Of Learnings, Conversations & Inspiration — My Experience at ILSS

Sonali Jha Chatterjee, one of the participants at the inaugural leadership program of ILSS, shares her experience from the program.

9 Days, 8 hours every day

Talks, Discussions, Interactions, Questions, Answers, Field visits, Working dinners, Debates

The Ashoka University, Central Square Foundation, Indian School of Development Management

Take all the above together and give it a shake — that was what comprised the immersion in the social sector scenario for the first batch of India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS).

On 26th January, 20 of us trooped into Ashoka University from around the world, with different sets of questions, perspectives, ideas and careers. But there was one common thread that tied us together — an urgent need to understand the social sector. The next few days that we shared were nothing short of a journey into the very heart of where the real India resides and where we need to give our most, if we feel the urge to uphold humanity. I had always been attracted towards the social sector, observing others working in it as a media person, but after a two-year stint with Teach for India as a Fellow, I felt it was time to move towards understanding why education, health and poverty are areas that have barely seen any upliftment.

As leaders from the social and corporate sectors talked and discussed these issues with us, I realized that it was not just an uphill task, but a steep uphill task to bring about a social revolution where every human being would be proud of the life they have, and see themselves as one community — a strong one that looks after the health of the earth.

If I go through the list of people who took me on a journey of self-actualization, several of them stand out. Ravi Sreedharan, the founder of the Indian School of Development Management was a great example of the possibility of shifting gears from a successful corporate career to the social sector — he is now creating an environment to help youngsters enter this field; Harsh Mander, who practices what he preaches, moved away from the IAS and made compassion his mantra for reaching out to people; Safeena Husain, who fought through obstacles in life to create a positive world for thousands of girls in villages, educating them; Shridhar Venkat, who was a corporate person and now was deeply committed to providing nourishing food to thousands of our school going children;Vinita Singh, who through her passion for democracy brought me closer to understanding my country’s Constitution; Prof. Ashok Sircar, who in his quiet way created a revolution in my mind on learning about the fallacies created by humans. We spent a day with Anshu Gupta of Goonj and I was awed by the commitment he has towards helping others live a life of dignity. There were so many speakers who showed the real picture of India, that I now find it impossible to turn away from glaring injustices.


So much of learning and assimilation would, however, not have been possible without the fun, laughter and exchange of views and ideas among our class of 20, and those who coordinated and brought us together on one platform, allowing us to create a motivated cohort.

What I found most rewarding was that I met people with a huge amount of optimism and hope for a new world, who are helping and reaching out to people, working their way against all odds, facing failures and achieving success, however small, but not giving up.
My dismal picture of our world has definitely become clearer and no longer looks as dark as before. I see ways to work on this using my head, heart and hands in alignment, as I have learnt here.
Sonali is working with the Oxford University Press and has over two decades of experience in media and has worked as a Radio Jockey, News Reader and Script Writer with All India Radio, besides contributing to various publications as a freelance journalist. She holds an M.A. from Annamalai University and a PG Diploma in Journalism. As a trained theatre person, she has trained teachers and students in theatre-craft. She is also a Teach for India alumna. Sonali wants to identify and work in projects that move towards an inclusive system of education, preparing students for the challenges they would face in the real world.

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