By Rwitwika Bhattacharya

It is with great excitement that the Swaniti Team would like to welcome the Fellows of Summer 2012! The engagements this summer will span across India. Our first engagement will begin with focusing on smoothening women’s school-to-work transition in Bengal. Our second engagement will be increasing efficiency of MP-LAD fund allocation in Jharkhand. And our final engagement is strengthening labor market institutions in Himachal.

In the weeks following up to the engagement each of our Fellows have worked hard, with our team, to put together the initial client presentation, prepare the background and speak with experts on their engagement topic. Now the time has come to go in to the field and immerse oneself fully in the projects.

I applaud the Fellows on taking on a path less traveled. Working at a constituency level with the support of our Members of Parliaments is an unconventional concept. But we have a fearless group of Fellows who, we are confident, will come into this unstructured space and work on complex issues to propose implementable solutions.

Politics, unlike any other field that I have experienced, requires one to be conscious and answerable to multiple elements. You need to be conscious about your party’s agenda, your constituents’ demands, and the prospect of your own re-election. As Fellows begin their engagements they will have to develop solutions keeping each of these elements in mind. But above these different elements, and above the ‘structure’ of the engagements is the sheer recognition that the Fellows will make an impact.

For me Nadia Shah represents the impact.

A few months ago, I was at Mr. Sultan Ahmad’s Kolkata office with a report on the state of education in his constituency. Per always there was a long line waiting to get his attention when suddenly an old man ran through the door out of turn. Though feeble he was determined to meet his MP. His desperation caught the MPs attention. “What do you want?” Mr. Ahmad asked.  “Two minutes of your time,” he answered in a bearded voice. Mr. Ahmad nodded.

Immediately the old man pulled out a young girl from behind him (like a magician pulls out a rabbit from his hat). She was timid, staring at the ground, nervous by the surrounding chaotic environment. “What do you need?” the Minister asked urgently. She started sobbing. “What do you need? Speak up or else I have a lot to do” the Minister repeated.

She nervously raised her eyes to answer, “I have topped in my local school, now I wanted to continue my class ten education here,” She stopped, almost feeling like she had lost all courage to continue to story. But then she gulped and continued. “I have registered at a local school here but the fee is too high. If I go back, then there is no higher secondary school and I will have to drop out.” She finished the sentenced as if those were the last words she would ever speak.

“Which school is she in?” Mr. Ahmad asked, almost unmoved.

“Blue Bells,” the older gentleman answered.

“Hmm…Hold on.”

Mr. Ahmad called in to his secretary and asked to be connected to the principal of Blue bells and like clockwork he was connected within a few minutes. “Suniye, I have his girl here…what is your name?” he asked seriously. “Nadia.. Nadia Shah.”

“Huh.. Nadia Shah. I am giving her my card. Please don’t ask her for tuition and organize some scholarship. She will come and meet you tomorrow,” he closed saying not too much more.

The girl smiled and suddenly she stood up right, looking away from the ground. Her problem was resolved.

After she left the room I spoke to Mr. Ahmad. I asked him what her future was and if he thinks she will be able to continue her education. “You know what the sad thing is,” Mr. Ahmad stated, “Nadia might be alright and a few others like her might be too, but there are so many girls and boys who will drop out of school because of poor education. We need to find longer-term solutions than a phone call here or there. We need to strengthen our system,” Mr. Ahmad stated.

Creating those long-term solutions is what Swaniti and these Fellowships are about. It is about working with driven leaders to find solutions that can strengthen our systems so that the weak and the poor don’t fall through it. It is about making an impact at scale so that all the Nadia Shah’s have the opportunity to go to school and make it in life!

As our Fellows this summer prepare to go in to the field we are hopeful that by strengthening the polity and governance in India, new opportunities and prospects will be created.

And now…. To the Fellows!