The India Fellows through the eyes of Jacqui Papineau

Over the last few days, in Delhi, the first 20 Fellows of the Acumen India Fellows Program have been part of a seminar that has apparently been testing and gruelling, mentally and emotionally and at some level even physically. But it has also been nothing short of inspiring and driving.

An account of what loosely transpired in the first seminar (the current one being the second) has been given to us by Fellows Associate Jacqui Papineau :

Humbled, Energized, Renewed, Inspired. These were the common themes as the 2014 Inaugural class of Acumen India Fellows shared their reflections at the close of Seminar one. The fellowship brings together emerging leaders from across India to participate in five seminars aimed at building the hard skills and moral imagination necessary to tackle India and the world’s most intractable problems. But most importantly, the launch of this cohort adds twenty additional voices to the global community of intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs with the courage to start, the patience to grow, and the tenacity to continue on the path of social change.

Acumen consistently hears from our peers and investee companies that there is a lack of human capital to fulfill the technical needs of the social sector. Conversely, we receive over 1200 applications for our global fellowship slots annually – 70% of which come regions we operate in – as well as countless inquiries from individuals looking for ways to create impact within their own communities. The India Fellows program was born to address this need and stands on the shoulders of a robust ecosystem of leaders including eight classes of global fellows, three classes of East Africa Fellows, two classes of Pakistan Fellows, and the support of countless partners and advisors across the globe.

At the beginning of the week each fellow shared their personal journeys through creating and presenting illustrated life maps. The twenty individuals represent countless sacrifices big and small, including high paying corporate jobs, familial approval, and traditional education-based paths to success, in service of following dreams of changing the world through affordable education, inclusive healthcare, empowering rural farmers, access to credit, and youth football in slum communities, just to name a few. Each member of the group saw pieces of their own struggles in the stories of their peers, some remarked that this group knew more about them than members of their own families. A room of strangers began to shift to community change makers leaning on one another for support. The road is not easy, setbacks are frequent, and loneliness is a common experience, but sharing our collective stories can provide strength for the journey ahead.

String Circle (1)
To close the seminar, the group gathered on the floor for an exercise designed to share expressions of gratitude with each other. One fellow shared the picture of the exercise below with this description: “After an exhilarating 5 day seminar, before we went off to our respective cities, we took some time to reflect on the last few days. What you see above – The ball of string started from one person, who held one end, and threw the other to a person in the group along with a dedication to that person, describing the impact that person has created on him or her. The person who receives the ball, ties the string around his / her hand, and continues the process. This led to an interconnected web of 22 teary eyed people who just became a family :)”.

India Fellows - Manjushree Life Maps

This month, as temperatures rise in much of India, 815 million people including over 100 million first time voters prepare to cast their ballots in the world’s largest display of democratic freedom. It is the most contested election in over a decade as the country struggles with increasing inequality, stagnating growth, and rising inflation. And yet, when I consider the multiplier effect of the community of leaders Acumen is helping to ignite, I can’t help but be hopeful. To borrow from Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.

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