So, few weeks have passed of this exciting journey that I have embarked here in Washington DC, while working with Collaborating for Resilience (CoRE). On my first day, I enter this exciting vibrant space OpenGovHub hosting more than 40 member organizations from the development space with more than 200 international individuals. True to its name, it is a “hub of ideas, partnerships”- where individuals strive to create an impact across worldwide communities.

Oh no!! this blog will not be one monotonous monologue of my journey from India to USA, but an experience, that I witnessed recently which reflects on the comparative approach to the overall effective practices, on life and most importantly how we treat one another. Atlas fellowship has a striking modality that of being a ‘reverse corps’ – it has a wider inference, implying that a fellow returns to a country with enhanced learnings, skills, but also with a much wider view on life, sensitivities and a work culture that is open, democratic and globally vivacious.

If we have to bring in sustainable impact or create social leaders, it is very vital to first see how we treat and learn from one another. And I must say my first learning in this regard was taught by my housemate on my first day itself – to be “considerate” to one another which forms as an essence of shared living and marked my first step to a positive collaboration.

In a new atmosphere with multi- faceted experience not everything was smooth, let me state, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. So, a natural instinct would be to contact peers back home, one such person was a former peer in India, as we worked extensively. I had opened strategic spaces, collaborations for him that enabled him to to position well, out of sheer goodwill as we all are in the sustainability space. I thought it’s my turn now to seek guidance and sincerely approached him, as he was aware of my context. I was given a time on Skype – didn’t show up – I was told to write a query on mail – no response. When I followed up only at his behest, I was just randomly blocked on LinkedIn for just seeking an advice on professional front.  Well from his behavior -I could have learnt to be – hierarchical, inconsiderate, dispirited another peer, and restrict my knowledge. I choose not to do any of the above and keep my spirits high as I firmly believe that a true leader especially in the field of sustainability should be humble, collaborative and be inclusive. Also I am a firm believer of the old Indian saying where more you pass knowledge the more it grows.

And Voila!! in this strange environment, I received the learnings and support from the unexpected. – my positive Atlas Corps Class 38 boys. These complete strangers, had no idea on my overall context but taught me several things and helped me prepare my Survival Tool Kit – with key learnings – #1. Belief – they ushered me to believe in myself, #2. Always be there for one another – heard me out even in odd hours and did not judge me!! #3. Stay focused, be determined and do not deviate from the goal that brought you here. #4. Forget old chapters, meet new people, live new experiences, was a constant reminder from my Boston satellite fellow. #5 Keep up with the confidence – my Pakistani fellow kept reminding me of the skills that I have nurtured, and that we are here on our merit and it’s up to us as to how best we make out of it. #6. Be Inspired – my energetic Egyptian fellow presented me with a book stating that I need to read it, as soon he wants me to begin my own impact entrepreneurship venture.  #7. Generate Power of Ideas– from Scott Beale in his speech where we must have the passion and belief in our ideas and in life to achieve our goals.

Most significantly, it was my supervisor Blake in my host organization, who emphasized on the power of experiential learnings, on the first day itself he reinforced the fact that we must have critical thinking, encourage disagreements that will create a room for new ideas. If we are here to generate impact through innovative partnerships then we must establish creative spaces to foster experience of cross learnings, free dialogue, encouraging peers to strive for good, and be inspired to instill cohesive work.

Open hub has an interesting morning thought series displayed on their board “What are your listening to?” Podcasts or Music? I saw Blake writing “How to work like Da Vinci?” it’s an inspired podcast derived from the famous book: “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day”. We definitely need to have the Da Vinci style[1] of thinking amongst people, back in my home country India which implies to be – Curiositacurious for life and have a zeal to learn, Dimostrazione, experimental learning, room to do mistakes and learn, Sensazione – reignite your senses for self-awareness Sfumato – be ambiguous, uncertain, Arte/scienza,  – develop an objective thinking balance between life, nature, science etc., Corporalita – cultivate creativity through mind and body development  and Connessione – use systems thinking approach, I am a systems thinking professional and have been a great advocate of this approach.

It is high times in India, we change our working cultures, not just office settings and but our approach to people. It is unfortunate that despite having one of the youngest populations of the world, we are pursuing age old hierarchical models and live in insecurities . Millennials like myself in the work force, tend to think or work like Da Vinci. Networking, approaching people for advice, using LinkedIn as key medium is seen in the US as one of the most vital forms of partnerships. Here we are not in awe by the designations like many in India are obsessed with – true many Indians are occupying leadership positions in key companies of the world, but then a large number of them continue to remain as managers with very strong insecurities (as probably seen in my case). In the US, rounds of introductions are more on “what work you do”? What inspires you? What are you most passionate about? Helping others on any form of advice is seen as essential knowledge sharing. This will be done even over a coffee- there is no discouragement, from interns to leaders of organizations everyone is treated as one.

I was always told by my mentors that indeed USA is the place for you to experience, given its non- hierarchical temperament – I never took it so seriously but the Atlas experience has taught me, that they were right. I would like to reinstate the fact that we must entail compassion, encouragement and empathy for another person. So next time anyone approaching you on LinkedIn or is in despair, in a dilemma, please don’t doubt the person’s intentions, or question vulnerabilities, or that the individual has less people to go to – No, there is a strong reason why that person has approached you – it could be your skills, articulation of opinion or your objective advice. Volunteering, helping and supporting one another without any expectation in return implies the potential power of partnerships to bring real time change.

Let’s encourage all the Da Vinci’s in today’s world, help them to transform as leaders for tomorrow. Encourage people around yourself and especially those who approach you in need. I am lucky to have the wonderful Atlas 38 with me – my potential partners for change.

This blog is specially dedicated to Mahdi who has always encouraged me continue to be myself – energetic, hyperactive and full of life . To Sohaib and Jilani for making me cherish each and every day of this fantastic experience!!

About the Author

Radhika Ralhan is a sociologist, a sustainable systems thinking professional, and an impact strategist. As a University Gold Medalist, she enhanced her academic erudition in diverse professional contexts. These contexts include extending strategic advisory at leadership levels, executing critical sustainability programs in diverse themes, such as renewable energy, menstrual hygiene, and health, and devising policy research projects on SDGs. She also spearheaded teams by working primarily on social impact analysis and global and national-level positioning of programs. She has been instrumental in curating innovative partnerships platforms such as CSR Collaboration Hub and SDGs Drivers Forum among private sector, government institutions, and NGOs with set-focused outcomes. She has enhanced her professional dynamism by working with leading multi-faceted organizations, such as IIT Delhi, United Nations Global Compact, Development Alternatives, CAF, and Dr. Reddy’s sustainability unit. At Collaborating for Resilience, Washington DC, Radhika will serve as the Program Management Fellow. At the policy front, in her independent capacity, the Bureau of Indian Standards, Government of India appointed her to formulate the first of its kind CSR Standards as a key drafting expert. She has presented her research work and perspectives at global platforms in Milan, Istanbul, and Copenhagen and has taught at prominent universities such as IHM, Pusa, and Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. For Radhika, innovation, unconventional thinking, working on unexplored avenues, and leveraging social outcomes are key drivers in the sustainability discourse. 

[1] These principles have been derived from the the book “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day”, authored by Michael J. Gleb.