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Beyond school: These Harvard and Oxford graduates help students become responsible citizens and leaders

Aparajita Choudhury
24th Jan 2017
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As is common among aspiring students in India, two friends — Rohit Kumar and Aparajita Bharti — had chosen the well-trodden and sureshot path to job security through education — engineering and business.

However, when they started engaging with social issues in college, they were drawn to careers in public policy. Before going to Oxford University and Harvard University to pursue higher education, they worked with Members of Parliament and not-for-profits in research and advocacy positions.

Rohit Kumar and Aparajita Bharti (YLAC Founders)

Their stints at Oxford and Harvard, two of the most reputed academic institutions in the world, exposed them to the evolved education systems in developed countries which encourage individuals to contribute to the society. They realised that a similar outlook was relatively lacking in the Indian education system.

On their return to India, the duo launched YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship) in June 2016. YLAC programmes familiarise students with different levels of government, the tools available to civil society, and the role of businesses and innovation in social change, along with providing practical experience of working with not-for-profits and legislators. Says Rohit,

"We had always believed that one of the ways of deepening democracy in India was to get young people to think critically about how society is shaped and to equip them with tools to engage with institutions. And we decided to use our experiences and education to design experiential learning modules for different age groups to further this agenda.”

Rohit is an alumnus of Harvard Kennedy School of Government and IIT Bombay, and served as the Head of Policy and Research in the office of Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, Member of Parliament (MP) in the Lok Sabha.

Creating a sustainable model

YLAC has two flagship programmes — the Policy in Action programme and the High School Achievers boot camp. The Policy in Action programme is a mix of weekend classroom sessions along with a month-long live project for a Member of Parliament. This programme is open to university students and young professionals interested in public policy.

High School Achievers Sessions
High School Achievers Sessions

The first 'Policy in Action' programme was held in Delhi in October last year. Out of more than 400 applications, 55 were selected from various fields of study and work. The programme has been launched in Bengaluru as well and will take place from February 18 to March 19 this year.

The High School Achievers boot camp has been designed to make students introspect about the contemporary structure of society. It introduces them to the field of liberal arts and engages them in debates on crucial topics in philosophy, political science, sociology, and economics. Students also get an opportunity to intern with YLAC's partner NGOs for two weeks during this period.

YLAC is the knowledge partner for a series of pan-India policy workshops being organised by the office of Baijayant Panda. The one-day policy workshops aim to improve citizen engagement with the policy-making process in India. They will be held in Jaipur, Delhi, and Chennai over the first three months of 2017. Says Aparajita,

"For the high school programme especially, we use role plays, debates, creative exercises, and videos to enable students to soak in all the new concepts that they are learning. Our modules bring together the best teaching exercises from liberal arts schools abroad. Students also have an opportunity to engage with underserved communities directly to delve deeper into these complex issues.”

Aparajita is a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from Oxford University. Before that, she had worked as a legislative assistant to N.K. Singh, a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. She graduated from University of Delhi in Business Studies.

The board of advisors of YLAC consists of Dr Shashi Tharoor (MP, Lok Sabha), Baijayant 'Jay' Panda (MP, Lok Sabha), and Prof. Michael Walton (Harvard University).

Policy In Action Session
Policy In Action Session

Student’s enrollment and revenue generation

For the first edition of the Policy in Action programme, YLAC had selected a mix of lawyers, engineers, journalists, and humanities and management graduates for its batch of 55. Of these 55 participants, 65 percent were in 18-23 age group, and the remaining 35 percent in the age group 24 or above. The students were from educational institutions like IITs, St. Stephens, CBS, and SRCC, and organisations like Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and BCG.

YLAC also encourages students to consider alternative careers in policy and development. The Policy in Action programme costs Rs 15,000 and the High School Achievers programme costs Rs 28,000 per student.

YLAC currently has five employees across Delhi and Bengaluru. It will launch its programme in Mumbai in June this year and consider going to all tier I cities of India over the next two years.

Website: YLAC India

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