The key learning and actionables of this Fellow designate

What I do all day usually falls into one of four categories: writing, editing, providing feedback, and “going ahead” with whatever I think needs to happen. My first week of work I provided feedback on my NGO’s existing social media strategy, then I went ahead and redesigned the company’s Facebook account, wrote a letter that is featured in the newsletter as the introductory note from our co-president, and copyedited the annual report. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but I can’t help but picture the other fellows as wading through garbage-strewn slums and malaria-ridden rice paddies, struggling to reach the nearest internet café for a brief respite from their emotionally draining field work – whereas Facebook and Twitter are part of my job description.

I am working in social media and communications for ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth. ICICI Foundation is a non-profit funded exclusively by ICICI Group, which includes the largest bank in India. ICICI Foundation has several core areas of focus – education, health, environmental sustainability, and access to finance – in which we partner with and fund strategic NGOs. We are also in charge of the corporate social responsibility for ICICI Group and the ICICI Fellows program (and yes, they are currently referred to as “Fellows designate” until they graduate). I work in an office park in suburban Mumbai where neckties are mandatory and, well, I won’t dwell, but my office extremely physically comfortable. Like a gym and two coffee shops comfortable. But I won’t dwell.

Even though I have cushy environs, I’m still wading through muck like everyone else. While not physical muck, I find myself knee-deep in corporate India’s jargons, idioms, lexicons, and elements of style. Trust me, it’s a jungle out here. While my “grassroots fieldwork” with the corporate-sponsored Indian NGO community may not be directly empowering the impoverished (and no, I won’t use the word “underprivileged”), this community is certainly underserved. These people have stories to tell and other donors to impress. I help them do that.

I love a lot of things about my job, but one of the current frontrunners is my exposure to Indian English and all of its quirks. Indian English is heavily Britishized, and that takes some getting used to, but that’s not what I’m referring to. If you’ve ever tried to get a cell phone in India, you know that a salesperson might know the words “compulsory documents” but not “immediately” or “right now, God damnit.” If you’ve conducted business in India you may have come across an email with “preponing” a meeting, or someone looking forward to your “revert.” You linguistics buffs might have even picked up on the Indian tendency to use the imperfect or progressive tense: we are going, they are having, I am doing, etc. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find countless esoteric, or perhaps made up, words, documents written entirely in the passive voice, and many, many more idiosyncrasies.

I have developed a little theory that some of these linguistic patterns actually allow Indians more freedom of accountability or as one of the books I found on this topic calls it, “confrontational neutrality.”  [Disclaimer: I have no basis for this theory other than my own personal experiences – but isn’t that what blog posts are all about?] For example, if “I am not having,” there is a possibility I might “have” in the near future. If “workshops have been organized,” it doesn’t matter who organized them, or, for that matter, when they will be, what they will consist of, or who will be in attendance. Sometimes it is literally impossible to figure out who, specifically, is doing what, exactly.

This freedom extends to other aspects of Indian English: words like “current learnings,” “actionables” and “fellows designate” are thrown around our publications like hotcakes, everything has its own acronym (EHIOA) and anything Can be capitalized. My mentors are doing a great job keeping my head on straight and helping me cope when, “I am having problem with Phone Bank itself.” Yes, to an outsider it might sound like the employees of the ICICI call center are either a place i.e. “he is coming from Phone Bank,” or a person in our office i.e. “I will email Phone Bank,” but who am I to say there needs to be a modifier there? Who am I to say I won’t be reverting any actionables to Phone Bank tomorrow day?

It can be disorienting, but I like this corporate jungle. It has only been a couple weeks, but so far this has been a massive #fellowshipwin.


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3 thoughts on “The key learning and actionables of this Fellow designate

  1. Love your language observations! I am Eli Monroe’s mother and look forward to reading the posts from this years AIF Fellows!

  2. I’m Hilary’s mom, and I second what Eli’s mom said. These posts are utterly fascinating to me, and I so look forward to reading them all year long. Thanks, Hilary…and all 2010 AIF Clinton fellows!

  3. Hilary
    As a director of ICICI Bank I can vouch for the acronyms. There are literally hundreds. Hope you got your bank account opened.

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