Lessons in Happiness

As a Responsible Leaders Fellow I am volunteering in some of the poorest countries in the world. For my work, I frequently travel to some of the remotest regions of these countries where people lack basic infrastructure and facilities. But it doesn’t mean people I meet are complaining or carrying a sad face all the time. On the contrary they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever met. They sing and dance to everything they can and they share whatever little they have. They need help, aid and education but they need no lessons in happiness from west or east.

And happiest of them all are the children. I make a point to talk to them whenever I go for a project visit (they don’t understand me most of the time but sign and smile languages always work). They have no gadgets or fancy sports equipment. But they are happy with their friends around them.

Seven-years-old Henry and his friends love to play soccer and aspire to be local heroes. They can’t afford to buy a football. But they can make one. Yes they can MAKE one. Carefully wrapping plastic bags one over another around a piece of cloth, they have created their own nice football. So what if it doesn’t bounce enough or go as far as it should when you kick it. It’s no less fun.

Henry and his team
Henry and his team
The Handmade football
The Handmade football

Camera has been my best friend wherever I went. And it helped me make friends. During one of my site visits, little Gloria and Ester followed me wherever I moved, asking for one more picture. They are indeed the most photogenic girls I ever came across. I always show kids the pictures I took of them. Looking themselves in the 2 inch LCD screen increases their happiness many folds. They don’t need a camera to be happy. They are just happy being in it. Soon enough Gloria and Ester brought their friends to share their happiness.

Gloria and Ester
Gloria and Ester
And their friends
And their friends
and more Friends
and more Friends

As one of the projects, my organization Welthungerhilfe  is imparting health trainings in villages in Malawi and Zimbabwe. People graduate and receive certificates if they fulfill all 20 criterion on various health precautions during three months of training. There was a small event hosted in one of the districts for graduating community members. After the event I saw some kids collecting discarded soft drink caps. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of participating. Every cap found was adding more smiles to each face (including my). When I asked what they are going to do with these caps, they said they can play a Strike and Pocket game. Who said only Billiards and Carrom could be fun.

The caps collection
The caps collection

Little Oscar is scared of Murungus (Shona word for Foreigners). Probably his mother uses stories of Murungus to make him finish his food. But hiding and looking from the back of the wooden door makes him happy that he is out of my sight. After some pursuing I managed to tame him for a picture. He is still camera shy. Too young may be. But looking at his own pictures did make him smile finally. And then he was happy teasing me around for the next one hour I was there (well his t-shirt said “T is for Trouble” 🙂 ).

Little Oscar
Little Oscar

I got my lessons in economics and money last year and it made me informed. Now I get my lessons in happiness every day and it makes me humble. I live a privileged life not because I have lived in cities or had a great job. I have a privileged life because so many people are sharing their happiness and smiles everyday with me. I am happy as I have learned to find happiness in anything around me just like these little kids.

* Pictures have been taken at various Welthungerhilfe’s project sites in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Please visit: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/  and http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/blog/  to know more about Welthungerhilfe’s projects around the world

Responsibility begins at School

Since I am already in Harare for over a week now and have walked my talk, I feel entitled to say something about the ESMT Responsible Leaders (RL) Fellowship and the opportunity it has given me to explore the social and nonprofit sides of business. I still remember it was May of 2013 and I was browsing through websites of various Business schools to find a program which best matched my requirements. ESMT’s MBA program design and credentials definitely beckoned me but another thing that appealed to me was RLF, hidden in small texts somewhere under the international exposure options. I didn’t have much idea about it then but I did inquire during my interview with Nick Barniville, Director of MBA Program. When I finally decided to join ESMT, I wouldn’t say RLF was the only reason but it definitely played a role subconsciously. It gave me an impression about how committed ESMT is towards its social responsibility and towards imbibing that in its students and community.

Rahul Jain about the Responsible Leadership Fellowship (RLF)

I joined in January 2014 and the first meeting regarding RLF was held in April, if I remember correctly. Wulff Plinke, founding Dean of ESMT and Professor Emeritus, introduced us to what RLF was all about, what assistance was available and what were the expectations of school from its fellows. Those who were interested were told that they need to find a nonprofit organization of choice and look for a suitable role with it. Once this is done school would be sponsoring the student and pay a stipend for up to six months during the assignment. Student status of the fellow would also be extended by another six months in line with this program. Assignment was supposed to be in a developing region of the world where there were most pressing needs for expertise but safety of fellow was also a priority.

Although we were expected to find organization and role ourselves, I must say that the school’s and Wulff’s network came very handy at every stage. We were presented with host of options during our July meeting where various well known organizations came and presented possible opportunities. Wulff and Nick, who were managing the program, encouraged us throughout and helped us in overcoming our predicaments and making the right choice.

I was committed towards the fellowship from the beginning but there was always an anxiety around whether I would be able to get the right assignment and would there be an impact on my career post it. Keeping all my doubts aside I decided I really wanted to do this and I was able to secure a volunteering opportunity in October with WeltHungerHilfe in their Marketing division. There was no looking back afterwards and I was waiting eagerly to start on this assignment since then.

