By Konje Machini
As we edge closer to the end of the fellowship, we’re forced to begin the lengthy process of reflection. Yesterday marked my eleven month in India—the better part of a year. It feels like it was only last week that a group of some thirty or so strangers met in the lobby of Max Palevsky West dorm in Chicago. It was only yesterday that we all got on a sixteen-hour flight to Delhi only to then scatter across the country.
Fast forward many months and things are coming to a close. While we still have a lot to learn, we are no longer so green behind the ears. The Telangana team can hold their own in any conversation on irrigation in India; the team in Jaipur know the ins and outs of community participation in education and quite a bit on Aadhar enrollment for children; IIC SAST have become aces in insurance fraud detection. Even my team has become conversationally fluent in a few of the different dialects of development work. At times, I have felt a bit out of my depths; understanding the complexities of Delhi’s hybrid state-union territory governance structure, making sense of the science behind green crematoriums, or in navigating some of the formalities of proper email etiquette within Indian governmental bureaucracy. And, while I still stumble, it happens with less and less frequency—you could call that progress.
In a month’s time we’ll have to collate all our lessons learned into a digestible thirty-minute presentation. And for some, this reflection has taken place a bit earlier via the job interview process. The question, at the end of day, whether in a job interview or at the final presentations, is what impact have you made. I’ve definitely come to see our value addition as a team on all the projects we’ve been on, but attempting to quantify or qualify this has been a tricky task.
The limited timeline of our fellowship doesn’t necessarily allow us to see each project through to its very end. Of course we have planned with impact in mind, and are taking the care to ensure the sustainability of each of our projects, but this does not guarantee we actually get to see the outcomes of our outputs. Some of us will most likely be long gone before any of the impact takes effect. It’s this that’s led me to reflect not just on project impact but some of the other intangibles we’ll all be taking with us.
A keepsake that comes to mind easily is all that we have learned over the past year. Overcoming hurdles this year is not just a help to current projects, but future ones as well. We will carry with us all the lessons learned from this year and put them to use in future positions and roles. Slightly more tangible than knowledge, are the relationships we formed and can take with us. As a fellowship, unsurprisingly, the fellows have greatly painted my experience. The so-called strangers from the beginning of the fellowship have now become learning partners, resources, and great friends—especially in regards to my team. There are innumerable adventures, sights, friendships, mangoes, and so much more that I will take with me and that have made this fellowship impactful.
After all, at the end of the day impact is our focus. We spend our time designing, planning and executing our projects with the idea in mind of creating lasting, positive change. As we move to the final presentations aimed at addressing just that topic, I want us all to also take time to reflect on the rest of the puzzle. Even if we don’t see the impact of our projects just yet, it’s not hard to see the broader impact of our time in the fellowship.