellows—Arya Diwase, Anant Tibrewal, Pallavi Deshpande, and Ismael Byers—witnessed and utilized technology to innovate during their journeys across India. From Arya’s useful insights into how videography can be instrumental in securing and sustaining partnerships for development organizations, to Anant and Pallavi exploring how technology can help persons with disabilities access previously inaccessible spaces, and to Ismael discussing his experience promoting artwork made by artists with disabilities. To conclude, the Fellows took an answered questions from the audience, such as: “How did your previous experience running a non-profit influence your work in India?” “What other languages can be used to talk about issues relating to disabilities?” and “How do we make sure that when we support people with disabilities we don’t feel sympathetic towards them?” Full video here.
Day 4: Voices from Rural, Semi-Urban, and Urban India: Working with the Kondh Tribe, Living alone in Pondicherry, and Thinking about CSR Practices in Haryana
“Tribal people [like the Kondh tribe] are the people who are the preservers of nature still living in line with their traditional values, customs, and beliefs, where they could continue to live in a space of nature and unpolluted environment.” -Sahana Afreen
The fourth day of the 2019-20 Stories of Service event centered on listening to voices from all across India, from the rural regions to the urban cities. We heard from Sahana Afreen, who shared about the lifestyle and struggles of the Kondh tribe in Odisha; from Srisruthi Ramesh, who reflected on her experience as an Indian-American woman trying to create a life for herself in India; and from Dominique DuTremble, who discussed best practices in CSR design as learned through her Fellowship journey. After their presentations, the Fellows responded to some questions from the audience, including: “What did you do to help further your learning about yourself?” “Can you discuss the income cycle for Adivasi farmers?” and “What led to your desire to work in the development sector in India?” Full discussion here.
Day 5: Reflecting Back on the Fellowship Journey Through Storytelling
“We arrived from different geographies, ethnicities and belief systems,
With an aim, congruent and constant..
Empathise and respect
To Serve… with compassion
Unlearn and listen
To Learn… with curiosity,
Patience, passion and commitment
To Lead… with humility” -Mantasha Khaleel and Aishwarya Maheshwari
After four amazing days of engaging discussions and widespread learning, the first-ever virtual “Stories of Service” event concluded with a reflection back on the Fellowship journey. Five Fellows—Aishwarya Maheshwari, Mantasha Khaleel, Ismael Byers, McKenna Parker, and Chenam Barshee—took to the stage to share stories that stood out to them from their ten months serving abroad. Ismael and McKenna brought the audience behind the scenes of their journey to create a podcast, while Chenam explored the topic of Tibetan migration in the context of entrepreneurship in Tibetan communities across India. Mantasha and Aishwarya finished off the event with a heartfelt poem on their journey of unlearning and learning that moulded them to serve better and lead with humility. Finally, the Fellows all returned to answer final questions from the audience, such as: “Have programs like Tibetan Corps brought about migrations from Western communities to India for young Tibetans?” “How has your experience changed your perspective on life?” and “What do you dream of doing next?” Full video here.
Thank you so much to all of you who joined us! If you were unable to make it, please check out the recordings on Facebook.