Indicorps Next Steps – Surfing without a leash

Alumni, Fellowship

Photo credit: Joe Ditler

This post is written by Roopal Shah, Indicorps Co-Founder and an avid surfer.

Indicorps’ decision to unmoor itself from running a Fellowship program after a decade of running successful fellowships has parallels with an experienced surfer deliberately surfing without a leash. 70-year old surfing veteran and owner of Star Surfing San Diego, Glenn Paculba says, “For me, surfing without a leash is about an attitude - I’ve practiced and challenged myself to know that when I remove my leash and go out that ‘I am good and that I won’t lose my surfboard’ – it’s that confidence that I can perform well and not be influenced by caution and fear of losing my surfboard.”

[For the non-surfers, a surfboard leash is a long rope that attaches your surfboard to your ankle, so that the surfboard remains nearby if you fall.] The perceived security is a trade-off for the freedom and need for self-trust of the leash-less experience.

Surfing without a leash, as described by Susan Edlinger, is a metaphor for:

  • Letting go of what we believe is our security.
  • The courage to be willing to venture out into life, not knowing what will happen next.
  • Learning to trust ourselves and life that no matter what happens, if you fall off your board, you will handle it.
  • Becoming more focused, disciplined, and purposeful about your choices

That is an apt analogy for Indicorps’ attitude in ending a successful fellowship program in order to figure out what more we can do.  Many people ask why we cannot continue the fellowship program while exploring other options.  We can.  We can definitely surf with a fellowship leash and still challenge ourselves (as we did for a decade).  However, we are deliberately choosing to let go of the security of the current program offerings and trust ourselves to handle what comes our way.

We firmly believe that every now and then we have to deconstruct and rebuild from scratch, so that maintenance of the structure does not become the overriding objective. Starting over does not discount our experience; it just keeps us from being imprisoned by it.  “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be,” says Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu.  Barbara Heinzen, author of Feeling for Stones adds: “Many people are frightened by the unknown. Pioneers in all times, however, have understood that by embracing the empty spaces they can free themselves from the frustration of working with unsuitable tools.  This risky freedom has often been perilous, but just as often it has opened up possibilities never seen before.”

Second, not being tethered to a fellowship program gives us more freedom and options from which to build the principled leadership the world now needs.

Indicorps is at an interesting transition point.  A decade ago, we pioneered a diaspora fellowship program built on reconnecting to one’s heritage through service and on a “my life is my message” leadership platform.  Both concepts blossomed.  The 150 Fellows that have completed an Indicorps year or more have experientially understood grassroots change and purposefully living their ideals. Other diasporas gleaned insight on meaningful ways to engage people with their countries of origin. Dozens of volunteer programs drew from Indicorps’ methodology on maximizing delivery at the field level while simultaneously building leadership capacity in the volunteer corps.  And thousands now choose to voluntarily serve in India in ever-burgeoning fellowship and volunteer programs.

With this new landscape, we at Indicorps are pro-actively challenging ourselves to start afresh and survey all of the game options that allow us to take it to the next level, rather than simply innovating at the margins.  There are some who will continue to question the wisdom of our decision and the scale of our ambitions. People are suggesting that there must a back story: that Indicorps is closing shop because the founders are no longer interested in running the program, that there must be funding difficulties, or that something sinister happened that mandates closure of the fellowship program.

This is not about maintaining our position or preserving what we’ve created.  It is about living up to our greatest potential. We are at a pivot moment where we challenge the world and ourselves to do more than we thought possible. The journey will not be easy; we may have to swim to shore for our board.  However, our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.  And we willingly buck both fear and caution.  We at Indicorps are proud to embrace vulnerability as we figure out what the world needs now.  We are confident of taking on the ocean of genuine leadership development even without the security of a Fellowship program; we know we can do more.

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