Alumni Perspective: Looking Forward to Mondays
As a 2005-06 Indicorps Fellow Shital Shah partnered with Shaishav, in Gujarat to assist child laborers create alternative career paths. Shital is a graduate of Northwestern University and NYU’s Graduate School of Public Service. Shital currently lives in Washington DC amd is a management consultant serving federal government clients. Shital recently completed a six-month internship with the Acumen Fund in Hyderabad.
As a child in school, I never looked forward to Mondays. They were filled with necessary obligations of life, and rarely with activities about which I felt passionate. Before a recent return to India, I found myself revisiting this familiar feeling from my childhood, leading to an internal demand for a change of pace.
After my Indicorps Fellowship, I returned to the US to complete my graduate studies at NYU, where I focused on the field of international development. During that time, I became more aware of the compelling idea that organizations can make a profit while also having a social impact – a seemingly apt answer to the tension between service and sustainability. Even while working post-graduation at the intersection of private and government sectors, I wanted to see for myself how exactly this concept played out in reality. On a personal level, I also found myself going to my job for 8-10 hours a day, and then rushing home or to other meetings to tackle a myriad of projects related to the social enterprise world on evenings and weekends. What would life be like, I wondered, if I actually looked forward to Mondays?
The first time I came to India for an extended period was a call to service; more recently, this time was a pull to put the pieces together: making an impact, an interest in social enterprise, and the desire to strike a balance between, or better integrate, work and life.
In this spirit, I went to Hyderabad for five months to work with Acumen, a social venture capital fund that invests in companies that target low income markets within health, agriculture, energy, and water portfolios. Since the fund is a thought leader in the social investment space, it was a privilege to participate in a bold attempt to change the way development is done. And more importantly, because of the opportunity to set the bar higher for my skills and strengthen knowledge of the sector, I eagerly welcomed the challenge and looked forward to Mondays!
Even though I was in India again, the difference in environments from my Indicorps experience was stark. The lessons and insights from my Fellowship year, however, were not lost in a more structured and formal environment. During the fellowship, “living your message” was a natural fit as we followed through on a deep level of commitment and immersion. Living my message became much more difficult this time around, in an office setting and well developed urban area. Here was an opportunity to really test my core values: through how I chose to spend free time, my interaction across various sectors of society, or simply the views and input I provided in my work products.
When I walked away from my Fellowship nearly five years ago, I realized that Indicorps was not a time constrained endeavor. The Fellowship may have only lasted a year, but what was set into motion, both in terms of my approach to development and my personal growth, still continues. While I may never be engaged in such a grassroots environment again, the perspective I gained – such as the importance of building relationships and the value of local knowledge – will always influence my decisions. Going back to India in a different setting allowed me to refine this thinking and apply my learnings in a new way.
As I transition back once again, the realization that a more harmonious balance of meaningful work and a sustainable lifestyle is possible provides a renewed sense of urgency and motivation. Additionally, the wonderfully enriching look into social enterprises confirms that the amount of innovation, idea generation, and strengthening of local solutions that is happening in India right now is full of exciting potential. Staying grounded with the Indicorps’ perspective while participating in new arenas to engage my skills and passion is the long standing goal – one that makes me think that it wouldn’t be so bad if every day was a Monday.
Shital Shah, August 2005 Indicorps Fellow