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Reflections on the India Fellows Seminar

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here

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 5 seminars aimed at building the hard skills and moral imagination necessary to tackle India and the world’s most intractable problems. 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.

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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. Yet, we receive over 1,200 applications forour Global Fellowship slots annually – 70% of whom are from the regions in which we operate. The India Fellows program was born to address this demand and stands on the shoulders of a robust ecosystem of leaders including 8 classes of Global Fellows, 3 classes of East Africa Fellows, 2 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 journey by creating and presenting illustrated life maps. The twenty individuals have sacrificed 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, and accessible credit, 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. Strangers became 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.

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: “The ball of string started from one fellow, who held one end and threw the rest to another fellow, describing the impact that person created on him or her. The person who received the ball tied the string around his or her hand. This led to an interconnected web of 22 teary eyed people who just became a family”.

This month, 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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