Do you have ideas that can make a difference? The Villgro Fellowship will aid you in your efforts in helping the downtrodden.

There are times when we want to work for organisations where our skills form an important aspect of their growth. The Villgro Fellowship is designed to help achieve goals of this kind. Villgro, an organisation that incubates and funds in the early-stages social enterprises that impact the lives of India's rural poor, works with social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, such as ‘Under The Mango Tree’ which uses bee keeping to increase farm yield and financial returns for farmers, and cost-effective anaemia testing machines that prevent maternal mortality. The Fellow’s expertise helps social enterprises at critical stages in its journey.

The Fellowship draws a wide variety of people from different walks of life. Caitlin Marinelli was a 2011 Villgro Fellow who had worked in international social policy making in several continents. As a Fellow, she worked in marketing and solution design at Uniphore, a technology startup, which uses speech technologies business outreach across geographies, languages, and phone platforms.

“Uniphore didn’t have much marketing plans in place when I started,” she says. She stayed on after her fellowship was over, and is now the head of marketing for the company. “I wake up to new learning everyday”, she says. “I love the way my preconceived notions about the world have been challenged. I plan to stay on for another three years at least.” Marinelli has a Masters in International Social Welfare from Columbia University with emphasis on socioeconomic development, and believes that her experiences in India will contribute to her competence to face anything life may throw in the long run.

For Ashish Sinha, who was placed with the Villgro Innovations Marketing Private Limited, an independent for-profit entity distributing a range of innovative products and services in rural Tamil Nadu, this fellowship was a turning point that convinced him that he could work with social enterprise models and use his skills to help them. “Working in Gobichettipalayam in the Erode district taught me interpersonal skills,” he says. “Earlier as a market researcher, we would leave it to our clients to implement our suggestions. At the Villgro Stores, I had to do the research and ensure that the ideas implemented actually produced results.” Today, he provides research inputs to start ups. “I never thought I could do this earlier,” he says.

Aparna Ram agrees, “This is certainly a chance to explore and discover new things that you never thought you could do,” she says. Ram’s role involves managing and monitoring a portfolio of companies, helping them to scale up and raise their first round of funding. With a Masters in Finance and Investment from the University of Exeter, she has an extensive background in asset management. “Lately, I wasn’t feeling challenged enough and wanted to do something different,” she says. “I have always been intrigued by entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurs go about executing ideas. Social entrepreneurship has always been a mystery.” What Ram treasures is the kind of people she meets. “Many of them are inspiring and make you sit up and take notice.”

Navigating the application

Ram says, “Navigating the application process itself is not difficult. But be clear about your motivations to apply. Having some work experience definitely helps, so you can bring some professional skills to the table.” Marinelli agrees, “Don’t come with a deadline. This isn’t one more job to add to your resume.”

Sucharita Kamath, Head, Innovation Ecosystem, on choosing the fellowship says, “The aim of the fellowship is to bring leaders into the social sector and make young people look at the social sector as a viable job option. We want more Indian nationals to apply since we want them to stay back and continue to help enterprises grow.”

“Our Fellows work closely with an entrepreneur and develop an in-depth understanding of innovation and social entrepreneurship. We look for certain qualities such as empathy and the ability to think critically. There is no age limit for the scholarship. The application needs an initial essay that comes in with their resume. We have them apply for specific positions they think they will be good at. The people who handle the particular positions then have telephonic interviews with the applicants and assess the candidates’ communication abilities and clarity of thought. The final shortlist has our CEO and advisors interviewing candidates. A minimum of three years work experience is important. Our enterprises don’t have the luxury to work with very young people who may need mentoring. They are here for a short while and need to hit the ground running.”

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