The Young India Fellowship (YIF) is a one year multidisciplinary postgraduate diploma programme in Liberal Studies offered by Ashoka University. The Fellowship brings together a group of 300 bright young individuals who show exceptional intellectual ability and leadership potential from across the country, and trains them to become socially committed agents of change. YIF exposes them to a diverse set of subjects and perspectives, delivered by some of the finest teachers and practitioners from India and around the world.
The aim is to help Fellows become well-rounded individuals who are able to think critically from multiple perspectives, communicate effectively and become leaders with a commitment to public service. YIF is delivered in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science SEAS, University of Michigan, King’s College London, Carleton College, Sciences Po, University of California Berkeley, Trinity College Dublin, Yale University and Wellesley College. Students from all disciplines are welcome to YIF; engineers, designers, commerce graduates or literature enthusiasts are all mentored into reaching their full potential.
After graduating in 2014 with a Civil engineering degree from IIT Madras, I got a taste of both corporate and start-up ecosystems before joining the Fellowship (YIF). The Fellowship was a very enriching learning experience—it expanded the length and breadth of my knowledge. It also opened up various streams as career choices, and for the most of the Fellowship, I found myself navigating through confusion as to what my next step was going to be. It is only after having had dealt with lot of uncertainty, that I was able to finally pin down on a job that really interested me.
I now work as a ‘Social Empowerment Fellow’, Department of Social Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh. The Department has more than 190 schools and 100,000 students under its umbrella, and it caters exclusively to the economically underprivileged students from SC, ST and BC communities. It recruited nine fellows in total, and each of us handle a vertical—IT, Health, Nutrition etc. I oversee Co-curricular and Extracurricular Affairs for the Department. We work with the Principal Secretary and Secretary, and are stationed in Vijayawada. Even though we are based out of the Head Office, the work requires extensive travelling throughout the State.
We act as a layer between the entire Department and the Principal Secretary. The profile entails handling everything in one’s vertical. We design, implement, and monitor innovative programmes. The scope of work is very vast too: we identify and fix gaps in existing systems, seek synergies with other governmental bodies along with private organizations, prepare budgets, collect and analyse data from the field. In short, our objective is to improve the current system through innovative programmes and by leveraging the resources, the Department has at its disposal.
Till now it has been an exciting journey. I often used to be a critic of the government, but after working in this role, I find it astonishing the scale of impact one could create by collaborating with the government (remember category 4 of civil society actions described by Dr. Mihir Shah?). After all, the programmes that we implement directly benefit more than 100,000 students. There is a huge responsibility on one’s shoulders in this role, and one could a lot on resource management and negotiation skills. And we develop a good network (I know it’s sometimes a frowned upon term, but having a good network helps in getting things done faster within the government) with senior officials.
But I do concede that the role comes with its own set of challenges. The governmental setup is, indeed, very bureaucratic—we have to function within levels of clearly defined hierarchy. Moreover, since the AP Government is on a race to go digital at the earliest, we often find it difficult to get the existing system onboard since most of the employees are not tech-savvy. And sometimes, the sheer magnitude of responsibility can be very overwhelming. But, perhaps the toughest aspect of the role is that the system constantly challenges one’s notions on gender, caste, privilege etc—more prevalent than a typical corporate. Pushing through reforms in the system thus becomes all the more challenging.
But it is the children in our schools who constantly keep me motivated. Many a time, I find myself hitting a brick wall, owing to the scale of the system and its innate resistance to reform. But then, I get reminded of the fact that it is the children who will ultimately suffer because of the inefficiencies in the system, and every child has a right to good education and childhood. Regardless of how much we criticize the government, I strongly believe we can create large scale reform only through collaboration with the government. After all, the answer to a bad government is a better government and not no government.
Finally, I would like to give my two cents to all the confused souls in the Fellowship. The Fellowship can open up plenty of choices, career-wise, which is a good thing. But it also might leave one reeling in uncertainty. While this uncertainty will surely help one grow, one cannot remain in it permanently. People say that it will all work out in the end, but it might not if you do not keep on working.