Midhun Rajagopal completed his graduation in Production Engineering from Government Engineering College, Thrissur, Kerala, in 2009. He then worked with MRF Tyres Ltd., Pondicherry, as an Industrial Engineer for a period of one year.
Midhun describes the SBI Youth for India fellowship programme as an ideal platform to contribute towards reducing social inequities that are plaguing modern India. “The YFI fellowship provides youngsters like me with an opportunity to ‘stop talking and start doing’. I look forward to gaining practical insights along with hands-on experience in rural development activities, especially in areas of sustainable livelihood and education.”
Midhun is interested in projects that provide solutions for sustainable livelihood for the underprivileged, especially for tribal populations. “Lack of adequate communication and technology has resulted in a life of ignorance, poverty and misery which is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
“The rural India of my dreams is a place of equal opportunities, where every child is free to pursue his/herdreams, without having to worry about any unfair advantage that his/her urban counterpart might have.”
Midhun does think that adjusting to rural life will be challenging. However, “the fact that it is the lifestyle of more than 70% of our countrymen encourages me to take up the challenge with a smile.” In the future, Midhun aspires for a career in social entrepreneurship, to which the fellowship will act as a stepping stone.
Suhasini Vavilala is a computer science and engineering graduate from Gitam Institute of Technology, Visakhapatnam. She recently declined a job offer from an IT company in order to take some time off and understand what she truly wants in life.
Whilst in college, Suhasini had the enriching experience of working with several NGOs and voluntary organizations in the field of education. One of the NGOs Suhasini helped set up had the tagline “to give back to society.” While browsing the SBI Youth for India website, Suhasini noticed a similar idea – the fellowship as “an opportunity to give back to your country.” She knew immediately that she wanted to apply. “I believe education is a tool that can do wonders,” says Suhasini. “We as educated people should share the skills we have with those who don’t. This is why I applied and joined the YFI fellowship – to share what I have and know.”
In the next one year, Suhasini would like to explore and widen her perspective of rural India. She wishes to understand how change can be enabled in areas without easy access to technology and communication. After an interaction with some women self-help groups, Suhasini comments: “These women are already empowered. They just need tools like education and communication that will help them make better use of their skills. These are the tools that I want to provide them so that they are equally empowered as the women in Urban India. I know ‘empowering’ is a big word, basically if I can make one villager’s life easier to live, I know I’m doing a good job.
Suhasini doesn’t think that living in rural India will be daunting. “I just think of it as a new experience. I’m looking forward to it. I really liked the fact that we are a very diverse group. All three NGOs are so well established and extensive in their work. The work environment is very welcoming.” When asked about the future, Suhasini laughingly adds, “Frankly speaking, I don’t know what to expect after one year – just in the same way as I never expected that I would be living in a village and working with villagers this year.”
Vineet Kumar Singh completed his graduation in electrical engineering in 2009 from NIT Durgapur, following which he worked with Bhushan Steel Ltd, Orissa as a management trainee. After working for 18 months in the corporate sector, he realized that he was not satisfied, despite the good facilities and financial benefits.
Vineet gave up his job to join the SBI Youth for India fellowship program. He describes his need to experience rural India for what it is: “Till now, I had only heard about the challenges faced in rural development. With this fellowship, I have the opportunity to explore rural life and see it for what it actually is.”
Over the next year, Vineet will be working with BAIF Development Research Foundation. His interest lies in cluster development. “More people have come out of poverty in the last 20 years than at any given time in human history mainly because of the high growth rate in India and China, but despite this we still have the highest population living below the poverty line.” It is this fact that inspires him to work for India.
Working in rural India does seem challenging, admits Vineet, but on the other hand it is a great opportunity. “As the urban market is almost saturated, we can search for new opportunities in rural markets. When I think about my decision, it looks like a big risk. But I hope it will turn out to be favourable. I’m hoping that the days of working in the mainstream corporate sector are over for me.”
Santosh Choudhary has a Bachelors of Engineering degree in Production and an MBA in project management from the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology University, Ahmedabad. During his MBA, he studied a subject called “Rural technology management” where he conceptualized an ICT based solution for tribal artists and another model which made the labour of tea garden women workers less tiring.
