A voice, A story, A mission: The transformative journey of an SBI-YFI Fellow

By auther pic. Faiza Ruksar Arif

June 1, 2020

A voice, A story, A mission: The transformative journey of an SBI-YFI Fellow

Fodder for thought: SBI Fellow learns about agricultural practices first hand!

In a world marked by accelerating change, hyper-connectivity, and volatility, one cannot afford to build a life around repetition and outdated notions of success and leadership. Instead, the youth of tomorrow seek to carve their place within this competitive climate and become contributors, active players, and changemakers. At the heart of this movement are the SBI Youth for India Changemakers: a carefully selected network of India's best minds who join hands with rural communities, empathize with their struggles, and connect with their aspirations to overcome developmental constraints in rural India. 

SBI Foundation grounded in the philosophy of 'Service Beyond Banking'has directed all its efforts to realize this vision by way of several CSR programs. SBI Youth for India is one such program that offers a platform to educated urban youth to connect with rural aspirations by creatively resolving rural issues and bringing positive change in remote villages. Built on the vision that villages can become self-reliant sustainable mechanisms of growth and development, the fellowship ship seeks to create a trusted gateway for higher talents to flow into rural development, thereby reviving the grassroots development machinery and benefit marginalized communities. The SBI fellowship's strength lies in its multi-faceted take on development and collaborative efforts- bringing together passionate urban Indian youth and experienced non-government organizations to form meaningful relationships that can be used to catalyze rural development. Launched on 1st March 2011, the founding cohort consisted of 27 fellows who completed the fellowship. The initiative was well received and a second batch was launched in 2014 with 51 fellows. The success stories and innovative solutions developed on the field are testaments to the need and effectiveness of the program, and the SBI fellowship is now in its seventh batch – with 52 fellows working across 35 states. Furthermore, over the years the SBI Youth for India fellowship has created a strong network of 303 alumni that are today working in diverse fields, 70% of which continue to actively work in the development sector.


Spreading Happiness: SBI fellow interacts with the community children

SBI YFI Fellow Kriti Gupta reminisces about her experiences on the ground, "SBI Youth for India fellowship has been a defining point in my personal and professional life. The engagement during the fellowship has redefined my outlook towards the world and the empathy it holds, contrary to the roots of the corporate world I have delved into. I have traded by the corporate office for a huge rice field I call my office and replaced my suited-booted colleagues with incredible rural women and their wonderful kids".

Kriti is one drop, in the ocean of fellows at SBI YFI. Passionate, dedicated, empathetic, and sincere- the SBI fellows hail from diverse educational, cultural, and professional backgrounds. The cohort comprises of prestigious scholars from IITs, IIMs, etc, along with prolific changemakers from eminent organizations like TCS, Thomson Reuters, Reliance Industries, etc. The SBI Youth for India team ensures inclusivity and diversity through a rigorous selection and screening process. The registration and application are made available in the first quarter of the year on the website and social media platforms. The application process entails submitting a short application expressing the candidate's intent to join the SBI Youth for India fellowship program and is followed by an online assessment if the applicant's portfolio meets the criteria. The online assessment comprises of essays and additional candidate profiling. Upon clearing the assessment, the candidate will receive an invitation for the final phase which involves attending the Selection Board Interview at a location of their preference. Shortlisted candidates are notified and sent an offer letter detailing the program along with access to material on the program areas and partner NGO's so that candidates can make an informed choice regarding interest area and fieldwork.


Interactive classrooms: SBI Fellow and the students form a circle of learning

The Youth for India fellowship program is premeditated to assist the fellows to live in a village location and work with the partner NGOs to benefit the community and is broadly divided into three phases; familiarisation, implementation, and sustenance. The familiarisation phase begins with 'Aarambh' – the induction ceremony that marks the beginning of the fellows' transformative journey, followed by a week of orientation and training. The sessions allow participants to gain insight into burning development issues while also delving into their intrinsic motivations for pursuing the fellowship and a career in development. SBI fellow JincyThakral, recalls her orientation experience rather fondly- "Starting from 'who am I' to 'how we all are similar yet unique', my orientation journey was a tremendous one. Every day was a new day where I got a chance to explore myself. The days which I spent in orientation, were one of the best days of life where I got an opportunity to learn the values of leadership, mindfulness, togetherness, and self-awareness."

Post orientation, the fellows spend time at the NGO center to understand the scope of their work. Based on their interest and skill set, they are assigned a location, domain, and local guardian. It is the local NGO that is tasked with the responsibility of familiarizing the fellow on the field and also serves as the primary mode of communication between the fellow and the community, local authorities, and other stakeholders. After exploring crippling issues on the ground, the fellow is expected to create a comprehensive plan covering the program area, project objective and action plan to implement, in the months to come.


SBI Fellow holds interactive learning sessions with the women of the community. 

The project proposal and action plan are approved by both the SBI YFI team and partnering NGO, marking phase two – implementation. It is the challenge of finding innovative solutions with limited resources that greatly defines the role of the SBI fellow. Over the next nine months, the fellows resort to exploring diverse methods available to benefit the community and promote sustainable growth. Additionally, the fellow is supported by SBI YFI through a series of review workshops held for the fellow to present their work and receive feedback on the same while also addressing and overcoming blockages faced. A team of experts and YFI alumni share valuable inputs and guide the fellow on best practices to ensure the seamless execution of the project. The last few months of the fellowship are regarded as a period of sustenance where the fellow is expected to complete all the activities undertaken within their project. Furthermore, the fellow identifies a local resource person who can take the program forward upon completion of their fellowship.

The SBI fellowship truly captures a transformation both in the fellows and on the field – creating a sustainable social landscape. Chief Operating Officer of SBI Foundation, Shri Nixon Joseph's words encompass both the effectiveness and transformative potential of the fellowship – "The program activities and their outcomes reflect the vibrancy, tenacity, and dedication of our fellows, thus distinguishing SBI Youth for India fellowship as the most premier rural fellowship in India. Their initiatives in empowering the rural disadvantaged are moments of pride and satisfaction not only for them but also for us and for everyone who had some role in mentoring these youths especially their parents who gave their kids the space they needed to explore." As a community of over 300 earnest and young changemakers, Youth for India Fellowship has served as a platform for bright and curious young minds to venture into the development sector through a 13- month rural intensive program. While their paths are unique, every SBI fellow walks away with a voice, a story, and mission – rewriting their future and that of rural India at large.

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Faiza Ruksar Arif is a content specialist and researcher based in Bangalore who has worked extensively on curating curriculum and educational programs for adolescents in Telangana. With a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Faiza is on a mission to improve social realities by equipping women and other marginalized sections, with improved access to health, education and livelihood opportunities. She also dabbles in artwork and is passionate about issues pertaining to mental health and minority politics.


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