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September 3, 2013 > A new perspective

A new perspective

Submitted By Tanay Kothari
Photos By Devang Pandya

My decision to spend a summer working in India was fueled mostly by the allure of "making a difference" while avoiding a desk job. Armed with cursory Hindi and memories of months with my family in suburban India, I applied to participate in a two-month experiential learning program known as the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (ISES), operated by the Tata Group, India's largest business group. I was accepted and placed with Tata Motors, the majority stakeholder in Jaguar Land Rover.

As part of Tata Motors Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) division, the company operates dozens of projects to benefit village residents. I was tasked with visiting the company's projects and devising a set of matrices to evaluate its community development work.

During the first month, I traveled through India, speaking with the project beneficiaries, ranging from wildlife sanctuaries, leprosy treatment centers and irrigation facilities.

I learned the most when involved in day-to-day interactions - explaining to a group of farmers the necessity of buying a tractor for their village or asking the headmaster of a school to take on more students from underprivileged backgrounds. In a nation with over one billion people and hundreds of points of cultural variance within individual states, the most striking communication problem I faced was not language, but conveying my ideas, and those of the company, to communities.

In my work with CSR departments of Tata Motors, I've been fortunate to learn from individuals making a tangible difference in villages surrounding company facilities. They collaborate with community stakeholders and develop strategies to improve standards of health care, education, and environmental safety.

I will never forget my first site visit to an Indian village near Jamshedpur, where I heard a story from an elderly woman. After using her savings to start her own business, she collaborated with other women in her village to form a self-help group providing low-interest loans and financial advice to women. Through her efforts, dozens of women now own businesses that afford them income and, more importantly, financial security. After first assisting those in her village, she moved on to the next, and has since branched out. To me, this represents the ultimate Tata success story - identifying a community leader with the initiative to help others, and providing resources to make it work.

I left India feeling more aware and responsible for an incremental contribution driving positive change. Of course the cultural exchange aspect was valuable as well. Even within a nation I thought I knew, I formed meaningful friendships and built professional ties. In an increasingly competitive and tense global marketplace, it is tough to top the combination of meaningful work, foreign experience, and the memories of a lifetime.

Editor's Note:
Tanay Kothari of Fremont is entering his junior year at UC Berkeley this fall.

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