SRIJAN's Buddha Fellows in the field

By Zachary Gabriel Green

An ambitious and innovative initiative of Self-Reliant Initiatives Through Joint Action (SRIJAN) is the launch of the Buddha Fellowship. Graduates of the prestigious India Institute of Management (IIM) are invited to apply for a two-year program that fosters leadership and entrepreneurship to address issues in the development sector. There are 11 Buddha Fellows in the inaugural class. The program has already received media attention with a recent article touting how these Fellows have given up “high-paying salaries to transform countless lives.”

SRIJAN's Buddha Fellows in the fieldIMAGO accompanies SRIJAN by offering the leadership development training component of the program at the quarterly reflections of the Fellowship. The IMAGO workshops take an “inside-out” approach based in an adaptive leadership orientation. The Fellows are supported in looking at their personal strengths and growth edges when working through thorny rural issues. Perhaps most important, the Buddha Fellows learn the skills to look beyond technical fixes to recognize when they are facing adaptive challenges for which different leadership strategies are needed.

Each quarterly training session begins in helping the Fellows increase their reflective capacity. They participate in and develop the skills to conduct effective dialogue, often needed in equal measure when working with rural farmers as well as their government counterparts. The leadership approach adapts a traits-based model where the Fellows identify the qualities that guide their action—and where they are challenged and need further development.  Through case studies, simulations, and role plays the Fellows explore ways to address shared dilemmas and likely scenarios they will encounter in their development entrepreneurial efforts. The aim of these sessions is more than problem-solving, as the focus is also on building the cohort into community of practice that will eventually lead a development sector professional network that is cohesive and sustainable.

The Buddha Fellows face growing pains, as the program requires each to have a field immersion experience to better understand and have greater empathy for the rural families their efforts will touch. While the Fellows bring expertise in supply chain management, profit margin calculations, distribution modeling and the like to their development entrepreneurship, they report being challenged most by the complexity of the human dimension of their work.  IMAGO takes these concerns and offers modules on organizational development, team effectiveness, and conflict management.

In terms of organizational development, the Fellows are introduced to the Five Dysfunctions of a Team model. The gaps in mutual accountability have been identified as one area that slows their work. As such they created their own accountability matrix with monthly check-ins to support one another in making progress. In a similar way, the Fellows have been working with measures of Emotional Intelligence. In this area, there was frustration expressed by Fellows when confronted with the difference between their intellectual mastery of the dimensions of EQ and the how of the lived practice when working in the field. In future sessions, more work is requested on how to foster emotional regulation rooted in self-management as well as the kinds of skills needed to deepen self-awareness.

IMAGO has an opportunity going forward to continue to co-create this innovative model of leadership development. With the program gaining well-deserved attention from the executives the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, and the Axis Bank Foundation, there are eyes on the readiness to bring the prototype of this program to a larger scale. As it is the aim to promote the leadership development of 100 Buddha Fellows in five years who in turn support 5000 families to improve their livelihoods, IMAGO stands ready to be there every step of the way.


Posted by Zachary Gabriel Green on Thursday, November 2, 2017