Sanitation to sports, media to maternal health… you get to work on a range of projects that impact the grassroots.

“The Indicorps Fellowships is the hardest of its type,” says Dev Tayde, Indicorps, Executive Director. Started in 2001, over 150 Fellows have dedicated millions of volunteer hours to produce over 100 local projects ranging from sanitation to sports, and from media to maternal health. Established by Sonal, Roopal, and Anand Shah, the Indicorps Fellowship came when there was little mainstream encouragement of young people in the Indian diaspora to consider giving their time in service to the country. Based on the belief that young people want to make positive change in the world, Fellows here are placed with community-based organisations across India for a one or two-year service contract.

An Indicorps Fellow in 2009, Sutirtha Roy went to BITS-Pilani's Goa campus for his engineering studies. “In both school and college I was quite active in the social development space with student- based organisations in college,” he says. “I was at the cusp of being a young professional in the technical industry but I felt the need to explore something that I felt truly passionate about — something more than a job — something that would refine my belief system and enable me to apply my ideological value — system to create something of my own.”

He was placed in Puducherry, partnering with a local non-profit named PondyCAN. “My project was aimed at building a community-led infrastructure development and monitoring movement,” he says. “I worked with government school students to create an environmental auditing programme serving as a community monitoring system. I started the programme in about six government schools and by the end of my fellowship I instituted a team to sustainably implement the programme in more number of schools over the years.”

It’s this sense of accomplishment that the Fellows identify most with. Aditi Poddar, batch of 2009, partnered with Source for Change in Bagar, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, a rural BPO that works at powering rural India with employment opportunities particularly for women. “I reengineered processes in the organisation, trained the women for managerial positions and created quality assurance as well as performance management systems,” she says. “This was my formal project. Apart from this, I spent Sunday afternoons with adolescent girls in a neighbouring village involved in life skills-building activities through art, sports and stories.”

Working with slum children

The projects and organisations the Fellows work with cover various fields and ideas. Ankita Rao, a journalist in Washington D.C., worked with a project in Chandigarh called Kitabghar. She says, “My goal was to create a sustainable, creative after-school programme for the children of one of the city's largest low-income, slum areas at the library.” Her time here transformed her at a very fundamental level. “Indicorps encouraged us to live simply, from hand washing our clothes to living with the families we worked with,” she says. “My habits and possessions now reflect some of that as well. Professionally, I think taking a leadership role in the Indicorps project helped me understand the delicate balance between individuality and collaboration.”

Leadership training

The fellowship is certainly intense and its application process reflects certain core values. Poddar nearly missed the deadline. “The deadline was five days away when I opened the application,” she says. “It's an extremely long application with questions that require deeper reflection than most applications that I had filled until then. The toughest aspect was writing up these long and introspective answers while remaining honest.”

Roy agrees. “Start the process of drafting application essays early,” he says. “The application form is — by design — long and deeply introspective in its nature. Clearly thinking about the reasons as to why Indicorps Fellowship is the right fit for a given candidate, given that it is not the most lucrative development based Fellowship in India, is important.”

He found the orientation month the toughest aspect of the fellowship. “It is one month-long and is aimed at providing the fellows the mental strength and leadership training required to perform hardcore development work at the field level,” he explains. “It is sort of an intense boot-camp that makes sure that the Fellows exert themselves at emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels and which actually holds them in good stead when they encounter the realities of working with grassroots communities in India.”

Scholarships can be life-changing.

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