A meeting of like minds

Date : Aug 26 , 2019 | Alumni

As she goes about setting up a family foundation and articulating its vision and philosophy, Sheena Gandhi says she draws inspiration from the perspectives gained during the nine-day ILSS Leadership Program.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
– Steve Jobs

This quote has been a motivating factor for me during my short yet thought-provoking social sector journey. My interest in the sector started late and the turning point was when I undertook a couple of social projects like MSD for Mothers and a documentary film ‘SonRise’. These projects truly heightened my interest in the sector, gave me a sense of satisfaction and utilised my communications expertise. Despite its challenges and complexities, I was convinced about the move.

I didn’t quite know the best way forward or the prospects that lay ahead, but I believed that there were no wrong turns, only unexpected paths. One thing led to another and my father-in-law, Pravin Gandhi, and I began working towards setting up a foundation with a vision of fostering a culture of collaboration amongst non-profits and donors in India. 

Whilst setting up the foundation, I wanted some field experience, so I accompanied our partners to visit their programs on partnership and collaborative action in Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. These visits gave me an understanding of realities on the ground, engaging interactions with some bright young minds and a sense of sheer happiness!

Subsequently, I volunteered with Teach for India’s month-long Eklavya program, which gave me a glimpse of the shortcomings in the education system and the dynamics of teaching today’s children. At this point, I had a lot of questions but no real answers, and I yearned for more knowledge on the sector. That’s when I was advised to apply for the 9-day ILSS program at Ashoka University.

Navigating the social sector, with ILSS  

The ILSS course gave me the opportunity to clearly understand my intent. It gave me a better understanding of the harsh realities in the development space, the constantly changing narratives and how social entrepreneurs are innovating to create systemic change. The program is a great platform to meet like-minded individuals and experts who are deeply invested in the sector. Interacting with them, exchanging views, discussing ideas and learning from their experiences was a valuable experience. 

Some of the ideas and perspectives have been particularly helpful as I navigate this environment; for example, Mihir Mathur’s session on systems thinking demonstrated how important it is to process and understand the interaction of various factors and constituents to truly fathom a situation. Ashok Kamath’s five-point checklist for successful programs—politically acceptable, socially desirable, technically feasible, financially viable and administratively doable—was a great takeaway too.

One of my personal favourite sessions was by Rudrangshu Mukherjee, who brought alive the Gandhian ideals of simplicity, fearlessness, non-violence and truth, whilst sharing the importance of cultivating a network of interdependence and resilience. As I go about setting up our family foundation and articulating its philosophy, a recurrent idea through the ILSS sessions keeps inspiring me: that no one person can solve the problems we face and there needs to be a collective approach.

The program is a great platform to meet like-minded individuals and experts  who are deeply invested in the sector.

There’s strength in numbers

Of course, there are many times, when I am alone, introspecting, and don’t have answers – or simply failing to connect the dots. While crossing over into the social sector can be a daunting idea for most people, ILSS helps create a sense of belonging and community for those who wish to cross over or have already taken the plunge. My batch had individuals from diverse backgrounds, some with social experience and some with corporate experience. The nine days at ILSS created a platform for self-exploration, loads of banter, and a heightened need to become active citizens for our community and nation, thereby becoming a support system for each other.

For me, the sector has been like running a marathon, where the journey is, perhaps, the most important part of the experience. From celebrating a series of small achievements to outlining clear objectives and setting conservative yet attainable goals whilst going after larger ones. Setbacks and obstacles are part of the journey and must be embraced and planned for. Another fundamental element for me has been collective knowledge sharing by working together and avoiding duplication. As H.E. Luccock put it succinctly, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” Real transformation takes time, so I need to be patient, pause and remind myself why I am doing it. I do this by constantly visualising the destination, appreciating the journey and believing that “Yes I can, yes I will.”

Sheena Gandhi is a communications specialist with more than 14 years of experience and has played an integral role in shaping the reputation of blue-chip brands and companies. Her core areas of expertise are influencer engagement, partnerships and strategy. She believes in passion with a purpose and continuous learning as key drivers in her career choices. She transitioned to the social sector in 2018. A strong advocate of partnerships, she is currently working towards setting up a foundation that will foster a culture of collaboration in the social sector.

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