This note outlines the objectives, principles and values of the Gandhi Fellowship Program. It does so by describing the context within which the program has been conceived and therefore the need and significance of such a program to society and the nation.
(Please note that though The Fellowship Program is the same across all locations, the Fellows functioning out of Rajasthan will be referred to as Piramal Fellows.)
In the last sixty years of India’s Independence there has been a significant shift in the way the educated middle-class youth sees its relationship with his/her immediate society and nation. Even as the patriotic rhetoric has got louder and sharper the involvement of middle class youth in public life has diminished. The belief of ‘Me, myself and I’ has entrenched itself within the middle-class psyche. To engage with issues of society, the government system and politics is largely dismissed as idealistic even foolish! The middle-class in India has become the consumerist class, which in spite of its education and access to the most evolved communication and knowledge systems is increasingly isolating itself from any form of public engagement. This is in complete contrast to the time when India achieved Independence when the middle-class youth was at the forefront of the sweeping changes that occurred in the first phase of nation-building.
Yet, there is palpable discontent in the youth today, a certain number of them have the need and desire to go beyond the ‘consumerist’ pattern of living and working to contribute, find meaning, and cause change in the world around them. An increasing number of young people are asking themselves the tough question, “How can I use my energies and skills so that my work can make things better for others?” But there has been no systematic program that can channelize this drive and energy. No educational or training program that can harness this energy and direct it to make a disproportionate impact on the world around us.
As Gandhi has said, “There are enough resources in the world for man’s needs but not enough for man’s greed.” Mankind today has ample resources to support and take care of the needs of entire humanity, yet the distribution of these resources is skewed. To amend and change this requires a different human mind and patterns of behavior so that new socio-political-economic systems can be created that make it possible for societies to truly become equal and just. The frontier to be reached and crossed is as much the inner self of human beings as it is ‘re-jigging’ the world around.
Education system has been unable to address this need effectively. There is a need to create a new curriculum and approach. Conventional courses in social and rural development either emphasize on engaging with people or in managing development programs. The need now is to create a leadership program that trains young professionals to create a state of mind and the ability to attract resources to create systemic change or the ability to influence resources so that they change course.
To cause this deep shift, so that there is systemic change that transforms current socio-political structures is a painstaking but much needed work. It is impossible to do this through individual genius only. It requires leaders, who work in collaboration, by building networks, and leveraging on each others’ strengths and knowledge.
The Gandhi Fellowship Program has emerged out of this context to create the next generation change leaders, who embody and practice leadership skills that are needed in the 21st century.
The GFP believes that those who will be at the vanguard of change in the coming world will need these specific attributes, without these attributes that become a habit it is not possible to emerge as a change leader. Self –awareness, Collaboration, Excellence. These are the three non-negotiable guiding principles of the fellowship. Let’s look at them more elaborately.
As people we have been fighting a losing battle when we make every effort to change things outside our selves. The idea of social reform that has been ingrained in our minds is built on a bias that ‘something is wrong’ with the world out there and “I have to find a way of changing it.” This is a limiting attitude. The reality for all human beings is that the only thing on which one can gain complete control is the self. An individual who understands his/her own limitations has recognized his/her patterns of behavior and acknowledged and accepted her strengths weaknesses, such a person can function in harmony with people around him and can thus hope to finally influence them. But this influence can only be achieved by going through the ‘grind’ of self awareness.
Social change or for that matter achieving anything is not possible through only individual genius. The idea of the genius scientist working ceaselessly in the laboratory, or the idea that one ‘charismatic’ leader can change and transform the world is a myth. Anything of true value is achieved not simply through enthusiasm and sacrifice. It is built by people with different strengths and skills working together over long periods of time. For example, NASA was able to put the first human being on the moon because of the efforts of thousands of individuals who had developed deep skills in different areas who then collaborated over a vision for over 20-30 years to achieve it.
To go beyond enthusiasm, good intentions, adherence to some ‘right’ ideology and develop the habit of doing the best one is capable of in every aspect of life. The first step towards excellence is expertise and expertise is acquired through constant practice - To work at something continuously, clocking those 10,000 hours of practice, beyond which lies excellence. This is very important particularly in the world of social change where good intentions have been deified more often than real impact.
The GFP accepts that free market capitalism is still the best system to unleash human potential and uplift large swathes of human population out of poverty. It is equally true though that it is a system with its own limitations and problems –markets can and they do fail. Therefore, the role of the government is very important as regulator, arbiter, and as the representative of the people. Similarly, the role of civil society and NGOs is equally important. NGOs make governments work and government in turn makes the markets work. These checks and balances between corporate, government, NGOs and Foundations can make a vibrant and effective social system.
Similarly, the GFP accepts that Representational Democracy is the best system known as yet. It has serious limitations and flaws in how it is implemented. The democratic system needs strengthening, needs to be built to go beyond these severe flaws it suffers from. The GFP is definitely not about overthrowing this system through a revolution of any kind. The program stands on the side of evolution - that well thought systemic effort is the way to change. The GFP does not in any way support ideologies and practices that fight against the democratic system.
To build upon the point made above, the GFP subscribes and prescribes to the values of the Indian Constitution.
The GFP is committed to create leaders who are constructivists. The constructivist is an individual who is solution-focused, who is ready to walk the mile. Society has a place and need for all. It needs its activists who challenge the system and its academics who study the system. But the GFP is committed to create doers, leaders who can find innovative solutions and can act upon them. GFP is not the space to learn activism but a great place to channelize the activism towards constructivism. Similarly, theoretical knowledge is very important but GFP is for people who don’t only think but also act.
In sum the GFP’s values are aligned towards excellent execution by self aware leaders who can collaborate with others to make an impact.
ü Bring together youth who aspire to make an impact on the world around them
ü Offer the youth opportunity to experience ‘first-hand’ what it takes to make an impact
ü Build leadership ability of youth through systematic coaching and mentoring to transform them into potential nation-builders.