When does leadership begin? Is there an age for learning leadership? Is there an environment for learning? Is leadership about access to opportunities? Why do we need a leader? Should leaders be looked up as role models? And are they? How can we become leaders?
These were some of the questions raised and even mailed to us subsequently after the launch of ‘Making of Top Cop’, an illustrated story book on my formative years, by head boys, head girls and more than 1,020 students from 28 schools in New Delhi, accompanied by more than 120 teachers, parents and others.
The subject of an open house was ‘It begins with us: the role of parents and teachers in inculcating early leadership’.
After a brief presentation by Dr Amrita Bahl (editor) on early leadership learnings drawn from the book, we the organisers had planned to invite students to ask questions on early leadership, and also think through, with short responses from us - the panellists comprising tennis champion Karman Kaur, Delhi Public School (DPS) principal Dr Racha Pandit, Navjyoti Foundation director Neetu Sharma, IIT alumnus Ashok Kumar and Diamond Publications publisher Narendra Verma, besides myself.
We chose the subject based on a very successful experiment in one of our remedial education projects being run by Navjyoti Foundation.
In this, as we worked on the project, we realised that our reach was below the needs of many other thousands of children of the resettlement colony. The challenge now was how to increase our reach to bring the other deprived into our fold.
We decided we would first create leaders of those already with us and then make them reach out to others. Leadership begins with what you have… and from where you are... as we believe.
We asked hundreds of our own children to share their interests; what they liked doing and if they knew something on their own.
We grouped children as per their interests, across classes. They formed themselves into faculties of IT (information technology), music, yoga, sports, crafts, drawing, drama, teaching, book-reading, story-telling, dance, singing and so on. They all chose their coordinator themselves, on six-monthly rotation, and declared themselves as departments.
Now they chose a registrar, a girl and a boy. We the teachers became mentors. We steered them to promote their respective activities. And provided need-based self-help guidance.
They came together for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Environment Day, celebratory days, while focusing on promoting their own skills, within the group and outside.
They started to run literacy, home work and skills classes on their own initiative. Each one assumed responsibility to reach out to more and more members of their community. They planned collective activities of the weeks and ran their own events to which we got invited.
They intervened and stopped early marriages of their friends in the localities and brought back dropouts to school.
Some made their parents and older siblings literate. Seeing their confidence, we as their teachers organised inter-school competitions. And also got them admissions in specific vocational institutes which would hone their skills.
They returned with recognition and more confidence as also visibility and respect in the community. This increased their capacity to give and share. In a nutshell, early leadership was born and was being expressed already.
These children, born in first-generation learning, crowded schooling, but being nurtured and steered by an NGO (non-governmental organisation) with local volunteers in post-school education gave them values required in leadership. Today, each one of them is growing up to serve.
Each one feels others’ needs as their own, and that they can contribute to meet it with all they have. It’s an inclusive growth of leadership as against the exclusive development of only competing with others for oneself.
Today’s youth needs this. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Boy or girl.
This change does not need much money. It needs passionate partnerships, willingness, and orientation among our existing corporates, schoolteachers, parents who themselves may not be literate or even poor.
Youth of the wealthy, where there is too much to take, and parents very busy in their own commitments, need to be engaged in giving and sharing, beyond social networks and engage with the community and social issues early on.
By this we shall create a new generation of young Indian leaders, skilled in the areas of their choice, but sound in character with a strong sense of ownership. They will be givers, collaborators, compassionate, inclusive and sensitive towards others, because they were so when they were small.
The interesting part is that even when they compete, they are learning to be collaborators. When they win, they learn to respect defeat. When they speed, they also learn to offer a hand to someone fallen. And when defeated, they go up and congratulate the winner.
Our Gurukul model of Navjyoti as an experiment is going through these tests. We have created a critical mass of hundreds of student leaders already. It is for anyone to see and learn.
But our concern is with millions beyond.
A country of the youth needs each child/youth to be a leader within. Skilled with a tool kit of values, and who learns to share. We cannot lose time.
But who will provide this learning and sharing environment for leadership not to be a mere position, but transformative and entrepreneurial human power, generated in India to build India? It is this concern which led us to initiate this introspective dialogue.
We believe it begins with us, the teachers and parents, harbingers of life and living. We know the way, we are showing the way, we now wait for it to become a caravan.