A unique train ride that aims to inspire 450 young people on an enterprising journey.

Come December, a very special train carrying a carefully chosen contingent of about 450 young people between 20 and 26 years, will be flagged off for a very special journey covering 8,000km and touching 15 cities.

Organised by an Uttar Pradesh-based NGO called Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, Jagriti Yatra, as the annual expedition is called, is the brainchild of Shashank Mani, an IT services company executive and an expert in finance and accounting outsourcing, who believes that “enterprise led development is important for India”.

Jagriti Yatra was formally launched on August 15, 2008, with the Tata Group as the main sponsor; its purpose is to take young, enthusiastic people on a train journey across the country to meet entrepreneurs, social activitists, institution builders and many others, from different walks of life. This year, this unique learning train trip has computer technology firm, Dell, as its lead sponsor. And while they’re on the move, the yatris will share their experiences through blogs and social networking Websites.

Tough itinerary

After meeting with members of the Lijjat Papad group and some dabbawallahs in Mumbai, the rigorous itinerary covers Hubli, Bengaluru, Madurai, Chennai, Vishakhapatnam, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Deoria, Delhi, Tilonia and Ahmedabad.

Each day, the journey will begin and end with the Jagriti Geet or anthem, Yaaron chalo, badalne ki rut (Come friends, it is the season of change), composed by ad-guru and song-writer Prasoon Joshi, and a dance choreographed by Mani’s wife, Gouri.

The yatris will get an opportunity to meet leaders such as agricultural scientist M. S. Swamination, R. Elango, the visionary Panchayat leader in Kuthambakkam village near Chennai, Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas, Bhubaneshwar, and Harish Hande, founder of the solar electric light company SELCO, and visit institutions such as The Arvind Eye Care System founded by the legendary Dr Venkatswamy, and the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, set up and run by Bunker Roy.

Learning curve

Through their interactions, the yatris will get insights into how these enterprises were founded and nurtured from the initial, challenging days till the time they stabilised. A visual documentation of the yatra capturing key points, phrases and images in a graphic format will also be put together. And at the end of the journey, a Yatra Saar or summary report will be compiled, highlighting the key lessons from the yatris’ visits, panel discussions, interactions and observations.

Personal development

Apart from beginning and ending the day with the anthem, the participants will be exposed to motivational songs during the train journey. Spending quality time with each other, interacting with strangers, sleeping on the wobbly train berths, managing morning ablutions, dealing with the eccentricities of the Indian Railways such as midnight interruptions and unscheduled halts… will go a long way in self-reliance and mutual co-operation. Two coaches will be reserved for discussions, presentations and interactions. Six panel discussions, similar to those aired on news channel, will be conducted with experts at the end of each leg of the yatra.

Selection process

A 30-member core team under Mani is is busy scheduling appointments and finalising the programme. The yatris, a fair mix of urban, semi-urban and rural areas, are selected through an online application process which looks at their interest in development and enterprise. The participation fee is Rs 4,500. A few participants hve been chosed from US, Africa and Europe paying a few of $1000. About one third of the participants are women. “We want more women participants in the yatra as they are central to India’s development. But parents in semi-urban and rural areas are hesitant to send their daughters. This has to change,” said Vibha Joshi, Director-Selection, Jagriti Yatra.

Invaluable experience

At present, there are more than 1,200 alumni of Jagriti Yatra, and that number is likely to grow by 400 every year. “Yatri Meets” are held regularly in major cities and many yatris have started their own enterprises or are associated with one after drawing inspiration from the yatra.

“The learning on the yatra is equal to a 3-year learning programme. You get the opportunity to meet an ocean of role models whose ideas and struggles stay with you,” said Chetan Garg, who was a participant in 2008 and currently works with an MNC and is also associated with a Delhi-based NGO.

Garg, 24 now, is already one of the founder members of an initiative Fast Forward India (FFI) -- an effort to find creative and powerful ways to tackle problems that impact the lives of millions of underserved people in India-- started during his college days at Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad.

“We have built a web of network where all our yatris can interact with each other and Jagriti Yatra members and discuss ideas/ ventures/ initiatives through meetings and interactions,” said Ashutosh Kumar, Executive Director of Programming at Jagriti Yatra.


(This article was published on October 18, 2012)
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