Creating agents of change

Creating agents of change


In order to give direction to young professionals, and realising the acute shortage of young leaders in every sector, many corporates have launched programmes to create a cadre of socially responsible leaders, writes Sreerekha Kaimal

After a three-year stint in an IT company, Priyank Patel, an engineering graduate, found his job no longer interesting. His dream was to work in a rural area and become an agent of change. There are many such youngsters, who find the target-driven rat race in air-conditioned cubicles too stifling and lacking in purpose.

In order to give a direction to young professionals like Priyank, and realising the acute shortage of young leaders in every sector, many corporates have launched programmes to create a cadre of socially responsible leaders. ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth and SBI Youth for India are two of them.

The ICICI fellowship is a 15-month programme where the fellows-designate, as they are referred to, work on grassroots development projects with NGOs, interspersed with modules on management training and leadership development. Started two years ago, the programme focusses on grooming fellows-designates to become able leaders.

Subrata Mukherji, President, ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth says: “The fellows-designate, besides developing their leadership skills, get diverse on-ground experience, communication and motivational skills. The ICICI fellows work on two six-month long development projects with top NGOs in different parts of the country. This on-ground experience helps fellows-designates gain a deeper understanding of the diverse rural areas and its relative problems,” he adds.

SBI Youth for India coordinator Geeta Verghese says, “We have a tie-up with leading grassroot NGOs like the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, BAIF Research Foundation and Seva Mandal, where the fellows get an opportunity to interact with them and select their area of work and understand the problems and challenges faced by the rural folk and try to seek solutions through innovative methods.”

Qualifications and Recruitment

Most of the institutions encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds. During the selection process, the candidate’ s leadership potential, commitment to social development and capacity to work and bring about change in a rural environment are assessed. Candidates need to first fill in the online application form and on the basis of their answers, they are called for an aptitude test. Shortlisted candidates are invited for the final assessment, where they are evaluated on various activities (group and individual), personal interview and group discussion.

Professionals or graduates (from any discipline) and up to 28 years of age are eligible to apply for the ICICI programme. Says Mukherji, “We look for dynamic young individuals who are passionate and committed to India’s social development. It is not essential that candidates have a background in the social sector. In fact, we encourage people from different educational and professional backgrounds to apply for this programme.”

Geeta Verghese says, “For our programme the age criteria is between 28 to 35 years. We make it a point to select people who are passionate, enthusiastic and have a fire in them to tread an unsure path of rural life. Our project has professionals from diverse sectors including IT, biotech, healthcare. We usually prefer professionals as they have a broader and mature outlook. We even have alumni from IITs and IIMs. We received 4,000 applications of which 28, including five women, were selected.”

No fee is charged from the candidates for the programme. In fact, candidates are given a monthly stipend of Rs 12,000 till the completion of the programme.

Experiential Learning

In between the two six-month projects, ICICI fellows can discuss their work with technical experts. Fellow-designate Sombodhi Gosh says: “Since the project focuses on experiential learning at the grassroots level, it eventually brings out the best in you, not only as a person but also as a professional. The extreme conditions you experience, not only hone your skills to be a better manager, but also a better human being. The programme helps us to observe, analyse, innovate and excel.”

The programme is divided into three complementary parts — induction training of three weeks, followed by placement with an NGO for six months; mid-point training of four weeks, followed by placement with another NGO for six months; and end-point training of three weeks. The idea is to enable fellows to work with NGOs at the grassroots level in villages and supplement their on-ground experience with lessons in management training and leadership development.

Another aspect of the programme involves management training, where the fellows-designate get an insight into project management, communication skills, development perspectives, monitoring and evaluation of rural livelihoods besides workshops on personal development and leadership skills. “Though the programme does not assure any job placement at the end of 15 months, our career cell supports the ICICI fellows through career advice, professional networking and tie-ups with organisations seeking leadership talent,” says Mukherji.

“Some of our ICICI fellows aspire to be social entrepreneurs. There is a strong demand for people with this background from banks (rural banking), insurance companies (micro and rural insurance), NGOs and government organisations.”