These projects, along with C.K. Prahlad’s book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, inspired him to work with people living in the margins of Indian society. It is for this reason that Santosh decided to join SBI Youth for India programme. He wants to learn more about the rural market, while helping rural entrepreneurs and innovators commercialize their products and services. He feels that there is less awareness about new technologies and techniques, microfinance schemes and government regulations in rural areas. “Mitigation of these problems is going to be a slow process but this can only be achieved by working with them rather than working for them.” The idea of working in rural India was a major concern for Santosh and his family. He rationalized his decision by saying that he would much rather do something he loved – while travelling and exploring new cultures – than a white-collar job. Some day in the future, Santosh hopes to use his experience with the Youth for India programme to start his own firm which helps in commercializing innovations.
Anjali is a textile designer who graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi. She previously worked with Dastkar Andhra and some other NGOs in the field of craft revival, promotion of handicrafts and imparting skills to women.
When Anjali heard about the SBI Youth for India programme, she immediately knew that it fitted in well with her long term plan of becoming a social entrepreneur. The programme offered her a unique platform to experience existing craft traditions in rural India. “I’m hoping this exposure will give me a different perspective to the work I’m already doing in the sphere of craft revival,” says Anjali. “It will help me realize how I can intervene in the best possible way.” The idea of working in rural India does seem quite challenging to Anjali. However, the benefits of this experience clearly outweigh the possible drawbacks. The orientation program itself has been quite inspiring, especially the interaction session with community leaders. It is the work of these men and women, who usually go unnoticed by mainstream society that inspires Anjali
Haresh Bhere completed his Masters of Technology from IIT Delhi in Power Electronics, Electrical Machines and Drives. Following this, he worked in the Advanced Engineering department of Tata Motors, Pune, which deals mainly with hybrid and electric vehicles.
Haresh did his schooling from a small town called Shahapur, which still has a Gram Panchayat and is only marginally bigger than a village. Most of his relatives still depend on agriculture for their livelihood. It is because of this reason Haresh is well acquainted with the difficulties faced by farmers. Haresh laments: “Even after working so hard and sometime even after having so many resources, they barely get enough money to survive. In some cases, they do not even get that much and hence the cases of suicide. On the other hand, we as consumers and end users, have to pay through the nose for their produce. Where is all the money going?” He believes that India needs sustainable growth to achieve its dreams of becoming a superpower. This can become possible only by focusing on the problems faced by farmers. Haresh always wanted to work in this area but never dared to step away from the comforts of his routine life. It is when he heard about SBI Youth for India that something within him clicked. It was “THE program and THE platform” that he was looking for.
Quoting Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Haresh says “that the very first need that needs to be addressed is the physiological need, the requirements for human survival, which famously we describe as “Roti Kapda & Makan”. He dreams of a distributed and localized system wherein most of the needs of rural India get supplied from the same area or cluster, making them self-sufficient. “I would like to see a person being able to have agriculture as a main source of income without having to work in a town as a clerk. Once this happens, all other associated problems like migration, health, education, etc, will get solved.” Speaking about the future, Haresh will most likely rejoin Tata Motors, from where he has taken a sabbatical, perhaps with different responsibilities. But he is sure that he will continue contributing towards the development of rural India and will keep myself associated with BAIF and SBI YFI.
Bala Krishna Reddy completed his Masters in Biotechnology from Bangalore University and joined an Agri Biotech Company in Hyderabad as Plant Molecular biologist. His research interests were in transgenic plants and the use of biological agents in organic farming. While working as a researcher, Bala Krishna developed various microbial agents, substrates and formulations in collaboration with reputed institutions in India. He soon understood that there was a huge gap between the technology developed in institutions and their implementation in rural India. It was for this reason – to create “bridge technologies for improving livelihood and creating sustainable agricultural practices” – that Bala Krishna decided to join the SBI Youth for India Programme.
During the following one year, Bala will be working with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, where he hopes to address agricultural issues like soil fertility, agro inputs, crop yield, post harvest management, branding and profitable income generation. He wants to do this by bringing the “lab to land and collaborating with institutional bodies for technology implementation.” He will try his best to bring “innovation related growth to the field by implementation of organic strategies.”
Bala Krishna does consider the prospect of working in rural India very challenging, especially after working in the comforts of the corporate world. However, he believes that it is possible to “understand rural India only when we are integrated with farmers in their routine activities.” By closely observing the lives of rural Indians and coming up with an appropriate strategy, he hopes to improve their livelihood. Bala hopes that this exposure with rural culture might lead to various career options in the future, such as becoming an entrepreneur, getting involved in CSR activities of companies, or working with an NGO.
