Many farmers want more youth to take part in the programme

‘Nothing changes' is the cynical reaction to the multitude problems plaguing the country's massive rural sector, from farmer suicides to depleting resources.

“These issues are debated profusely, triggering circular blame games, with a general conclusion that the responsibility lies in the hands of the country's youth to put things right. Yet, every year we see the educated youth overlooking this sector which is crying out loud for their attention,” says Dr. G.N. Hariharan, Principle co-ordinator, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai

Face the challenge

This year, however, 28 persons with a maverick mindset have decided to stand up to the challenge.

These young professionals form the State Bank of India (SBI) Youth for India fellowship – a unique platform to enable educated Indian youth to understand the dynamics of the crises and adapt innovative solutions.

The program ties up with well-established NGOs like MSSRF, BAIF and Seva Mandir, allowing the fellows to work on various rural projects for a year, in eight states and union territories (namely, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Orissa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry).

“Out of about 4,000 applications received, 200 candidates were shortlisted for interviews with 28 fellows including five women, being selected to work with the partner NGOs'. They are all graduates or postgraduates including alumni of eminent institutes such as IITs' and IIMs'. Most of the professionals have an engineering background (15 BE/B.Techs) or management (four fellows),” says Dr. Hariharan.

However, there are unique profiles with background in biotechnology, urban planning, law, mathematics, and agricultural science.

Professionally, almost one out of every four fellows is from the software sector, though there are many from diverse sectors like education, infrastructure, non-profit, healthcare and others.

Seeking solutions

The fellows might be professionally and educationally diverse, but the one quality that unites them all, is that they are bored by their restricted cubical lives, and are seeking solutions to the burning issues detrimental to the country's future.

“Their intention is to do something about concerns most only prefer to “talk” about,” says Dr. Hariharan.

The fellows are working on various projects such as agricultural supply chain, education, health awareness, legal rights, rural tourism, tribal development, climate change awareness, etc. and MSSRF being one of the pioneering NGOs in India, provides a platform for the fellows to start off interesting projects for them to work on.

Updated information

For example Mr. Ankit Walia, a CRM Consultant is piloting an Interactive voice response system in Tamil, to enable farmers to get updated information about markets, farming practices, Government schemes etc.

In Vidarbha, a farmers-suicide ridden region, Mr. Shuvajit Payne, an ex-IIM consultant at IBM previously, is implementing a spoken English course to encourage alternative employment.

Ms. V. Suhasini, a computer science engineer, is working with women SHGs' in Puducherry to identify and promote sustainable rural livelihoods/enterprises, in the process strengthening the existing biovillage concept.

Ms. Anu Jacob, previously managing the HR activities of a startup, is working on making the ‘Every village a knowledge centre' model self-sustainable by trying to increase the earning capacity of the knowledge workers.

Scaling up

The potential of this batch has encouraged the organization to scale up the program next year and help out more NGOs.

Says Mr. Shuvajit Payne: “Basically though we might have been financially secure working in big companies, at one point of time, we started developing a feeling that apart from earning money there must be something that as individuals we must achieve and give back to the society especially to the rural poor.”

“This opportunity proved the best platform for us to get a first hand feel of what rural India is really undergoing. At the end of our training, we hope to play a very constructive role in trying to solve the rural problems.”

Need more

“But why only 28 fellows?” asks Mr. Shamrao Deshmukh, a farmer from Vidarbha, who desires more number of youth to take part in the programme with continued support from SBI..

For interacting with these fellows readers can contact Dr. G.N. Hariharan, Principle co-ordinator, M.S. Swaminthan Research Foundation, Taramani, Chennai, email:, mobile: 9444904765 or Ms Geeta Verghese, SBIYFI co-ordinator. email, Mobile 09620272251.

(This article appeared in The Hindu dated August 18, 2011.)

(This article was published on August 19, 2011)
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