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Courage, Clarity and Confidence - Gayathri's Journey

Piramal Foundation
November 12, 2019

Gayathri Balan, Gandhi Fellowship Alumna, Batch 2012-14, made it to Oxford University for her MBA after completing the Gandhi Fellowship. She is currently working at an international consulting and audit firm PWC, India, in the Government Reform and Infrastructure Department (GRID).

Describing her journey, she says, “Gandhi Fellowship was and remains to be the single biggest turning point of my life. It gave me the courage to speak the truth and take risks, the confidence that I could create change and the clarity about what I want to achieve in life.

Post the fellowship I went to Oxford for 1+1 MBA: a dual Masters degree (MSc Comparative Social Policy and MBA). Even among the vastly international and intimidating crowd of peers, I stood out because of the unconventional experience and grassroots stories I had gathered while at the Gandhi Fellowship. As an engineer studying Social Policy in the academic context for the first time, I was able to bring something new to the table because I had closely observed the ground level implementation of various govt policies and schemes in India.

When I graduated from the Fellowship, my interest area for work was around sanitation: how to make a for-profit sanitation social enterprise that would better the health and economic situation of women. I continued to work on this dream, my MSc thesis was on the socio-political factors affecting sanitation outcomes in UP and Bihar, my MBA Entrepreneurship Project was on Drip Irrigation in Pakistan and finally, my MBA internship was with Albright Stonebridge Group (a consulting firm) where I worked with Ministry of Water and Sanitation.

I still remain very passionate about social change, and am currently volunteering with a Hyderabad based NGO: Nirmaan - where I am mentoring first-generation learners from an underprivileged background.

The greatest gift that the Fellowship has given me is Reflection, from time to time I reflect, assess the growth of my career and personal life, reorient my internal compass and keep striving onwards. The Gandhi Fellowship was one of the biggest risks I took- there was a lot of unlearning, which made it an eye-opening experience. That has encouraged me to take risks, and now I am not risk-averse anymore. The fellowship has also empowered me in a way that I don’t feel intimidated by hierarchy/bureaucracy freeing me to voice my opinion at all levels.

In the long term, I not only wish to work in more philanthropic foundations and pursue a PhD, but I also aim to make digital shorts/ short movies where a social message is conveyed with a pinch of humour and entertainment. You might say that these dreams look disconnected, but binding it all together is the next step in my journey of reflection.