This is the second in a series of pieces highlighting Fellows’ reflections on their experiences so far as part of the IIC. Read part 1 in this series here.

As part of the IIC, the 2014-2015 Fellows have taken part in a diverse range of activities and experiences. The remarks of three Fellows, Ayesha, Matthew, and Mrinalini, capture commitments to their projects and reflect expanding perspectives and worldviews. Before we share their responses with you, here is a little background on each Fellow.

  • Ayesha Khan graduated from the National University of Juridical Sciences in 2012 with an A.B., a B.S.c., and an L.LB. Ayesha is on the IIC-NSDC team, which seeks to create job growth and promote skills training in the textile industry.
  • Matthew Klein graduated from the University of Chicago in 2014 with an A.B. in Economics and Environmental Studies. Matt is on the IIC-DMICDC team, which is working to design smart charter cities.
  • Mrinalini Penumaka graduated from the University of Chicago in 2013 with an A.B. in Sociology and Political Science. Mrinalini is on the IIC-CEL team, which is creating affordable urban and rural electrification schemes.

1. What is something that has inspired you during the IIC?

Ayesha: The fact that sometimes just one person with the right intentions and a decent amount of intelligence is enough to create a long-lasting impact. You don't need an army of power brokers and neither do you need to be the smartest person in the room.  All you need is determination, the right tools, and the courage of your convictions.

Matthew: The way in which the government leadership works and juggles so many projects concurrently has been really inspiring to witness. Watching such an impressive, well-oiled machine in action, and being a small part of that, is very exciting.

2. What is a new skill you've learned as a Fellow? 

Matthew: I had to teach myself how to read the law in order to design a piece of the city’s governance structure. My team devised a workable city-level single window that the DMICDC plans to implement in its cities. For over four months, I read different pieces of legislation and rulings every day, and made arguments based off of my interpretations. The learning curve was tough, but it was extremely rewarding to complete the project.   

Mrinalini: I have learned to better read incentives and assess constraints. This skill has been valuable when working with a host of different organizations on one project: state governments, local NGOs, private companies and rural communities. In a climate of many actors with competing interests, it has been helpful to evaluate and frame the needs and motivations of each stakeholder. 

3. Please describe an experience that has changed your perspective in some way. 

Ayesha: Being a part of several local skilling initiatives in rural India revealed how disconnected decision-makers often are from the lives of those they impact the most. This experience made me realize how integral it is for decision-makers to engage with those on the ground and include them in the policy and law making process. 

Matthew: Working in the Indian government has been an extremely interesting experience. The DMICDC runs efficiently, but still must deal with the necessary hurdles that the government erects. Other government organizations that we’ve worked with have been less efficient. Before coming to India, I’d never imagined how “good governance” could play a meaningful role in development; now I have seen firsthand how a higher quality of governance results in more efficient resource allocation.

4. What is a fear or hesitation that you've overcome as an IIC Fellow?

Ayesha: I speak my mind more freely now and am not scared of disagreement. I've learnt that disagreement is the key to making progress. After all, unless our generation disagrees with the way things have always been done, how will we create an environment conducive to change?

Mrinalini: Over the last few months, I have had to present our project to many high-level stakeholders: Members of Parliament as well as Secretaries and Joint-Secretaries in the central and state government. Before the IIC, I would have been intimidated to sit across from government heads and discuss the nuts and bolts of our work. Now, I am much more comfortable in making requests of government leaders and negotiating partnerships with government organizations. 

5. In your own words, what does innovation mean? 

Ayehsa: Innovation for me is creating value for your community with the tools you've got. So it could be anything from creating a highly sophisticated application which uses artificial intelligence in Japan to creating a low-cost fridge that works without electricity in a village in Rajasthan. Both benefit their communities but it would be hard to use an artificial intelligence device in a Rajasthan village which doesn't even have regular electricity, let alone broadband internet! It's about creating value where you come from and benefiting those around you.   

Matthew: Innovation is addressing problems creatively and concretely. Innovation moves stakeholders closer to solving the problem, generally in an unexpected way. It can be valuable for any organization that is having trouble satisfactorily moving towards its goal.

Mrinalini: In the last few months, I have come to distinguish between the process of innovating and the outcomes of innovation. On its face, I see innovation as the ability to reframe a given problem, and in doing so, to illuminate new ways of thinking about it. The process of innovating, particularly within the public sector, is hard. It requires a tenacity, force of energy and an independence of mind (a certain propulsion) to rally your forces and to bring out new refreshing solutions.