Taher B Sarthalwala is from Jhalrapatan, a town in the Jhalawar district of Rajasthan. He completed his Masters in Commerce from the University of Pune, after which he worked with AIG Global Asset Management Company for 2 years. Following this, he became a faculty member at the department of Economics in Ness Wadia College of Commerce.
Taher grew tired of hearing people talk about “rural problems like unemployment, agriculture and poverty in the packed air-conditioned rooms of an urbanized society.” He found himself helpless in such situations –unable to say or do much because he lacked the relevant experience in rural India. It was for this reason that he decided to join the SBI Youth for India programme. Taher has complete faith in the SBI Youth for India programme. He believes, “it is going to be the prime paradigm of rural development with a cadre who are committed, competent and passionate about rural development.” In his opinion, the program is very well formulated despite being in its first year. Taher greatly enjoyed the insightful sessions by distinguished speakers who spoke about rural development. When describing his dream for rural India, Taher vividly describes his desire to partner with them. “I want to find creative entrepreneurs and value conscious consumers and see to it that these people do not migrate in search of livelihood.” He believes that the demand from the rural sector is going to be the key to the future growth of India. He wishes to analyze this closely from an economics point of view. Taher is unfazed by the challenge of working in rural India. He quotes Mahatma Gandhi, “India is to be found not in its few cities but in its 7, 00,000 villages. If the village perishes, India would perish too. It will be no more India.” Taher is of the opinion that most urban Indians think that villages were created to minister to urban needs – without pausing to enquire if those in the villages have sufficient food, shelter or clothing. It is the time, according to Taher, to pause and serve the real India.
Chetan Gautham is an Urban & Regional Planner by profession and a resident of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. He completed his Masters in Urban Planning from Cleveland State University, USA, after which he worked as an assistant project manager on a housing project for about three and a half years.
Now 26, Chetan finds that when he reads or watches anything, he is “more inclined towards socially relevant content.” It is for this reason that he wished to join the SBI Youth for India fellowship programme – to serve as “a bridge between his gained knowledge and the reality in rural India.” He dreams of a rural India that will serve as “a shining example to urban India in the field of sustainable development.” Chetan believes that most issues related to rural development are interconnected. He doesn’t want to narrow his scope of interest at this stage. “It will be a Herculean task ahead for all of the people who are trying to solve the problems of rural India. It is not impossible, but it needs a lot of time and patience. Brick by brick will make a home, home by home will make a community, community by community will make a society and society by society will make a thriving nation.” He doesn’t think working in rural India will be too challenging. He claims his experiences in the city have not been easy. “It’s been hard and rough,” says Chetan, “similar to those experienced by rural people – but in a different magnitude.” When asked what he thinks his future career path will be, he responds that he is consumed entirely by the short term career waiting eagerly in front of him – the SBI Youth for India Fellowship. “Let me finish that with my fullest ability and utmost concern, and then I will think of my own future.”
Akshay Kapur is an electronics and communications engineer from Career Institute of Technology and Management, Harayana. He worked for a few years in a market research and consulting firm in the National Capital Territory, with his day-to-day work limited mostly to the analysis of data.
Akshay, now 23, says he grew tired of the needless chatter surrounding him from all directions. “Empty glasses and living room debates seemed to be the only tangible contribution of the majority of India’s intellectual elite.” People were constantly complaining about corruption, scams, poverty and the fact that government was doing nothing to help its own people. He realized this needless chatter did nothing to help alleviate the problem. He knew it was time for him to step up and do something.
He views his education as a tool of empowerment, a tool that helps create consciousness. “With great power comes great responsibility,” he says, quoting Uncle Ben from Spiderman. “Our education is that very tool of change.”
When asked whether he needed to mentally prepare himself for the one year commitment he was making to rural India, he was quick to reply that one year seemed far too little. “Things change over a long period of time. And it isn’t important to measure how much you changed the system. It is important not to let the system change you.” He also adds, “my nation is my people. India lives and breathes in each and every one of her billion people. We need to see our nation through the eyes of those people and no one else. Yet, they are the ones who seem to be suffering, caught between their past heritage and imposed modern systems and rejected by both.”
Akshay hopes to spend the next year understanding the field of sustainable development. In his very own words, he says, “I believe. I believe that something is possible. I believe that we have to take responsibility for change, no matter how small. Change starts at the grassroots.”