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[TC-I Changemakers]:Interview of Annemieke Wilcox: Putting TISES in perspective

Badhri Jagannathan
8th Jul 2009
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The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab

Its July and it is that time of the year when select students from Cambridge University and University of California, Berkeley fly into India to participate in Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme ( TISES ) – a yearly eight-week internship programme in which they will work with and provide recommendations on various social initiatives of rural Indians supported by Tata’s various business arms. ThinkChange India had reported this initiative through its earlier posts on Tata Group’s Foray in to Social Entrepreneurship and provided a follow-up review in its article titled TISES – A review. Now, in an effort to understand the efficacy of the programme on the involved parties, I interviewed Annemieke Wilcox, one of the participants of TISES over email which I present here.

ThinkChange India(TCI): Before we begin, briefly about you, your educational background and interests, please.

Annemieke Wilcox(AW) I am a graduating senior at the University of California, Berkeley. My major is peace and conflict studies with an emphasis in economics and global governance.

As a citizen of both the U.S. and The Netherlands, I have come to appreciate other cultures, perspectives, and ways of living. Traveling and learning about other places and cultures has become a very important part of my life. I am inspired by the stories and traditions of others and appreciate the common beauty of the human spirit.

I am very interested in peace building, international policy, economic development, and public health. I see economic development and grass roots entrepreneurship as one of the most promising possibilities in preventing conflict.

TCI: How did you first learn about this internship? What prompted you to apply?

AW: I learned about the fellowship through the Blum center for developing economies at UC Berkeley. After reading more about the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES) in India, I became increasingly interested, passionate, and excited about the fellowship and its projects. My goal for participation as a TISES fellow included the opportunity to work in India and be a part of the process of developing a recommendation in a new and foreign place. In addition, I wanted the opportunity to help provide quality findings and recommendations to the Tata Corporate Sustainability Services management team that would allow for sustainable impact.

I expected to learn a great deal about the Tata community initiative project(s), and how the projects address important community issues. I wanted to learn about the specific needs of the communities and how to best address those needs within the Tata project scope. I was also excited to learn about Indian culture, traditions, communities, and issues these communities are currently facing.

TCI: Can you brief about the work you did along with TATA?

AW: I was asked to form a recommendation on how to increase sustainable livelihood through agriculture based interventions. We spent much of our time in the villages conducting focus group discussions with male Self Help Group (SHG) members. We were also able to conduct individual suveys with farmers from various villages. In addition, we researched case studies, Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) internal and external records/ publications, and analyzed information from past surveys. We recommended that TCSRD focus on using the strengths of the current group model in order to implement an agriculturally focused SHG which involves three different levels: individual, village, and Community. Ultimately the individual SHGs would ban together to form cluster/ village organizations and later a federation which would be able to create a cooperative.

TCI: What do you think has changed with respect to social development in India as a result of your eight-week program? On the other hand what are your “take-homes” based on this internship with respect to social development in India?

The purpose of the TISES internship was not for students to change social development programs in India, but to promote international understanding and to bring international perspectives to ongoing community development projects.

One of the many important lessons I learned while working with the Tata group is that social development takes time, commitment, and persistence. I believe that up to date, the program had a much greater effect on its foreign participants than on the society in which we worked. While it is unclear if our recommendation/work will have any effect (positive or negative) on the current livelihood of rural farmers, it is clear that the villagers had a tremendous effect on us.

I absolutely fell in love with the Indian culture, people, and way of life. While working in the villages, I witnessed strength, resilience, determination, and spirit, that I had never seen before. I was met with so much generosity from people who had so little to give. I was welcomed into houses of strangers who would offer me their last roti bread, a cup of chai tea, and always a glass of water. I learned that not only were the villagers generous and hard working, but they were also intelligent. If social development is to change in India, it should begin from the ground up. While working with Tata on this project, I have learnt that it is essential to work with the community to understand the source of the issues, and the multiple local factors that affect them.

I hope that our eight-week program/recommendation will be helpful in increasing the livelihood of rural farmers, and with time, move to increase the social development in Babrala. I am sure that it brought about personal transformations in all of its participants. It changed the way I think about social development, cross-cultural communication, and what is possible from a multinational conglomeration (TATA).

While thinking of my experience in India and working with The Tata Group in the rural villages of Babrala, a beautiful quotation comes to mind:

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

TCI: Are you still associated with any project in India? Or are there any ongoing projects in India based on your work during the internship?

My internship with TATA, has increased my awareness of problems India is facing, as well as my interest in working in the country. I have applied for an internship with Haath Mein Sehat (through UC Berkeley), which involves working in the slums of Mumbai on Health and Sanitation. http://blumcenter.berkeley.edu/haath-mein-sehat-health-your-hands.

Annemieke blogs at beauty in the unseen

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