SBI Youth for India Fellowship: Driving social change through collaboration and innovation

By auther pic. Faiza Ruksar Arif

May 15, 2020

SBI Youth for India Fellowship: Driving social change through collaboration and innovation

All smiles: Our SBI fellow spends time playing with the children

Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. At the center of this change lie the youth –with the ability to think big, hope for the best, and envision a better tomorrow and bring this vision of a gender-equitable society to life.  In a confusing world of exponential change, young people must develop the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence–agency plus capability–for change-making.

The SBI Youth for India (SBI YFI) is a unique, Indian rural development fellowship program initiated by SBI, funded and managed by the SBI Foundation that seeks to build a trusted gateway between the urban and rural spheres, for higher talents to flow into rural development, thereby reviving the grassroots development machinery and benefit marginalized communities. The framework of the program is highly immersive by design and requires the fellow to spend 13 months on the field -  experiencing and collaborating with the 'real' India; empathizing with their struggles and connecting with their aspirations for community change.

With over 300+ fellows, 10 partner NGOs across 12 thematic areas, 'Collaboration' is the heart of the fellowship and its found philosophy. The unique intervention strategy adopted by YFI is that it employs a holistic multifaceted approach towards development working across the thematic areas of education, health, environmental protection, food security, rural livelihood, traditional crafts, women empowerment, self-governance, social entrepreneurship, technology, and alternate energy. In line with this philosophy, the implementing partners of the SBI are organizations that work on multiple issues in great depth and foster close community ties.

The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP-I) works as a catalyst for the betterment of rural communities through the collectivization and promotion of individual enterprises. Their goal is to build self-reliant people's institutions for financial inclusion and livelihood enhancement in the community. Fellows Anvi Mehta, Kriti Gupta, and Saumya Omer (2016-2018) all worked under the AKRSP(I)and eventually went on to collaborate and develop 'Tales and Treasures' – an initiative that uncovers stories of the voiceless people and uses platforms and talking forums to raise awareness.

BAIF development research foundation is another partner that works on sustainable livelihood practices in rural India and has evolved innovative models of micro-enterprises to ensure inclusive development through dairy husbandry,Agri-Horti-forestry, and sustainable agricultural production for food security. SBI Fellows Pratibha Krishnaiah and SwetchaPoladi worked with BAIF on mechanisms to promote sustainable livelihoods and financial independence within the women of the community. Pratibha, went on to co-found Himalayan Blooms, a social enterprise based in the rural villages of Champawat, Uttarakhand that helped women augment their household income through knitting, crochet, and tailoring - skills they already possessed. Swetcha's social enterprise Tinted Hands Collective aims at supporting the weaving communities of South India and uses natural dyeing and upcycling process to make garments and other accessories.

The institution Barefoot College works for the upliftment of rural people in the areas of education, skill development, health, drinking water, women empowerment, and electrification through solar power. The Youth for India fellows associated with Barefoot College has contributed tremendously in starting enterprises that empower women from rural communities. 'Barefoot Honey'– an initiative curated by SBI fellow Neil Kamat is working with communities in Kerala and Uttarakhand to train them in beekeeping and providing a market to their product. 'Barefoot Coffee' is the brainchild of SBI fellow Allen Nelson that produced Bareroot's first official solar roasted coffee – a completely sustainable product from seed to cup.

Another partner to SBI Youth for India is DHAN Foundation that works towards reducing poverty through making the communities self-reliant through its multifaceted development programs ranging from livelihood, water for irrigation, coastal conservation to bridging the urban-rural divide through Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Fellows Harshitha Prakash and Sai Krishna were inspired by their respective time and experiences at DHAN to start initiatives to promote collective community action against climate change and promote eco-friendly sustainable modes of livelihoods. Harshitha's program 'PrakruthiMadilu' – is an initiative based on planting ancient indigenous forest trees and offerssimple, measurable, low cost and scalable solution for farmers, individuals and companies to take action in combating climate changeand creating biodiversity. Sai Krishna's 'Fishy Farmers' is a system that self feeds itself with 95% water efficiency along with creating value to the rural communities by providing two livelihood opportunities by producing fish and crops on a very small land footprint.


Sharing Experiences: Our SBI fellow spends quality time with the women of the community

Celebrated institution Gram Vikas partners with rural communities to address their critical needs for safe drinking water, sanitation, health, education, livelihoods, and alternate energy in a manner that is sustainable, socially inclusive, gender-equitable, and empowering. SBI Fellow Pravin Mitkar credits his experiences as Gram Vikas for instilling in him a renewed sense of purpose. He took over as the director of Empower Energy and since then has created a network of micro-franchisees throughout the last-mile of India.

YFI Fellowship partner Seva Mandir has spent 45 prolific years working in partnership with the village residents not only to improve their material well-being but to build stronger and more ethical communities. SBI YFI fellow Simran Grover worked extensively in Rajasthan on Seva Mandir programs and has gone on to start the Bask Research Foundation in Jaipur. It is an action-oriented think tank leading on the ground research to address real issues, build a vibrant multi-stakeholder ecosystem with the objective of collaborative action.

Another key contributor towards the fellowship is the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) that aims to accelerate the use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve the lives and livelihoods of communities. MSSRF follows a pro-poor, pro-women, and pro-nature approach and applies appropriate science and technology options to address practical problems faced by rural populations in agriculture, food, and nutrition. Inspired by his time at MMSRF SBI Fellow Aniruddh Prasadh developed and co-founded, Reach, an initiative that focuses on providing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) related services for social enterprises and not-for-profits, to use data to improve program efficiency to achieve improved impact.


Making introductions: Our SBI fellow has fostered close relationships with the women of the community.

Other core partnering organizations that have brought the Fellowship to life have been the RashtriyaGraminVikas Nidhi (RGVN), Sewa Bharat, and Chirag. RGVN is a national level multi-state development and support organization working in the North East. Sewa Bharat is a national federation of SEWA organizations of women working in the informal economy and emerged out of the need to address the SEWA movement's challenges with geographical expansion and coordination. SEWA Bharat is comprised of a family of SEWA organizations to further informal women workers' rights, livelihoods, financial independence, education, health, and social security. Chirag is a rural development organization based in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand that seeks to improve the quality of life of the families residing in the Central Himalayan region with special emphasis on women, children, and the disadvantaged.

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. About 70% of the fellows continue to scale up their work started during their Fellowship period, either in collaboration with their partner NGOs or by venturing into the domain of social entrepreneurship, starting their ventures. Naina Lahoti,  presently a fellow at SBI YFI aptly summarizes the YFI experience as - 'An overwhelming joyride'. She says, "All I have to say to anyone who asks me how the fellowship has been so far for I am at a loss of words to explain the sorts of experiences you live every day because you won't understand unless you've been here. To tell you in brief, I have learned so much through so many new experiences from collecting wood, making fire, rice harvesting, tribal dancing, gobar flooring, kitchen gardening that I am waking up to wanting more and more each day and I am not holding back. It's 100% true what they say, 'This year will be one of the very best years you choose for you' and I have no regrets so far."

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Also Read: How drinking water and sanitation has become a change maker for Mukhba residents.


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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