So we've figured some things out, we're trying to get together to create mission statements and a fundraising plan, we're trying to understand which regions of India to target..... the groundwork is starting to be laid.
At the end of all this, what the heck is my problem? It's this: do I want to live in India?
So I made up a list of why it makes sense for me to move back to India if I'm serious about doing meaningful, social development work.
- I grew up in India, I am an Indian citizen, my parents live in India and so do my best friends. After ten years of subsisting on phone-based relationships with the people I love most, it would be wonderful to see them more than just once a year, hang out with them, share life with them on a daily basis.
- I know about India's development policies (including forestry policies, land policies, and various rural development policies since Indian independence in 1947). Besides theoretical understanding, I can personally relate to India's socioeconomic institutions. This helps me intuit practical obstacles that might arise when planning a development project, which increases the chance of success.
- I have an enormous social network here. I am in India right now, at home with my parents. Within a day of coming back home, I was able to throw myself into development projects in this city. And within the second day of being home, I was part of a 3-person team that was designing a long-term urban slum development project that targets almost 1500 households in a slum not far from my home. 1500 !!!
- In other words, it's easy for me to be part of development work that can have visible social impact here in India simply because (1) there is so much to do that opportunities for making a difference are obvious (2) I know so many people here, that it's not hard to pull together a team and start working on a project right away.
- What this means is that I can very quickly gain a ton of experience if I operate entirely out of India. And since opportunities lead to more opportunities as your network and your experience grow, working in India would be efficient, rewarding and socially effective.
But see, here's the thing. India is my home, not an exciting overseas destination. When I come home to India, it's not about novelty but about familiarity. People give me strange looks when I roll my eyes and say I don't want to move back home and want to live and work in different parts of the world. For non-Indians, India seems to conjure up images of elephants, spicy food and some kind of exciting Bollywood-ish panorama of experiences..... I suppose I would have the same reaction if someone said they didn't want to move back to Brazil, or Argentina, or South Africa etc. I'd think they were crazy!
So I've earmarked the next few years for lifestyle experimentation; balancing the need to make a social difference with the need to carve out an interesting personal life. Given that my friends have lifestyle constraints of their own, the nonprofit looks to be shaped according to some mix of personal and professional choices by our group as a whole. What innovations shall we come up with?!