After graduating with an engineering degree in computer science from the Manipal Institute of Technology, also the alma mater of the likes of Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, and Rajeev Suri, Nokia CEO, Surjodeb Basu was well on course to a great career in engineering when he got a pre-placement job offer at Microsoft.
Working in the company’s Hyderabad office, Basu got a chance to explore numerous cultural and social influences like grassroots village movements, theatre activities, and Friends of Snakes (a non-profit organisation that works to protect snakes and educate people about the reptiles). “These opportunities made me explore options outside of technical work where I suddenly felt there was a pressing need to get involved. I realised while volunteering with Friends of Snakes as an on-call rescuer for Gachibowli (Hitech city) area that I had a major passion for animals and, in particular, snakes. This, combined with my desire to make a tangible change, made me realise that I was interested in conservation education,” says Basu, a Young India Fellow.
Since Basu didn’t have a zoology background, that was proving to be a major hurdle in getting deeply involved in wildlife projects, he was active with the Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh before he finally enrolled for certification diplomas in the Bombay Natural History Society in Bombay when he finally quit his job to try this full time. “I was planning how to get involved in grassroots rural education and travelling in forests when I heard about the Young India Fellowship from one of the YIF fellows of 2012, who was working in WWF. I learnt how it prepares you to be a change agent – and its experiential learning module which can allow you to try out and prototype such efforts with a safety net along with mentoring and networking from various equally diverse and resourceful alumni,” he adds.
“I am very interested in snake conservation and in batrachology (study of amphibians etc). Currently, I am learning about caecillians, a type of amphibians that superficially resemble earthworms or snakes, that are found in a significant number in India with a large number being endemic only to the Western Ghats. I am also into taxonomy of toads and frogs. I am unnerved by the injustice and maltreatment meted out to snakes and motivated to help correct this inaccurate perception of a group of animals that communicate differently. I try to help and do my bit by relocating snakes to a nearby, somewhat similar habitat (when absolutely necessary) and by educating people about the importance of snake conservation,” says Basu.
For Ridhi Pathak, a postgraduate in education from TISS, Mumbai, her last assignment in the NGO sector was in Lucknow as programme manager for a girl’s education programme and in the education sector as a math teacher-cum-special educator at Sahyadri School, Pune.
“In 2013, my husband and I started an NGO in Lucknow called Swatantra Talim and we started working in the alternative education sector in the interior villages of Uttar Pradesh. It is currently operating two after- school learning centres in Ramduari village, near Mahmoodabad, about 90 km from Lucknow, in Sitapur district and we have a centre in Mohanlalganj, Lucknow, providing a space for exploration through experiential learning to around 120 children. The centres promote democratic education through self-directed learning,” says Pathak, who has pursued many fellowships and internships in the field of education funded by the MHRD.
Pathak has also been selected for Project Social Impact Fellowship based out of Boston, USA for understanding and implementing arts as a medium for bringing social change. ‘’I have also been part of the rural immersion programme of Youth Alliance called Gramya Manthan,” says Pathak.
Rakesh Biswas, another young changemaker, is the founder of the International Youth Society of Eco-Friendly and Renewable Technology (IYSERT) and a recipient of the Best Suggested Project Award (Social and Quality Improvements in India) at the Rhodes Youth Forum 2012, Greece. He has chaired many national and international conferences on renewable technology and environmental affairs. He is one of the youngest persons in India to have seven applied patents and has 25 research papers.
He is currently working on many research projects related to renewable technology, waste management, social and political affairs, biotechnology, etc. Among his first inventions is a magnetic engine (an engine run without fuel) and a hydro air car (a vehicle that can travel through air, on water and land). A REX and INK fellow, Biswas took up these fellowships because he wanted to explore more in the field of green innovation technology. “I took the concept of energy education, so I started an international organisation in association with the European Union. The fellowships taught me a lot and motivated me further to work in this direction,” says Biswas.
Gitanjali Babbar, a Gandhi Fellow (2010), who studied journalism followed by a postgraduate diploma in development communication from Jamia Millia Islamia, is the founder of Kat-Katha that works at improving the lives of sex workers by providing alternative livelihood choices for them.
“I was always interested in social change, being involved in street theatre and activism. But, I was still not clear about what I wanted to commit my life to. After my postgraduation, I joined the Gandhi Fellowship and spent two years in rural Rajasthan. Working with schools gave me the clarity to find my path and the confidence to follow it. After the fellowship, I founded Kat-Katha, an organisation that is currently working on creating life choices and alternative livelihoods for women in difficult circumstances and women living at the fringes of law. Going beyond traditional approaches of working with sex workers, which is to create awareness on sexual health, we empower women to fulfil their fundamental aspirations, open up an array of possibilities which helps them explore performing and fine arts, learn techniques like designing, weaving and stitching,” says Babbar.
Fellowships that help you make a difference
Gandhi Fellowship: The Gandhi Fellowship is an intensive two-year programme that challenges participants to support primary school headmasters to transform their schools. The curriculum involves hands-on field work undertaken in government schools and rural villages. Applications for the batch of 2015 – 2017 will open in October. Visit here http://gandhifellowship.org/ for details
The Young India Fellowship: During the one-year programme, applicants will take classes in a range of subject areas that cover literature, leadership, sociology, anthropology, life sciences, climate change, art appreciation and entrepreneurship. Last date to apply for first round is December 15, 2014. Visit here www.youngindiafellowship.com for details
William J Clinton Fellowship for Service in India: The fellowship pairs a select number of highly-skilled young professionals with leading NGOs and social enterprises in India to accelerate impact and create effective projects that are replicable, scalable, and sustainable. Through ten months, fellows gain knowledge of development on the ground in the fields of education, livelihoods, public health, and social enterprise. Last date for applying is over. Visit here http://aif.org
Lead the Change: It is a six-week programme for 40 youngsters. It will expose participants to pressing issues such as women’s empowerment, education, environment and rural immersion. Application deadline is closed. Visit here http://youthallianceofindia.org/lead-the-change/ for details
INK Fellowship: The INK Fellows Programme is a young, global and cross-disciplinary community of pathbreakers. Fellows get a scholarship to attend the INK Conference and an opportunity to network with speakers. Applications will open in January 2015
Teach for India: This is a two-year full-time paid commitment in which the most promising graduates and professionals are placed as full-time teachers in under-resourced and low-income schools. There are four application rounds for the 2014-15 recruitment cycle. Application deadline for first round is August 27
Onus: Started by Youth Alliance, Onus is a year-long exploration-cum-leadership programme for college students. Applications open till August 17.
Visit here http://youthallianceofindia.org/