Q1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family.
I am a social development professional. I am from a village called Luni ,in Odisha.It hardly has 100 families. Academically I am a Masters in Social Work and attended second masters in Development Studies. Currently I am working as Manager-CSR for SAR Group of companies and involved in managing and implementation of grants of the Family Foundation. In these 16 years of my career as a development professional, I have worked with few other international NGOs and corporates.
My father was a medical practitioner in village where my mother was homemaker. I am youngest one in the family with four elder sisters and one brother. My sisters are my cushion and my sister Alaka Didi has a big hand behind me being in this profession. Coming from a family where education was the priority. All my siblings are highly educated and in different profession. I belong to a family that stand by you when you follow your passion .
Q2. Tell us a bit about your journey from a small village of Orissa to Netherlands for Fellowship program.
It was normal for us not to have electricity for months in hot summer days when I was growing up in my village. Looking at my siblings I was prepared to go to a better school for high school education looking at the journey of my sisters and being in hostel after age 13 was a family tradition. It helped me to be with other children and make yourself home out of home and learn to do your own work. I wanted to be a doctor, but my fluency in English to understand the course books was very poor after high school and landed me no where with poor grades and understanding of science subject.
My sister who was anchor of our family after my father passed away, made my admission in a social work collage in Odisha. The college was far away from city and had poor infrastructure. It was the academic strength of the institution that attracted my sister and until date that was the best decision of my life to stick to the college and learn. After graduating as a Social Work student I did my masters in social work from Indore with a heavy heart as I always wanted to do it from TISS. But never compromised my studies and secured ranks in University level. Being from eastern region my Hindi was also not very fluent, so went back to Odisha. Worked there for few months and then got an opportunity to work with one of the foundation of Tata Steel in Jharkhand. During this period, I came to know about the Institution in Netherlands and applied.
Securing a position was easy and I got an offer letter with a handsome amount of fee structure. It was not possible to pay the fee by any means as I was not eligible for loan, neither my sisters could afford that. I got a list of 56 scholarships referred by a friend. My office reporting mangers and organizational head was very supporting to verify and sign each application after end of the day and give a referral letter. Made different applications for each and posted via Indian post. Every other day one rejection letter came. I used to sit with a typist to type the applications on manually on forms as I could have more space to write.
I thank to my sister and my brother in law who were there constantly with positive support. Finally, after 55 rejections I got the 56th one was the Netherland Fellowship Program I received. That covered all my study expenses. I remember I was sitting in office and was heart broken thinking how will I study in such a big college without a laptop as it was necessity. My that time manager who is a doctor, consoled me saying, “we will manage one, you prepare just for your studies”. It was a time when I had no time to celebrate or think as time was short. I took my first flight and reached Amsterdam. I was afraid of my Spoken English,but surprisingly in an international school that was hosting students of different countries had no issues with my language or pronunciation.
I was 25, had never lived in any big city like Delhi or Mumbai. Being in Den Haag and being with international community helped me to evolve. My studies helped me to understand social problems from a global prospective. Learning from one of the finest professors and learning from them how to be humble and grounded what I carry till date. Every day was a new day of learning. The fear was gone. I participated in many small and big events. My favourite was “Free Hugs Campaign”. After a decade, also I am in touch with my friends /classmates and always good to get an update what’s actually going on globally. Not everything comes on newspaper. It was a journey of learning, liberating as a person.
Q3. As someone who’s travelled the world, worked with some of the smartest minds and now you have dedicated your entire life for the betterment of the society. Tell us a bit about your motivations, what drives your passion?
I travelled only few countries I will say. Hope to travel more in future. Becoming a social development professional /social worker was not in my plan, but today I can say “I am born with the purpose to serve the communities in need”. I worked with many dedicated and intelligent people from this sector. Their way of working has inspired me in different ways. I started as an implementer of social development projects and now I am looking at bigger impact where I can help NGOs to engage in meaningful and impactful programs.
Every day I get motivation from my work only, it’s not very big in number, the lives we are touching through our programs, but the quality we bring. There is a hunger to reach out more people who are in need with a helping hand and make them enable to do better in life rather than just one time help. I come across real stories during pre grant assessment and field visits which makes me think for days and takes an emotional toll at times. As a professional it should not happen, but I believe it makes me connected with people ,their issues and the programs become realistic and also it keeps me grounded.
Q4. As someone who has achieves all this basis her strong educational background and down to earth lifestyle, what advise would you give to young girls in today’s time and age?
I will say study not just for the degree, study to learn new things. Be it a small college or big, see the quality and not brand. Be ambitious, not to just get a high paying job, but also think whether you will like what you do or not. Today we live in a time and urban society where materialistic lifestyle consume our youth and we forget happiness or inner call. Bring balance in both. Also very conscious of our looks and what we wear as youngsters, It actually does not matter in any international community setup, neither your fluency in language. You will shine anywhere in any profession, if you have that intent and passion. No shortcut in life takes you long way. Kindness makes us a better human.
Q5. Given a chance would you alter any decision of your life?
I would have not wasted one year in preparing for medical entrance exam and started little early as a social worker.