Leadership as a recipe for success: a fellowship experience

By Pawan Kumar

Pawan Kumar, program leader, Agricultural Development, at Sehgal Foundation was selected for a 2015 Ford Motor Company International Fellowship of 92nd Street Y in New York City. This three-week fellowship, offered annually, provides education and support to community leaders engaged in the nonprofit sector. 

The call

After an hour-long midnight discussion with Alison Gardy, director of Ford Motor Company International Fellowships of 92nd Street Y, who confirmed my candidature for 15th batch of Ford Motor Company fellowships, I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. This was surely a great and exciting moment!

Dilemma at departure

Before leaving for New York, two questions lingered in my mind. First, what new leadership knowledge would I be likely to gain after working in the development sector for twenty years? And second, even if I learned new things, would I be able to apply them, given the very different context in developing economies? Despite these questions, I began my fellowship expedition with immense enthusiasm.

Twenty-four fellows, nine countries

Twenty-four fellows from nine countries converged for the 92nd Street Y in New York. The participants were from Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Poland, and USA. Hearing the introductions, I was amazed at the kind of community experience this group represented. This was the most diverse group I had ever met, and I felt that it was going to be very exciting to live and learn with these participants over the next three weeks. There was ample opportunity to learn about each other’s cultural, social, economic, political, and religious backgrounds. They possessed varied experiences, including working with the poor, women and children; working within social enterprises; within the Jewish community, and with farmers.

Fellowship formula

The fellowship experience could actually be better described as NGO management training rather than just leadership development. Group members shared information on employee engagement, fundraising for nonprofit organizations, emotional intelligence, the use of social media for increasing outreach, the pattern of globalization in developed and developing economies, and presentation skills. We enjoyed sumptuous dinners featuring cuisines from the nine participating countries and benefited from interesting after-dinner lectures.

I had the opportunity to learn more about the Jewish community and culture up close when I was invited to Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family nearby. I was so impressed with their hospitality and the wonderful dinner. We had long discussions about each others’ religion, culture, and society. My hosts were extremely humble, caring, and loving.

The fellowship experience built leadership among the people working at grassroots levels for the welfare of their individual societies and global communities. The fellowship program was an appropriate platform to share knowledge and learn development solutions being applied worldwide. I am proud to be a part of the Ford Fellows alumni and the wide networking opportunity with people working for social causes around the world.

92nd Street Y, Ford Motor Company, and Columbia University deserve a special mention for their wonderful support and hospitality, for showcasing new dimensions for managing organizations, and for taking this knowledge to the next level to serve our communities better and keep up the motivation to continue working for a noble cause.