2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Kristina Colevas
Internship Location: Ashoka
Journal Entry #1:
Today marks one week. One week living 9.5 hours ahead of and 8,495 miles away from home. It seems longer, yet I cannot fully express how comfortable I feel in a place that I have known for only 7 days. Bangalore, India is a place full of lively and modern people. All of my notions about India were very wrong and I feel as if our western world assumes very prejudice ideas of the environment in India and the culture as a whole.
In India I am working for Ashoka. It is an international non-profit that supports people who are trying to create social change through innovative ideas. Ashoka was started by an American named Bill Drayton in 1980. He coined the term social entrepreneur and today Ashoka is the largest network of social movers in the world. Out of the last seven days I have worked six, but I do not feel over worked about the ten-hour days or the amount of work I have been given. This is because I am truly inspired every time that I go to work.
I am on the youth venture team. This is the office that works with the social entrepreneurs who are younger than 20 years of age. This past week end I was able to participate in a case competition style workshop with around 30 of these amazing kids. I was blown away by the way they were able to see the potential change in the fields of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, menstrual hygiene, education advocacy, mobile healthcare, and many much more. Not only did these young changemakers see potential but they all had started initiatives to create the change they saw needed.
Part of my job is finding new candidates to become a part of the Ashoka network. The process of becoming a Fellow is very difficult and one must go through several screening calls before they become a candidate. While I am screening potential candidates, I am able to hear vast amounts about the inequalities in India, but I also am able to converse with incredible individuals who see potential in their society.
I am ecstatic to be a part of the search for new candidates because it allows me to really get to know these kids who are making huge changes. This round of searching is to prepare for a panel of Ashoka higher ups in July. There I will be able to meet my candidates in person and present them to the panel as the panel decides if they will be a good addition to the Ashoka network.
Journal Entry #2:
My first week was packed and exciting, but half way through my time at Ashoka I have been able to understand the workings of the company much more, I have been able to recognized flaws, and I have been able to find my small role in the larger system. After the initial craziness of the case competition I had a chance to step back. I felt lost for about a week because Ashoka is a place that wishes to ell employees to be self- directed and I had no direction. During this week I kept planning and interviewing candidates for July panel, but kept asking myself: to what end? I wanted to be able to create something that would aid Ashoka even after I left. So, I began taking on more and more work.
The team I am on is called Ashoka Youth Years because we work with people under 20 years of age. While I love working with these inspirational kids, I soon realized the Youth Years Team is ran very poorly. The head of the team does not allow for voices to be heard, besides his own, and he communicates what he wants very poorly. While still conducting my Youth Years work, I began to sit in on interviews and meeting with the Adult Fellowship Team. This was necessary for me because I was struggling with my want to impact Ashoka and my team leader’s inability to take input. Working on the Adult Fellowship Team allowed me to witness how a team at Ashoka can run collaboratively. This spurred me to talk to the other members of my team about the leadership structure and lack of feedback and communication.
We sat down as a whole team and began to work out and air critiques about the stifling of new ideas on the team. This meeting was long and emotional for some team members, but we came out of it with a new method of team management. It has been about a week since that meeting and even in this short amount of time I have been able to see my team leader going out of his way to pause and listen to others. I am glad that I did not stay silent, but I aired my grievances so as to create a more open and productive team. Just in time for the July Youth Years Panel!
Although Ashoka Youth Years is operating more smoothly now, I have not given up my extra work on the Adult Fellowship Team. This is a place when I have been able to fill a needed role. It is very validating when someone recognizes that they do not possess a needed talent and see that talent in you. This is what slowly happened on the Adult Fellowship Team, as I sat through more and more meetings I had more and more critique and input. As I take up positions on both teams, I am also bringing my own insight and have found the freedom to start my own projects in both places. The past month has allowed me to see and create my role at Ashoka. This coming month will be my opportunity to implement my projects and support both Youth Years and Fellowship in their respective Panels this month.
Journal Entry #3:
In closing my internship this week, I was unsure I was going to be able to fully process the vast amount of lessons learned, experience had, and new outlooks I have gained this summer at Ashoka India. It then occurred to me that as an undergraduate student I am constantly asked to draw conclusions and process experiences immediately. I am asked to do this even though the full effect of these conclusions and experiences may not be seen until I go back to everyday life and see their effects in the way I act and think. Therefore, I rather explore how I will bring the lessons and knowledge I have taken from Ashoka into my daily life and my future.
The best thing about Ashoka is the framework from which they look at the world. I was able to spend my time in India experiencing the country from the point of view of the leading social entrepreneurs. They look at the world and see the root causes of major social issues. Understanding these root causes does not intimidate them, but they look for capacity for change. That is something I will attempt to work into my life: it can be scary but every day I now wish to actively choose to see the world as a place that has the capacity for everyone to create change. This includes myself. I will not allow myself to be passive, but look for ways I can add positively to the world with every action.
Working on the Youth Years and the Venture teams I was able to see more of how a non-profit operates and had the agency to ask about funds and types of funding. The next lesson I hope to incorporate in my life is a curiosity about where the money comes from. In my work history I have seen a lot of unethical practice in NGO/non-profit management and so combatting that is the long term tradrectory I see my career taking. Ashoka not only gave me the changemaker mindset but also the tools to analyze the ethics of grans and sources of funding. This will allow me to make ethical and informed decisions in my future work.
Finally, Ashoka gave me the power to more fully understand empathy and the importance of instilling empathy from a young age. In a world racing towards AI and automation, empathy in all levels of leadership is more important than ever. Understanding that one should not only practice empathy in extreme situations, but also in daily life is a skill that can change the way one approaches every single interaction. I challenge every individual to bring empathy to the most mundane situations and see how actively choosing an empathetic outlook improves the way they think.