Learning what type of leader I am

Running for over 20 years, the Chevening Gurukul Fellowship for Leadership and Excellence is the UK Foreign Office’s flagship fellowship programme for India aimed at mid-career professionals who are ready to take the next step in their journey towards leadership.

My experience as a Chevening Gurukul fellow

Over the 25 years I’ve spent working on women’s issues, I’ve come to develop a deep understanding of the challenges Indian women face when it comes to realising their full potential. However, my focus as a practitioner and advocate, made me believe in the need to reach beyond India and learn about practices in the international community.

Additionally, it was one of my dreams to study in a world class university so you can imagine my excitement when I learnt that the Chevening Gurukul Fellowship for Leadership and Excellence was being hosted by University of Oxford! While no country is a perfect example or an ideal model to follow, the UK had a lot to offer from an academic and practical perspective.

What truly drew me to the programme was the convergence of the fellowship’s three-pronged approach and my personal and professional goals, namely:

  1. addressing the social challenge of inequality
  2. supporting voices and global movements to help women gain lost ground
  3. exploring partnerships and collaborations with the research scholars, fellows, and practitioners who can help me to achieve my goal of leadership in helping women lead better lives.

My time at the fellowship was full of great learnings, be it from my professors, my fellow batchmates, life in the United Kingdom, the functioning of local government, or the liberating existence of women in public spaces in a city like Oxford; I observed great participation of women in education and freedom of mobility for them within the city!

The most important learning for me was a clear understanding of the type of leader I am and the changes I needed to make in my approach to provide direction, implement ideas and motivate people around me. I also learnt about the holistic view of leadership styles – including how a leader’s presence determines how others perceive them.

Photos via Swapnil Joshi

Coming back to India, the momentum Chevening gave me is still in full force. The Alumni network has many strong and talented people in India and across the world, who work at senior levels in government, the private sector, and non-government organisations. The programme helped me build many relationships and networks that will, and have, helped me in my mission to improve women’s status in India. So much so that I have already planned a project on political leadership for women in India which I am going to implement in collaboration with institutions in United Kingdom!

The Chevening Gurukul Fellowship is not only a privilege, it is an experience. It is meant for a select few, who have in them the restlessness, urgency, and burning passion to bring positive change in the world. We were guided by excellent faculty who made us realise that the change we were hoping to bring was towards making India a more inclusive, safe space for the generation to come.

Photo via Swapnil Joshi

The Fellowship made us reflect back to the hundreds of people who have helped us achieve our dreams and made us realise that now is our chance to be catalysts to mould the next generation of change-makers to aspire to more and dream big; a fact that none of us were consciously contributing towards but were collectively aspiring for.

This is exactly what I plan on doing henceforth, and it will be my proudest moment if some of the young women I work with reach Oxford for a scholarship/fellowship.

The Chevening Gurukul Fellowship is open until 12:00 GMT on 28 February 2020. If you have it in you, go for it!

In 2019, the Gurukul programme welcomed Kanta Singh, Country Programme Manager for UNWomen India. She works on education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities for women. Kanta recently returned to India following her time in the UK, and wrote the above piece about her learnings and her experience as a Chevening Gurukul fellow.

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