Can’t Thank You DA

Photo Credit: Sudhir, on special request 😀 😛

As the ceremonies of faring me well got closer to a close, one of my elder colleagues, who had also given his services to army before DA, came to me and said, “Anshul, when I joined my service, I imagined some of things I would like to hear at my farewell. And trust me, what I heard today for you is exactly what I had imagined.”

I do not know what I could have imagined. But that moment for me, can never be fully described. How to live infinite moments of learning and unlearning; moments of fun with perhaps 3-4 generations at DA (By generations I mean set of colleagues); moments of confidence (sometimes over-confidence) and leadership – in one single farewell.

Like Chandler would say, can there be any better place to learn and blossom? I am afraid no. I am sure many of my old colleagues and friends may not fully agree with me. Some of you may ask what inspired me to write this. Well, the thing is, since I move out of DA, a lot of my ex-colleagues reached me out. Some congratulating me for making the exit, some of course in surprise and shock – they thought I shall happily fossilize there, while very few mentioning how you will always miss that place. What triggered me to write this that I somehow became a part of this informal alumini group and the conversations made me almost puke to unconsciousness. This isn’t a response, this is just to put down my own piece of experience, learning and immense gratitude to the place that groomed me. Primarily, so that I don’t forget my amazing time, given the rate at which I am growing old with experiences! 😀

Organising this piece is quite difficult. It took me more than month to make sense of what all I want to write. And here comes my broad classifications: The Story of 3Is and the road less travelled by.

To anyone who has been in DA for a day would know what 3Is stand for. For other curious souls – it stands for Innovation, Incubation and Influence – the three core functions at Development Alternatives. Many of us have heard the legacy of DA, by older (ex) colleagues, also especially if you have got the chance to meet staff at Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change or other development practitioners in the field of environment. What I am writing is my personal account, of what DA was to me, for the 6 years of joy I am forever grateful for!

INNOVATION

LIGHT ACROSS THE TUNNEL I think DA can take credit of infusing hope in you in the most of hopeless of the situation. I think the fighter in DA just doesn’t let you believe that there is no way to make things better. When George would say, there is light across the tunnel; and he can see it – we all would believe – not because we saw it. We just believed in Him and his confidence in us. I call this an innovation because in these small and big acts of finding hope and joy, we learnt how to really handle the hopelessness around us in our society, and sometimes even within ourselves.

DUTY BEFORE DEATH: With the set up that DA has made, one is always rewarded more work for good work, which might look like an exploitation. Unless of course, it is duly recognized, which I feel they have been trying well. The system gave me multiple opportunities to work with many across verticals and horizontals in the organisation. It works on the simple principles of volunteering to work, where you might end up working a lot more than your fellow colleagues but with the promise that you will be recognized. What does a young professional need more than opportunity and due feedback with pinch of recognition? And its not always more work, the first principles come straight from doing your work well. Dr Khosla, at one of the times when I travelled with him, never let me hold his bag, was never late for a meeting, will still be sending us late night mails, only because he wasn’t just expecting us to give our full cent but he was contributing more than he was expecting.

INCUBATION

ARGUMENTATIVE PROFESSIONAL: I may not be too wrong to say, that Zeenat is one of the best incubators we have at DA or may be beyond that. Incubating young professionals. She is the one person I have had most scoldings from and engaged in most arguments. And yet some of the fondest memories at DA are solely because of her. She has the ingredient of curiosity and argumentation that nurtures the perfect incubation space for a professional. There isn’t anything else needed for growing up together with someone.

ORGANIC GROWTH @ CAGR 11.3% Like Dr Arun explained my transition in his eyes, someone I only got the opportunity to work a few times. He said, for most of the times, as he was listening to me in Saturday meetings or other such meetings, he would not really grasp what I was saying. But he felt that I am very confident and aware of what I am saying, so he would peacefully reflect, he doesn’t need to get it, till I get it well enough! Of course, at later instances, I slowly learnt his language, or he learnt mine, or may be both, and we had smoother exchange. But isn’t this the seed for incubation? Give the sapling enough space to expand and blossom? Trust the sapling!

