Three years. Three hundred and sixty five days of each of these was filled completely with an amazing experience.
May 1st 2008 was definitely the start of this journey, when I was amongst the first set of Gold Award participants to receive the Award from Honourable Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari who hosted the ceremony at his residence in New Delhi shortly after he became the Patron of the Award programme in India. The same question asked by all Gold award holders (GAHs) came forth to my mind as well – What next?
The Award programme has contributed considerably to my personality and character. A lot of my aspirations and goals were either created or enhanced after my participation. With bronze and silver done, Gold was a challenge. The two years I spent completing it was probably when I had my best experience of serving the community. Yet, I wanted to do something more and aim higher. I wanted to reach out to many more people and learn from young leaders around the world as to how they could lead their people and shape their lives. Then came IGE 2008 at Mauritius. On being selected to represent India along with three other delegates from each corner of the sub-continent, whom I had never met before was something I really looked forward to. The two weeks on the ‘pearl of the Indian ocean’ was my first time abroad without family. But I can proudly say how my Award family is actually a LOT larger than my own!
During the IGE, meeting over a 100 GAHs from around the world and learning, working and having fun together was an overwhelming experience, but what shaped the next two years of my life was the Inauguration of the Peter Cruddas Social Innovation Initiative. I liked Peter right away, perhaps because he too is a twin like me! ( my twin is a GAH too).Fun apart, what impressed me most was the aim of the initiative – to recognise the social impact created by young people around the world, with the Award as a tool. For long, I have been fascinated by the self-development the Award offers, but this initiative got me thinking as to how such a programme could now offer itself as a tool to transform society. I learned that the initiative had an internship position at each region responsible for identifying the young social innovators. With that, the rest of the IGE went on and we all got back home ready to ‘Make a difference, tell the story and connect’ (Theme of the IGE).
A few months later, I saw the call for applications for the internship and took the chance. After a couple of informal sessions and interviews, a few anxious weeks and emails, I finally was chosen to be the first Regional Intern for Asia Pacific. Immediately, travel plans followed and I was on my way to Sydney, Australia. My first internship experience vividly taught me about the Award programme and its operation across the Asia-pacific region. After an excellent orientation and training programme, I got down to search for the social innovators silently working their way through communities, campaigning for change. My first stories came from Adelaide, where I met several young GAHs at the first GAHA meet in Australia. Next was Brisbane and I became a frequent flyer with Qantas, shooting back and forth, interviewing, researching and meeting great young minds.
Working at the Regional Office, understanding the structure and the way the IAA worked was a great way to learn about an international organisation. After three weeks full of energy and work, I got back home to Chennai and continued to work, balancing it with my Engineering course and exams. It was a challenge, but I loved every bit of it. It was heart warming to study stories of young Award participants in our country, from a remote village in Madurai, a railway platform in Jamshedpur and to the slums of Kolkatha how the Award had a very deep social impact into the lives of young people just like me. I was humbled by their touching stories and more because we were all equal – we all belonged to the same Award family. By October, I was wrapping up the internship and was invited to the International Award Forum at Sydney as a Youth delegate. This was the first time Gold Award Holders were invited to the forum (Another first!). Meeting Interns like myself from other regions and spending time with Mr.Peter Cruddas at his amazing CMC markets office in Sydney was definitely an experience of a lifetime! It was interesting to see how past IGE(as old as Delegates like me formed most of the 21 Young Delegates (21 as it was the 21st year of the IAA). We were definitely contributing and making a difference, just as we learned from the IGE! Some of them even went on to become Fellows of the World Fellowship, National Directors and IC members. It was amazing to be amidst them, not because they were rich or famous but because they took forward what they thought changed their lives and continue to believe in it.
By the end of November, the case studies were complete and submitted to the Selection Panel for the PCSII. Two of my stories, one from Australia (David Speirs) and one from Pakistan ( Asad Zaid) made it to the showcase event at London. The event would see the top ten innovators from around the world come together and be recognised for their contributions. It also meant that this could propel them to work on a larger scale. I was honoured to be selected along with them, to represent Asia-pacific.
Soon, in June 2010, the first PCSII Showcase Event took place in the U.K. It was an overwhelming experience to meet wonderful leaders from around the world working on great projects on various issues such as – environment, education, world hunger and those on micro credit finance, development through sports and helping the differently-able. The five day long programme began at Windsor, where the innovators were provided with workshops on social innovation and entrepreneurship by Ashoka Fellow Charlie Murphie. It was a very engaging experience to see how different ideas were brought together to achieve one common goal of development. The innovators also prepared a presentation for the show case event at London, which was to be attended by HRH The Earl of Wessex and Young Fellows of the World Fellowship. This grand finale and the most awaited events were the showcase ceremony and dinner that took place at the Buckingham Palace which totally floored all of us with its magnificence! (Not once, but twice as we made two visits for each of these events respectively!) It brought the innovators up close with Fellows, who were determined to champion these projects and take the PCSII forward in the years to come. For Anna and me, the two interns who were present (and Tom & Ben who were present in spirit; no doubt), watching our hard work and stories to finally come together was overwhelming. We were humbled and hope that more such innovators are recognised and the true spirit of the Award is taken forward by those who complete it and begin to live it. The Award is challenging young people everywhere and this is the result of conquering that challenge!
As I finish up with this long article, I do realise how hard it will be for you to read and consume all this information. Trust me; I still am not over it yet! The story continues, like always!