Teach For India
From the beginning, engineering graduate Nitesh Anand was sure he would not enter the corporate world. He didn’t even attend any of the campus interviews. Then, while surfing the net, Anand came across an advertisement of ICICI Fellowship. He liked what he saw, applied immediately and was selected for the programme. “What excited me about this Fellowship was that I felt that it would give me the opportunity to know who I am. It would push me out of my comfort zone and I’d see myself more clearly,” he says.
Anand now works with Seva Mandir in Delwara village in Rajasthan as part of the Responsible Citizenship and Local Self Governance project. As the sole in-charge of the waste management in the village comprising about 600 households, his role includes overseeing the daily cleaning of the streets, collection of garbage from houses and its segregation into dry and wet waste. “This is the first settlement in Rajasthan that segregates waste,” he says. Anand has proposed to work on a composting solution for the village and a waste water treatment plant is also under construction. Getting his hands dirty hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm. “Since it is a small team, I have a free hand. So I can participate in other activities of the organisation too,” he gushes.
Down To The Basics
“India’s young people have a strong desire to bring about change. Exposure to India’s diverse challenges and opportunities will help them build the skills to drive innovation and inclusive growth,” says Prerana Langa, VP-CSR & Communications, ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth—the social arm of ICICI Bank. The programme, launched by the foundation in 2010, received around 2,000 applications. “We select only the brightest,” says Langa. At present, there are 17 fellows working in the rural areas.
ICICI Foundation has tied up with iVolunteer, which is implementing the Fellowship initiated by the not-for-profit Mitra. ICICI Foundation has partnered with NGOs across the country and each fellow is placed at one of the organisations.
Candidates shortlisted on the basis of the online form are interviewed and those filtered through undergo a month-long training. Here they are introduced to the social sector, taken to a village to understand the rural set up and trained in financial management in a non-profit organisation and personality development, among other things. Based on their skills and aptitude, placements are determined by the ICICI Foundation and iVolunteer. In the two-year programme, fellows are called for a training session every six months. Each fellow has a mentor (an NGO staff member), a coach and a technical mentor.
A similar programme has been launched by the State Bank of India this year—SBI Youth for India, in partnership with Seva Mandir in Rajasthan, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai and BAIF Development Research Foundation in Pune. There are 34 fellows in the first batch.
The fellows spend a week getting familiar with NGO work before being placed. This is followed by a two-week training at the NGO with each fellow being assigned a mentor. However, Geeta Verghese, Coordinator for the Youth for India programme, clarifies that this isn’t a quick-fix placement solution for MSW degree-holders, as they would enter this field anyway.
“In the US, people take sabbaticals and work in third-world countries. This touches them at the core and there have been many a life-changing experience. Unfortunately, we have no such framework in India,” says Verghese. According to her, there’s a “crying need” for such programmes here. Fortunately, corporates are warming up to the idea. The Tata group has granted eight employees a sabbatical to join the Youth for India programme, while Mindtree and Capgemini have allowed one employee each.
Clean-Up-Act: Nitesh Anand supervises the cleaning and waste disposal in Delwara, Rajasthan.
Preparing For Tomorrow
Once the two-year programme is completed, fellows have different routes to choose from. “The ones on sabbaticals could go back. Some might want to become social entrepreneurs, some may want to continue working with the same NGO or return to what they were doing before. This would also help those interested in studying abroad to get into Ivy League colleges,” says Verghese. According to her, the aim is to create young leaders, irrespective of the field they choose to work in after the fellowship.
Shuvajit Payn, an ex-IBM employee—and now a Youth for India fellow—had reached saturation point when he quit his job after working with the company for three years. Now he is working with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in the Waifad village in the Vidarbha region. “The work environment is comfortable [in a cushy job] but there’s no personal satisfaction. Here, it is the other way round—no proper facilities; the temperature is around 48°C, but at the end of the day, I feel I have done something good,” he says. Working with a resource centre to help farmers increase productivity, Payn says this was just the kind of avenue he was looking for. After the programme, he is looking forward to a job in the development sector or turning into a social entrepreneur.
Talking about working at the grassroots, it is impossible to overstress the importance of the fundamental tool of growth and empowerment—education. And this is where the Teach For India fellowship is concentrating its considerable energies.
“There is no silver bullet for working with kids, it is hard work,” says Shaheen Mistri, CEO, Teach for India. Mistri was inspired when she met Teach For America fellows in 2006. The premise is simple: mobilise committed educators to teach poor kids who can’t afford to go to good schools. TFI sent forth its first batch of teachers in June 2009.
With seed money from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and contributions from organisations like Thermax Social Initiative Foundation, Omidyar Network and the Godrej Industries, TFI started with 80 fellows and has 300 this year.
It’s No Sacrifice
Mistri ensures the strictest screening. A fair bit of recruitment is done on campuses. TFI holds presentations and explains to the candidates just what they would be sacrificing their high-end jobs for before signing them on. “We look for demonstrated excellence in leadership in our candidates,” Mistri says. Candidates’ ability to lead group discussions and hold practice teaching sessions are tested and followed by a one-on-one interview. In TFI’s first batch, about 70% were young professionals and 30% were college graduates. This year, Shaheen estimates the ratio will be 50:50.
Mistri echoes Verghese's sentiment on the need for exposure: “One thing young people in India don’t have is the opportunity to move out of their comfort zone and do something that is personally transformational.” This is the sort of environment TFI provides that has changed the lives of many fellows.
Of course, there are challenges. Getting dedicated teachers, and persuading them to stay on for two years in poorly managed schools, isn’t a cakewalk. So TFI makes its fellows stakeholders in its efforts by giving them scope to continue in other roles.
Siddharth Agarwal, part of the first batch of Fellows, was working with Genpact and took a two-year sabbatical to try his hand at TFI. He has just resigned from his cushy job and is now working for TFI as a Pune City Director—one of the 16 Fellows from the first batch to join TFI as its full-time staff.
“We all asked ourselves: how can I make myself best available to the mission? For some, it was to continue in the classroom, for others, curriculum and pedagogy; I had a management background so I helped in running TFI,” says Agarwal.
TFI fellows teach only at schools that charge a fee of Rs 300 a month and have a class strength not less than 30. Though fellows get a stipend from the foundation, the school pays them only as much as its others teachers. The students—mostly in Grades 2 through 6 this year—continue to be instructed by TFI fellows. When one completes his term another takes over, guaranteeing a uniform quality of instruction till the 10th standard.
Mistri insists that TFI doesn’t strive to be the next corporate venture though it has strong backing from India Inc. “We are here for the kids,” she says. The fellows have understood the mission statement. There have been few dropouts from the programme—out of just seven dropouts, four left because of health reasons. These fellows are here to stay.
By Vidhya Sivaramakrishnan and Karthik Krishnan
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