Project Potential: Building an Army of Village Visionaries


A few weeks ago, SocialStory formally announced the launch of a new social enterprise in rural Bihar called Project Potential.

Now, over the next few weeks, as Project Potential plans its full web launch, we will be bringing you a 3-part series on their work and methodology.

I stopped eating or drinking for 3 days.”

Razia went on a 3 day hunger strike when her parents said she couldn’t join Project Potential in rural India as a Village Visionary until they finally allowed her to join. What drives Razia? “I live to serve others,” she says.

Razia is a rare type of person; she is incredibly passionate about her beliefs, action-oriented, has very sharp judgment, and an incredible ability to connect with and lead others. Yet, while she is a special individual, we have found that there are many more young people with the right combination of passion, intelligence, and grit needed to spark social change – they just need to be discovered. This is the first step of our three-part methodology, which we call building an army of Village Visionaries.

Yet, how do you discover such people from rural areas who might lack internet access and are therefore outside of formal recruitment channels like LinkedIn? We are working to develop the science of recruitment and HR in rural areas, where few such recruitment processes exist.

Thus far, we use three rules of thumb for identifying and selecting our Village Visionaries:

1.   Locals know best: One of the benefits of sourcing people from areas where social bonds are much closer is that everyone knows everything about one another. Getting recommendations from local people is essential for finding the right applicants from the beginning.

2.   Know thyself: The most essential part of this process is to know exactly what you are looking for. A good methodology here is the scorecard presented in Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. In short, the scorecard asks you to think through what outcomes this person will be accountable for, along with metrics for each outcome. For each specific task that they will be engaged in, we list five key skills, five key character strengths, and one super power that would help them succeed in reaching their goal—a tactic we learned from Acumen India Fellows program. Finally, we consult best practices to draft interview questions that help reveal these particular skills and character traits.

3.   Seeing is believing: In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for the New Yorker on the difficulties of hiring the right people in American football and in education titled “Most likely to succeed.” Gladwell notes that predicting teacher success before hand is incredibly difficult, so he suggests that “teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before.” We believe the same goes for selecting social change agents, and therefore, we give all promising candidates a week-long field assignment to test how their apparent skills and character strengths translate to the field.

As specifically relates to our findings, Village Visionaries are generally between the ages of 18 and 30, have at least a high school degree, and have a driving motivation to transform their communities. In addition, we have identified listening, facilitation, effective planning, an ability to work with others, and critical thinking as the five most important skills for a Village Visionary to have. Meanwhile curiosity, empathy, judgment, self-regulation, and grit are the character strengths that we have found to be essential for Village Visionaries.

Why does this matter? With the incredible advances made in technology, we often forget that we still need people. There are currently not enough people within the formal “system” – especially those with deep local knowledge – to help us solve ever mounting challenges related to economic poverty, health, or education.

For something as important as empowering communities across the world, why shouldn’t we approach recruitment with the same rigor and thought process as business? The only way that we will be able to build a better tomorrow is by finding these special people and giving them the training and support they need to mobilize their communities and help them grow.

If Razia is that passionate about social change and has all of the right skills to catalyze change, then why not create a process that allows us to build an army of Village Visionaries like Razia across the country and world?

Disclaimer: SocialStory is the exclusive media partner for this campaign

About the Author

Zubin Sharma fundamentally believes in the potential of all people. Fittingly, he runs an organization called Project Potential, which helps people and communities reach their potential using their strengths and existing resources. Project Potential is currently working in Bihar, but will be scaling across India in the coming months.


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