While studying English literature at a Delhi University college, Priyanka Gupta lived in a posh locality. However, right next to the university, she would also see makeshift shelters that stood in stark contrast to her comfortable home. It changed her life.
“There were these makeshift shelters where these poor kids would be playing on the street and not going to school. And they were right next to Delhi University,” Gupta says. This made her wonder why some don’t even get to go to a school, while a thousand others attend universities. After finishing her graduation, Gupta decided to work for Teach for India, an NGO that brings together individuals to teach in under-resourced schools.
Gupta isn’t the only one who decided to tread this path. In a country marked by vast disparities and crushing inequalities, there are many like Gupta, who are choosing to get into the development sector to contribute to improving things at the grassroots level.
Koushik Hore, for instance, graduated in geography, and then went on to study agriculture and rural development. But, the 27-year-old couldn’t imagine working in an environment where people are discriminated against, left out of the development process or not allowed to live with dignity.
Hore, who identifies himself as queer, therefore, decided to create a space for interaction between queer and non-queer people, to reduce discrimination faced by the queer community.
“I wanted to create a space where all can take their own decisions irrespective of their gender, caste, class, and can live with dignity,” Hore says. This made him embark on a journey of effecting change.
He conducted workshops in colleges, rural areas, semi-urban spaces and in red-light districts. Working for a Kolkata-based NGO, he also developed a network of lawyers, doctors, and media persons, whom people from the queer community could approach in case they needed help.
But the work came with its own set of challenges. “It (development sector) is like an ecosystem. If something is happening, it will have a ripple effect on everybody. So you need to know the skills of management,” Hore says. He has, therefore, now enrolled in a post-graduate programme in development leadership at the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM).
An appetite for seeing change on ground, coupled with the desire to derive meaning from their work, is what seems to be driving most youngsters.
Consider for example Nitisha Pandey, who quit an engineering job at Tata Consultancy Services to take the plunge into the sector. According to her, working in the development sector not only allows her to be financially independent but also enables her to do what she is passionate about and derives satisfaction from– something, she says, people in corporate jobs are mostly unable to do.
Pandey, who has also decided to join ISDM, feels that the development sector needs quality human resource inputs. “In my role at Teach For India, I have worked with so many other NGOs and organisations who want to do bring about change, but what do these organisations lack to help them grow and sustain simultaneously? ISDM is an interesting opportunity to learn in depth about the development sector across the spectrum and build the understanding of leadership from experts in the field,” she says.
For Inderpreet Singh, the leap also involved making his parents understand that there was life beyond being an engineer or doctor. “Medicine is not the only option for bright students. We need people in this sector as well. Only when there are institutions and students in this field will bright people work in policy and development, right?” he asks.
After finishing his graduation, Singh started the Society for Productive Engagement and Entertainment for Elderly (SPEEE), in order to increase the social and economic participation of elderly people in society. A year into the venture, he has also decided to enrol for a course in development leadership to understand the inner workings of the sector in detail.
These 20-year-olds, however, are only getting started. “NGOs, start-ups do spring up all the time but what does it take to sustain them? What is it that’s going to make me different from somebody else who is doing the same thing? So, my idea is mostly not to create something new, but how to create a platform, where, for instance, if 10 NGOs are working for women’s hygiene, how do I bring these 10 NGOs together, so that they can learn from each other,” Pandey says. Singh, who is already running a venture in Amritsar, wants to start a pan-India conversation on the issue of old-age homes.
Of course, working in the development sector still involves negotiating a minefield of misconceptions. But, it is heartening to see that this has not stopped the youth from joining the sector. With such passionate individuals taking the reigns of the development sector, there may definitely be a hope for a more inclusive and brighter future for the country, after all.
Image used for representative purposes only.