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Lead India
Fellowship of the Chosen Few

Kavita Charanji

Keen on making a different to society? Do you have a passion for issues of sustainable development, the desire to be a leader and network with a group of like minded people who have blazed many a trail in their chosen spheres?

Now dedicated and committed Bangladeshis can achieve this dream through Lead India which will be opening its Fellowships shortly. Previous Fellows have achieved great heights in their chosen spheres.

Deepak Apte receives the Whitley Award from Princess Anne, UK.

There is marine biologist Deepak Apte, filmmakers Krishnendu Bose and Aaradhana Kohli Kapur, conservationist Dr Archana Godbole, environment journalist and communications consultant Damandeep Singh and government official Anjuly Chib Duggal. What binds them together is a dream -- to be catalysts of social change and leave the world in a better state for future generations. They have other linkages too: All are Fellows of NGO Lead India and have undergone extensive training on sustainable development issues and leadership skills such as team-building, systems thinking, adaptive leadership, consensus building, communication techniques, ethical decision making, negotiation skills and conflict resolution.

Each batch that undergoes the training is called a Cohort. As Lead officials say, akin to the cohorts of the ancient Roman legions, the associates undergo an intense one-year training regimen (spread over 30 days). Currently Cohort 13 is on. A specific theme is set for each Cohort. The latest would be Fellows are being trained in Building Leadership around Global Change. The subject incorporates issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation and biological invasion.

The curriculum is challenging. The theme of the 1st National Training Session (NTS) in Delhi in April was on climate change vis-à-vis corporate social responsibility (CSR). This was followed by a second NTS at Madurai, early July. The theme of this session was climate change and energy (with a focus on renewable energy). Then follows a virtual session in September where the theme will be based on mega cities and climate changein preparation for an international training session on the same subject in Mexico in November.

“Our major asset is our human resources. On a global scale, Lead has created a network of 2,000 leaders and over 146 Indian Fellows are trained in sustainable solutions to environmental problems,” says Pragya D Varma, executive director of Lead India and a Fellow herself. Today Lead International extends its operations to over 90 countries. And Lead India is extending its reach. In Cohort 13 are Fellows from Nepal and Bhutan. The organisation also wants to tap Bangladesh in the future.

The endless success stories of Lead India Fellows speak volumes for their high calibre. One particularly inspiring Fellow is Deepak Apte, assistant director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). He is the distinguished recent recipient of the Whitley Award, a prestigious prize for grassroots conservation. Recognised for his outstanding work to protect the marine life of the Lakshwadeep archipelago, Apte's links with Lead continue. The NGO has partnered with BNHS to implement a three-year (2005-2008) project, titled 'Conserving Giant Clams through a Community Reserve in the Lakshwadeep Islands or 'Project Giant Clam'.

Funded by the Darwin Initiative, the project is run by several Lead Fellows and staff. The team is gearing up to establish the Agatti Conservation Reserve, India's first co-managed marine protected area. The pioneering project seeks to bring together the local fishing community and the government to protect coral reef habitats and manage local fisheries in a sustainable way so that the islanders' livelihood can be protected and improved.

Another Fellow at the frontier of change is Dr Archana Godbole, director of Applied Environmental Research Foundation) stationed in Pune. Having founded this organisation, in 1994, she has dedicated her energies to research, action and implementation in the field of conservation and development. To her credit are community-based conservation projects all over the country, particularly in the North East and Northern Western Ghats. She has received the coveted Whitley Associate Award for her decade-long work in the sphere of conservation of sacred groves from Ghats, and more particularly the Konkan region.

Villagers carry fodder for their livelihood (left) and lead Fellows with communities in the course of a field trip

One more bright spark is Aaradhana Kohli Kapur, director and creative head of Enable Foundation. She is the brain behind a film series produced in conjunction with Lead India. Titled Thin Green Line, the five-part series zeroes in on discussions with school children and renowned environmentalists on the critical issues of animal rights, human and wildlife conflicts, economic development and environmental degradation, closure of polluting industries and labour problems, eco tourism and environmental degradation.

Now Lead is disseminating the film in leading schools. In a two-year commitment, Lead will organise a monthly screening of an episode of Thin Green Line at the Delhi Chief Minister's residence. The target audience will be 200 school children per screening. Now Lead plans to translate the film into Hindi so that students from the government Hindi-speaking schools can access it.

Talking to Aaradhana reveals an ardent agent of change. As she says, “The multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary training of Lead inculcates a sensitivity towards environmental issues and persuades one to more responsive.”

Another votary of social transformation is Damandeep Singh environment journalist and communications consultant. Talking about the Fellowship, he says, “It is a tremendous network and spans different sections of societycivil society, government and corporates. Working with these diverse sections, one familiarises oneself with their different perspectives on a given issue. It is a great way of interaction and building enduring bonds.”

An integral part of Lead's Fellowship in field training. Many interesting case studies have come up from the grassroots. Take a study called 'Farmers' perceptions of and adaptation to climate change': A few voices from Uttarkhand, by Meeta Srivastava, Lead Associate Cohort 13 and consultant to the National Geographic Channel. Pointing to the declining yield of wheat, maize, minor millets along with fruits, she speaks to several farmers. There are, for instance, farmers in the Ramgarh block of Nainital district from villages such as Odakhan, Nathaukhan and Ramgarh, who feel that the changing weather conditions has affected the potato crop. Meeta concludes by saying that the perceptions of these areas “indicate that climatic changes (reduced winters, untimely monsoon rains, erratic weather in summers, less snowfall etc) have affected local farming practices. Farmers are now trying to cope; either by changing cropping patterns and adapting other farming practices (using more fertilisers is a common practice, as most of the farmers said in the interview). Yet most of them also expressed their inability to predict weather conditions and continue with traditional agricultural practices.”

There are many challenges for Lead in buildingand maintaining the Fellowship programme. As Soniya Menon, manager training in Lead, points out, “ Organising a training such as this is itself a major challenge. However this factor doesn't bother us too much because we have Fellows in almost every field. Our pool of experts serve as resource people for future Associates. The biggest challenge, of course, is to get them altogether and commit time in the midst of their hectic schedules.”

Likewise, BG Menon, assistant director Lead India, cites the “strong connectivity of the Fellows” as a plus. In his words, “If I am undertaking research work and get stuck at some point, I just have to reach across the Lead network and brainstorm with experts from a range of fields such as water conservation, forestry and resettlement issues. Our international linkages also help usLead International extends to China, Japan, Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Francophone Africa, Europe and Canada.”

Clearly Lead and its select band of Fellows are on the cutting edge of social transformation. More such initiatives on a larger scale could go a long way in fostering a pool of dedicated and dynamic professionals committed to sustainable development both in India and the subcontinent.

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