2012. Nagpur city.
It was a rainy day when I walked into the community center to help out with the second recruitment drive for MAD. I was a teaching volunteer for the then English Project at a center in Nagpur. A third year engineering student with a lot of free time and a drive to do more than just get my grades right and study for endless tests. And yet, when I look back upon that evening, it was one of the most defining moments of my life. I was offered the PR fellowship for Nagpur.
To give you a little bit of background, I was an introvert with almost null background in public relations and marketing. I had never organized anything in my college life. I was just a month old in the organization. But, against sound judgement and quite obvious logic, I decided to go for it. I decided to get out of my comfort zone of college, good grades and tuition classes. I gave the tasks a shot and got through. And honestly, I was anxious and unsure.
Cut to July 2014. I am writing this blog post from my desk in MAD Mansion, the national headquarters of Make A Difference, in Bangalore. I am currently employed as the Director of Public Relations in the same organization where I had started off as a scared and anxious teaching volunteer. An organization that gave me the time and space to grow and learn.
Friends, that is the magic of the Fellowship at Make A Difference.
Back in 2006, MAD was started by a bunch of driven young people who visited a shelter home in Cochin and realized that they could impact the children there in a positive way. They realized that there was a definite desire to learn and a want to teach. And MAD was conceived. Very soon, it expanded to Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad because there had never been a dearth of driven young people who wanted to give back to the society and do their best to make the world a better place. To help the people do the necessary in the new cities, a document called the ‘Expansion kit’ was shared which gave them a process to start and run a MAD Chapter in their city.
As time progressed, we noticed that the impact in other cities wasn’t felt on the same scale as in Cochin. The intent was still the same: To empower children at risk. But we realized that it wasn’t enough. We realized that it took more than this to deliver our vision on ground. We realized that processes weren’t enough on its own, it needed leadership to compliment it to actually make a difference. And that is how the LxD program was devised.
LxD: The Conference
LeadershipxDesign, or LxD as it’s abbreviated to, is an extensive leadership program that gives the sort of learning curve that would create leaders out of dedicated young people in the country. The change makers who would be the catalysts and never lose sight of the organization’s personality, values and principles. And the curriculum aimed to deliver the elements that would make a leader. Remark-ability, innovation, family, professionalism and high levels of immersion of the cause they are working for.
The LxD program had two major components in it. An LC, which is a national level conference where in the Fellows are given clarity about their role and imparted executive leadership program to set a context to their on ground work and give them the leadership tools to facilitate their work. And a proactive support system throughout the year to help them through their challenges and gives them the learning curve that would make them remarkable leaders. We wanted to impart experiential learning rather than classroom learning.
The best part about the LxD program is that it is ever evolving and ever changing. Starting from a hall full of people discussing about how to change the world, it has moved into a dynamic high energy yet reflective conference that focuses on the core values and skills that a young leader must have to deal with the various challenges on ground and find a way to overcome them and grow by learning and collaborating.
One big MAD
This year is a landmark year for Leadership Circles. Focus is on deep dive into core concepts like Servant Leadership and Integrity. A deep dive that would help the Fellows get a crystal clear understanding of the finer nuances of a true leader. Instead of the LC being a place where solutions are provided, we wanted to make it a place where ideas are swapped faster than they are thought of. A place where conversations are started and carried back into the cities. A place where the Fellow understands the bigger picture and the cause they are working for and reflect on their stands on them. To facilitate our learning, two newest additions joined the MAD family. Abhishek Thakore, founder of the Blue Ribbon Movement, a well known change artist who facilitates fundamental transformation in individuals, organizations and societies. Rizwan Tayabali, a social enterprise consultant at Social Effect, has sixteen years of social and commercial experience in strategic innovation, design and change and is currently as full time specialist in the design and implementation of long term solutions to human challenges.
The vision for LxD is ambitious and exciting to say the least. We believe that the work people do defines their leadership qualities and not their profile. Going forward, in the near future, the leadership program and the Leadership circle will be two different entities. The LxD curriculum will be accessible to anyone in MAD with the help of our cutting edge tech team. And eventually, the LC will be an open conference to anyone with the real potential of being a leader and for those who want to take an initiative to solve a problem.
One big family of problem solvers. One big MAD.
And today, I find myself anxious and nervous. And I am transported to two years ago: A reserved volunteer who was a bunch of nerves. And as I end this post, I take strength and confidence from the fact that I am not the only one. I look around the office and I see people who have had the same trajectory as me. And I smile.