Seven students from the UK-based University of Southampton recently visited India and worked with five NGOs on a number of social enterprise projects aimed at meeting diverse social needs of the community. Under the Spark India 2019 programme, an initiative of the Social Impact Lab of the University, the students worked with the NGOs Kranti, Safecity, Down to Earth and Sampurn(e)arth as well as visited some esteemed incubators, accelerators, schools and colleges of Mumbai.
Launched in 2014 in Ahmedabad, Spark India is a unique fellowship experience where students work on challenges set by some of India’s most innovative social entrepreneurs to meet diverse social needs. In the process, they take steps towards becoming world-class social impact leaders. The programme moved to Mumbai in 2016 and has since evolved into an internationally renowned transformational leadership development programme for University of Southampton students wanting to make global social change.
Talking about the programme, Dr Pathik Pathak, who is the Director of the Social Impact Lab at University of Southampton, said, “This year’s edition of Spark India has been another fantastic opportunity for our selected Fellows to contribute to our partner organisations in Mumbai. Our mission is to nurture world class leadership for social impact, and our Fellows have had the opportunity to learn from some pioneering leaders here and to spark new collaborations between the UK and India in social entrepreneurship”.
As part of the programme, Spark India 2019 Fellows conducted workshops and activities for school children in partnership with Safecity, Down to Earth and RN Podar School. They also participated in talks delivered by Kranti, Sampurn(e)arth and Acumen Fund where they discussed about each organisation’s mission and operations. Dr Pathik Pathak mentored the Fellows throughout the programme and also conducted workshops for them on Leadership, Design Thinking and Attention Management. During this visit, the Social Impact Lab also initiated new collaborative projects with Mijwan Welfare Society and Kranti.
The issues that the Fellows tried to address along with the NGO partners include empowering girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas to become agents of social change, making cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women, engaging children and young people from humble backgrounds by facilitating education and other activities, working towards breaking the non-cyclic process of waste management as well as changing the way the world tackles poverty.
Expressing her happiness with the performance of the Spark India 2019 Fellows, Ms Elsa Marie D’Silva, Founder & CEO, Safecity, said, “From all the student internships we have collaborated with, we are very impressed with the Spark India programme. The students were passionate about our cause and our work and genuinely wanted to make a difference. It was truly more than what we expected. We look forward to many more collaborations in future.”
Spark India 2019 was announced in February and the University received more than 100 applications for the programme this year. Seven students from across the University were selected on the basis of various parameters such as their understanding of India and of the social impact sector, volunteering experience, and social entrepreneurship experience, among others.
Spark India 2019 Fellows include Benjamin Wilkins, a student of Modern History and Politics; Ashwinnie Thushyanthan, a Fashion Management student; Kristi Vahl, a student of BSc Business Entrepreneurship; Aishat Bamidele, who is pursuing Philosophy and Politics; Mateusz Blazewicz, a student of History with a year abroad option; Politics and International Relations student Isabelle Freeman; and Dimitris-Marios Stoidis, who is pursuing MEng Aerospace Engineering at University of Southampton.
Sharing his thoughts about the experience, Dimitris-Marios Stoidis said, “It is a truly transformative programme where you have the opportunity to learn about different changemaking organizations. It is a programme that is not only focusing on the group but also on the personal development of the individual. Spark India literally provides the spark for the personal development journey of the individual and the platform to become a great leader.”
Over the years, Spark India fellows have gone on to launch award winning social enterprises such as Wessex Social Ventures and Sagar Energy Solutions, won prestigious scholarships for PhDs at the London School of Economics and Edinburgh and work for the Civil Service, for pioneering sustainability organisations, the UN and leading companies such as JP Morgan and KPMG.