Krishna Ramkumar, 20 October 2011
Avanti’s annual fellow selection process is one of the most critical aspects of our intervention. We help our coaching partners identify the brightest students from low-income communities. Mentor enthusiasm and efforts are much easier to sustain with a motivated bunch of fellows. The better our students are, the easier it is to get on board corporate recruiting partners. And lastly, our fellows need to have strong conceptual understanding to reap benefits from our program.
Today, our primary channel to reach out to low-income students is schools. Throughout the year, our volunteers make door-to-door visits to schools to publicise the fellowship program and invite applications. This is non-trivial for multiple reasons. Schools are normally only open between 8 AM – 4 PM, Monday to Friday. This makes it a huge challenge for both our student volunteers and working professional volunteers to fit school visits into their schedules. Each school needs multiple visits to build a relationship of trust with both the school authorities and students. Hiring full-time employees for this purpose significantly increases our costs. Moreover there is inherent value in our talent scouts being student volunteers from premier colleges like the IITs. It gives students from low-income communities valuable exposure to successful youngsters who inspire them by speaking from experience.
Till date, we have been extremely fortunate to have an amazing bunch of volunteers help us in the fellowship search. Early this year, we faced a severe manpower crunch when publicising our first Mumbai test. One sunny January morning, an enthu junior of mine from IIT, Das called me and said he’d like to help. In fifth year and with a great job offer in the bag, he had some free time and was looking to spend it fruitfully. In subsequent months, he personally covered more than 50 schools across Mumbai and even managed other volunteers to execute more visits. And what did he get in return? Well, apart from being introduced to the wonderful world of South Indian food through several lunch treats at Mysore Cafe and Madras Cafe, I am not sure. I still haven’t even given him a certificate for his efforts!
In February, we received tremendous help from an unexpected source, a commerce student studying for his CA exams and with time on his hands during the day. Harsh found us on Facebook and found our mission interesting. In April, Harsh was organizing a national-level basketball tournament in Mumbai and offered to play our promotional video and hand out pamphlets to the audience to spread the word.
Our Kanpur team also deserves special mention for last year’s selection process. They conducted 23 Level 1 sceening tests and 1 final Level 2 test to select our first Kanpur cohort of 16 students. All this was possible because of 30+ super enthu student volunteers ranging from second to fifth year students at IIT-K. We had so many enthu volunteers that the team actually refused to take on any “official” titles as they felt recognising a select number of students as Managers would only serve to demotivate the other 25. And they would all rather just work without official roles to get the work done!
I myself have also had some terrific experiences while doing the school circuit in Mumbai. The other day, I was walking down Parel’s crowded by-lanes when a gentleman walked up to me and said (in Marathi) – “I have seen you around quite a lot this past week. What do you do?” He went on to tell me that he was a community social worker and promised to hunt down talent from his community to write our selection test. The icing on the cake however was when I was recently told by the Principal of a Marathi-medium school that I was the best Hindi-speaking South Indian he has ever met!
If you would like to volunteer time and help us with this year’s selection process, do drop us a line. If work or college renders this infeasible, but you have ideas on how we can improve our reach, we’d like to hear from you too!