INFLUENCE

SEEDS OF OVER-CONFIDENCE: I don’t think there is another organization that will send their young colleagues to share the stage with Steven Stone. Not many organization will send the same young colleague to go present a proposal to the Joint Secretary, MoEF&CC. And guess what? Actually win the proposal, despite the old grey hair gentlemen walking in teams of 5-6 that you can get intimidated from, just by their suited-booted presence. There are innumerable times of not just recognition but also the kind of responsibility and trust the organization puts on you. At that moment, you might feel lost, may be angry and stupid in the room; but it only takes the time to walk in, present and walk out like a champion. Championing one’s own fears and evolving on the way. At TARAgram Yatra 2017, on the two days of sessions hosted at Orchcha, Mayukh and I were chatting in the evening. And I remember this conversation because we were speed racing with time. And wondering – why do I not feel any anxiety to engage 80 odd people for two days; and conduct most of the plenary sessions. And we said this together, we have got embarrassed, ridiculed, shouted at so much at one or the other Saturday or internal meeting that this feels like a piece of cake.

LET’S SAIL & SINK TOGETHER: The second influence is more internal. The amount of how much you can co-learn is tremendous. I think I started off in good hands/company, amongst Mayukh, Kriti, Mandira and Chitrangna percolating their infectious enthusiasm. And how will I ever love Harshini enough for all that I have learnt with her, not forgetting my extremely poor MS Excel and Word Skills to becoming the go-to person in office for presentation & formatting! Of course, life at DA didn’t end me there, it got me into making Kavya’s life sour, just to enjoy the dessert later, making Stella’s life hell and then make it sound like it’s fun. And then ofcourse there are ever so thankful Isha! Some of finest colleagues where we sailed together not just professional but also building personal bonds to keep each other’s boat from sinking. I cannot forget to mention Shivani, Farhan, Shruti, Ria, Reemsha, Tarang, Gazala, Sandhya Mam, Vinod Sir, Vijay Bhaiya, Vaibhav, Tushar N, Chandan, Rupali, Rowena, Sudhir, Mayank, Vandana, Pratibha, Srijani, Krishna, Deshraj, Omkar. Not sure if I can ever complete this list, not even trying.

AND IT TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY

  1. Sometimes, I feel DA picks the vibes of people wrong. In my 6 years, I have seen them hiring people who are perhaps not aligned to the spirit of DA. And DA being DA usually waits for 6 months to tell that person to leave; and most times, take much much longer. Two kind of colleagues have the highest degree of criticism for DA: People with specialization in a particular area/subject; And People who are too confident of what they know/are and do not want to look for change or challenging way of doing things. My two cents here is that it does expect people to diversify and to pick varied skill sets and sometimes themes, beyond your comfort zone. It is exactly this reason why youngsters are more aligned to the ways of DA.
  2. All this spirit of keeping the place young and innovative, came at a cost. The cost is that of consistency in projects, retaining expertise in sectors. And that has led to many times, some very talented colleagues could not really get the kind of projects and opportunities they hoped they will get. On a corollary, a lot many times people have to do things that does not necessarily align to their personal goals but that’s the task at the hands of the organization. But what is life without a spark of change?
  3. Every Senior has some set of favorites issues, things that they are probably good at or have special interest in. It is lucky if that aligns with you. If it doesn’t, sometimes that can be a big decision point for colleagues to feel frustrated. But I guess, keeping an organization and its heads as human as possible, puts biases of such kinds inescapable.

When Pat says judge yourself keeping the constraints in mind. A 95 in 12th Boards Mathematic Examination doesn’t mean you are a 95% in Mathematics in general. It means you did that well, in the constraint of time, whatever challenge was put in front of you. And similarly when he points the trust that he has that I will always abide by my values. It is not the cause but sure helps you know stay strong at your ground.

14 years of school, 3 years of graduation, 2 years of masters and then a job. In each of the previous instances, your time and your part of learning is somewhat fixed. And then comes a job, where, really, your time nor what is the scope of learning – neither of the two is fixed. Specially if you are at DA.

After a lot of exploration on how to look for right answers, the only thing I have learnt is that You know. You just get to know when you must leave. And that is where one transcends from being given a complete plan for the first quarter of life to be left on to the intuitive self.

A lot more can be said, but why not end with the perfect quote in spirit.

“What can an eternity of damnation matter to someone who has felt, if only for a second, the infinity of delight?” _Charles Baudelaire

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