Become a ‘spicy’ changemaker

Last Updated 06 February 2020, 16:32 IST

What common thread unites a women’s rights activist in Odisha, an agroforestry environmentalist in Bihar and a Puducherry based education activist?

All these activists were recipients of the kanthari scholarship that took them on a year-long journey of learning how to realise their vision of bringing about social change and make an impact in their chosen field.

kanthari, now running into its 12th year, looks for 25 inspiring individuals from across the world who must be aged 22 years or older and be computer and English literate. Lack of formal education, interestingly, is not a barrier to entry. So what’s the catch?

Applicants must be spicy, according to Paul Kronenberg, the co-founder of kanthari leadership institute based in Trivandrum, which runs the scholarship programme.

“We named our organisation ‘kanthari’ as it encapsulates our philosophy. The name is derived from these small pepper chillies found locally in Kerala. They don’t look like much but pack quite a punch. Try biting into one and you jump right up,” Paul explains.

“People often use phrases like ‘one person cannot make a difference’. We are trying to disprove that as we are looking for highly motivated people who have overcome adversity or who were affected by some social ill or malady that learn by doing and lead by example. After all, a small chilli can make a huge difference,” he added.

On fire

Jyotsna, who attended the programme in 2014, runs an NGO in Odisha’s Balasore district for prevention of violence against women. She fondly remembers her journey and how it helped her in her activism work.

“There are so many challenging issues that come in this line of work and the foundational learning taught to us covered everything that we needed to transform and actualise our concepts,” said Jyotsna.

Paul stresses that they have a rigorous selection process with five rounds as they only want to extend this opportunity to those who ‘see this as a calling’ and a long-term endeavour.

“Chosen applicants are taught all tools and methods that they may need to begin a social venture or an NGO during the first seven months at the institute in Kerala. We learnt things like time management, media skills, writing proposals, fundraising, policy compliance etc. The next five months are used for participants to set up the social initiative in their native or chosen region,” explains Kumar Neeraj, whose agro-forest based farming initiative ‘Khetee’ in Bihar helps enhance livelihood opportunities for landless farmers.

Over the past 11 years, 226 social changemakers from 48 countries received training and over 130 social initiatives around the world are a testament to their chilli-based identity.

“Variety is the spice of life, it’s what gives everything a flavour. Think of us as one big masala,” says Paul.

One of kanthari’s spicy graduates is thirty-five-year-old John Peter, who graduated from the leadership programme in 2013. Peter runs a foundation that provides free education to kids aged between seven and 14 years who don’t have access to schools in Puducherry. They also work with the parents of the children to help strengthen their livelihood.

“A lot of the experimental and experiential learning in the institute has helped me. Even though I had prior experience in the field and I understood the problems that people face, things like fundraising and media skills had practical applications that helped me quite a lot. There are a lot more new challenges that you are suddenly confronted with once you are in the field but the course equips you with enough to help you overcome them,” said

There are five rounds starting with applicants filling out the online form. This is followed by an interview and a personal essay. The last two rounds consist of an interview with a psychologist followed by a final interview. The programme begins in May.

For more information, log on to www.kanthari.org or contact 8129820819

(Published 06 February 2020, 02:40 IST)

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