It's been almost four years since I started taking full-time interest (and sweating my hair out) in the social sector in India. In October, 2014, I quit my corporate job to find my calling, and I feel really grateful for the opportunities that have come my way to date on this path!
I went around the country (no bragging!) to catch a glimpse of the view outside the corporate walls in Delhi, protecting the computers and data and numbers and other crap. And what caught my eyes was truly beautiful. The west-coast beaches of Mumbai, the centuries-old Char Minar of Hyderabad, or a village in Central India which gets run by women only - I had missed seeing them for more than 25 years of my life! Gosh! But honestly, this was all extremely overwhelming. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Starting a journey in the social sector, assuming I won't get paid as much, and there would be no air-conditioned rooms anywhere or two-days weekend anymore, it was all shit-scary!
So, I did extensive research to find the sweet spot where I could start my journey to this new world without hitting too many bumps. One fine day, I happened to browse through some videos of Teach For India (TFI) classrooms on YouTube. I was captivated! TFI appeared to be a brand that one could trust enough for 1. stable salaries, 2. workplace professionalism, 3. peer-learning opportunities, as well as be a platform which lets one get their hands truly dirty. (Scroll down to find the picture from the urban-slum community in Delhi, called "Sangam Vihar", where I taught for two years to see what "truly dirty" could possibly refer to!)
As I was finishing my two year fellowship with TFI, I honestly didn't know what next role I should take in the social sector. It was the same kind of dilemma I faced when I was asked to choose a full-time stream while starting my Engineering course. I picked Computer Science (CS) for two reasons:
1. My brother asked me to opt for it.
2. They have plenty of jobs out there once you finish your CS degree.
Honestly, I don't regret ever that I made that choice. Learning CS has brought me a life-time comfort with Technology, Logic, Algorithms, Data etc which comes handy across the sectors! Nonetheless, now I need to be smarter and more careful about my choices. So I picked a job that matched my top three priorities:
1. Playing the role of a catalyst in creating deep impact
2. Meeting with change-makers and leaders
3. Drawing a better pay-cheque than ever before.
(Just FYI- my preference for salary has moved to third place in ranking since the time I left my corporate job!)
So I took the job with Social Venture Partners as the General Manager for their newly rising chapter of Hyderabad at that time. I was happy that I was moving out of Delhi and going to live in a South Indian city for the first time. Though I didn't have any friends or relatives in Hyderabad that I knew of, at that time, but I was willing to create new stories, build long lasting friendships and learn about the culture and people in this new part of the country!
In June, 2017, on a scorching summer afternoon I left the Delhi airport, and landed to a pleasant evening in Hyderabad. I fell in love with the weather, people, cleanliness and overall south culture (in that order). Moving to Hyderabad has so far been the best decision of my life. I have learnt and grown a lot at personal and professional levels. I am still struggling to grow on spiritual level, but life has just started here, and I am hopeful to find what I am looking for in the coming years. Living independently particularly taught me a lot of lessons - managing life, planning days, cooking, performing chores etc. I also realized that being alone in a house for days is not that fancy after all. However, I feel grateful that even though I am farther from my family and close friends now, I get to spend more time whenever I meet them and feel closer to each of them than ever before.
I am compiling together some valuable lessons I learned while hopping from one city to other, managing relationships, learning about new sectors and meeting some amazing people, just so I can read them whenever I need a reminder. Hope you find them relevant too:
It puts you into an uncomfortable space. It also brings you the opportunity to be whoever you want to be. Make friends with strangers (but, be safe!). Share your stories, and listen to theirs.
I remember when I went for a solo trip to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh couple of years back, I was scared all the time. I felt unsafe being a woman traveling alone in India. I locked my windows well before going to bed in my hotel room to be sure that nobody could breach through. After spending three days, my fear of traveling alone in India was swept away. I came back with some very beautiful experiences.
When you live alone, you cannot blame anyone else for anything that otherwise irritates you at home. You are fully responsible for every piece of crap lying on the floor. You wake up when you need. You go to bed when you want.
I have lived alone for weeks after moving to Hyderabad. Some days I felt really alone and depressed. But some days I felt absolutely free and delightful at the core. I have learnt so much about myself in these days which I could never explore before when I shared house with my brother or sister or family or friends.
Every time one makes choices, an algorithm runs at the back of their head, unconsciously. However, if you start to articulate that algorithm more consciously, you would know why you do what you do. The more you are clear about your algorithm, the better decision you would make. And the more confident about your decisions you are, the lesser you would regret making them.
When you go through any unusual experience, it helps you gain different perspectives. It even helps you think differently for your mundane tasks that you would do next day. But different experiences don't just land at your door from nowhere. You would have to actively go out and seek them. Volunteer for something you cannot take up as a full-time job. Perform your chores every once in a while which you otherwise don't do. Buy something fancy for the kid who works in a nearby store you often go. Don't wait, just do!
What you are today is a function of many variables and constants who have played their part well in this equation of life. You realize it or not, they have! Give them and the heavens above more than just a passing glance.
[PS - last line I've borrowed from my favorite song "I hope you dance.."]
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Swati is the General Manager of Social Venture Partners (SVP) Hyderaad, where she builds powerful partnerships with non-profit organisations to tackle India's most pressing social challenges. SVP is the world's largest network of engaged philanthropists, with over 3,200+ investor-donors across more than 40 cities worldwide. Swati is a Teach For India Fellow - she has taught 100 girls for two years in a slum community in New Delhi. She has previously worked with Hedge Funds for four years as a consultant in New Delhi and New York. Swati holds a bachelor degree in Computer Science from the Institute of Engineering and Rural Technology.