We graduated in December and I flew to Zimbabwe during the second week of January, after packing all my bags in Berlin. And after spending a week here I would say I did make the right choice by choosing ESMT. What I found in May 2013 was indeed what I was looking for.

I don’t know how many business schools in the world have similar programs but RLF is definitely a unique opportunity provided by ESMT to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in its Graduates. The financial commitment towards it and support provided by ESMT is indeed commendable. I would like to congratulate and wish good luck to my other five classmates and Responsible Leaders Fellows, from this year, who embarked on this journey as well and are excitingly looking forward to their volunteering assignments in different parts of the world.

They say charity begins at home but for me responsibility begins at schools with right values, people and commitment.

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: Evyatar Epstein in Cape Town, South Africa

I was given the opportunity to be a lecturer at TSiBA Education, in Cape-Town.

Evy teaching at TSiBA 3TSiba is a college that educates for a Business Administration degree. The college provides full scholarship for all of its students. Its main goal is to recruit talented high-school graduates who have the potential to become well educated and successful adults, but do not have the financial means to do so. In the broader sense of South-Afriac`s complex political and social environment- TSiBA is trying to help bridging the huge gap between the under-privileged people- namely the black and the colored population- and the privileged ones.

My business school- ESMT- is aiming to use the knowledge and experience gained by its graduates to contribute to a knowledge-thirsty institution such as TSiBA. ESMT is doing it by offering its graduates the opportunity to spend a semester in South-Africa, in which they will volunteer as teachers and mentors at TSiBA.

Evy at TSiBAAfter arriving to TSiBA, I was asked to be responsible of a managerial-accounting course. This responsibility included preparing lectures and tutorials for a class of 60 students, as well as checking the students` work, preparing their final exam and grading them.

I found a very special kind challenge and satisfaction in doing this work, something I must admit I have never experienced before. The students are great- youngsters in their late teens to early twenties who are truly ambitious to gain knowledge and knowledge-recognition, and to find their way out of the poverty cycle. Most of them are truly grateful for the opportunity they were given and are determine not to miss it. Moreover, the students are excited from having a foreigner lecturer- a person who came from a different country, different background, and have proven experience from which they can benefit a lot.

I had great connection with my student and I truly feel I was able to contribute to them, not only with my professional knowledge but also with my life experiences in other areas.

Overall it was an amazing experience for me. I believe that this initiative of ESMT is a truly noble one and I wish that other business schools can find similar ways to contribute to society and “pay it forward”, as TSiBA`s slogan says.

 

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: Kunal in Cape Town, South Africa

‘Open Day’ at TSiBA, Cape Town campus
‘Open Day’ at TSiBA, Cape Town campus

TSiBA Education is a private non-profit institution with an urban campus in Cape Town and a rural campus near Kynsa, both in Western Cape, South Africa. Their vision is to “Ignite Opportunity” by being an innovative learning community that engages young talent into academic courses focused on entrepreneurship and leadership. TSiBA lives on the philosophy of “paying it forward”- students who are awarded scholarships are not required to pay for their education monetarily, but rather to “Pay it Forward” by transferring the knowledge, skills and resources that they gain at TSiBA to their communities.

With BBA students and CEO of TSiBA at a cocktail evening hosted by Bowman Gilfillan
With BBA students and CEO of TSiBA at a cocktail evening hosted by Bowman Gilfillan

TSiBA’s main offerings are the BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) and HCBA (Higher Certificate in Business Administration) courses. Students are not required to pay any tuition fees. These expenses are covered through TSiBA’s generous individual and corporate sponsors and donors. TSiBA does generate revenue and that is through the executive education offered to the corporate and government sectors.

My role as a pro-bono volunteer was to provide consulting and general management assistance to the administration team in TSiBA’s Cape Town campus and occasional teaching assistance. Two of the main projects handled were-

  • Audit of examination marking system- Apart from delivering quality education, TSiBA’s critical task is also fair and accurate assessment of student performance. This audit was carried out to verify and improve processes which lead to examination marking/grading and course qualification. The aim was to standardize the process to eliminate errors in the future.
  • Streamlining of policies and procedures- Policies and procedures form an essential part for the smooth everyday functioning of any organization. TSiBA is now only in its 10th year of operation and most polices were written during its formative years. This was a project which I ran alone and involved meticulous review of all the policies, especially those affecting student and academic matters. Recommendations were made to the Dean and were later tabled across the executive committee.

About the Responsible Leaders Fellowship

As part of the Responsible Leaders Fellowship, three of ESMT’s 2013 MBA graduates put their career plans on hold to volunteer as teachers and mentors for up to six months and pass on the skills learned during their MBA to the students at TSiBA (Tertiary School in Business Administration) in South Africa. The knowledge and experience gained by ESMT graduates will contribute to a knowledge-thirsty institution such as TSiBA.

http://www.esmt.org/degree-programs/full-time-mba/curriculum/international-exposure-options#esmt-responsible-leadership-fellowship_