Right Out of College, Right into the Field: Month 1

Sanaa Munjal, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of Sanaa Munjal)

June 2022: I graduated college and completed a three-year degree in economics. In these three years, I ended up physically going to college for a total of 11 months. I come from the graduating batch that suffered the brunt of the pandemic in its worst possible form, academically.

Cut to almost three years ago, March 2020: The pandemic disrupted learning, hope for an ordinary college life, education, and much more. It is when I decided to use this time to jump into understanding what it is that I wish to do in the future. Around the same time, the race for being productive was at its peak, and I made the (bittersweet) mistake of joining that. I tried to get my hands dirty in all sorts of things, different fields, domains, areas of work, and anything I could find back then.

First visit to the main head office of Tech Mahindra Foundation in New Delhi. (Photo courtesy of the author)

It has been no less than a rollercoaster. I have been a part of 15+ internships and professional work experiences within a span of two years. Something that has always remained troublesome for me has been the fact that these were all undertaken sitting in my bedroom back at home, in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan. Not one of these experiences involved going out into the field or an office, talking to people, and living those experiences.

July 2021: It is during this specific time period and everything that followed that the passion to work in the development and policy space emerged and has remained with me ever since. It was for an online fellowship project I undertook by Transform Schools: People for Action. For the same, my work revolved around the issue of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. I created a curriculum for the teachers to effectively engage in classrooms with the students which is when my interest was piqued. Newer ideas were molded, and the mind transformed for the better.

On photography duty for International Volunteering Day celebrated by Tech Mahindra Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Mrinal Roka, author’s supervisor)

February 2022: This was the time I made up my mind to apply for the American India Foundation, Banyan Impact Fellowship. Back then, I was not entirely sure what I was getting myself into, things felt overwhelming and complicated.

Before applying, I was convinced that the best next step to bridge all my learning gaps was to throw myself into a fellowship right out of college. I wanted to get into something that not only exposes me to a whole new field in the development space, different from whatever I had previously done but I also wanted to gain a holistic experience and get my hands dirty by working on a broader scheme of things. Luckily, I got to know about the Banyan Impact Fellowship that came to me at the right time and it worked out. So, without giving it a single second thought, I decided to go for it.

The first session that was conducted for the Champions of Mental Health project, which I am directly working on. (Photo courtesy of Imran Malik, center manager)

October 2022: During the two weeks of the orientation, if there has been one thing I mentioned time and again was that I come with no experience in the field. Eventually, something that I have come to realize is that experiences are not always necessary. Passion can suffice if you are determined enough to create a tangible impact, at least in the development sector.

During the orientation, an interesting realization struck me, and it is something I have been constantly noticing since then. That is, at least for a while now, I will end up being one of the youngest in every room. While that is undoubtedly a learning in itself, it is also very intimidating at the same time. Doubting myself by asking the question if I am the right person for the task comes up more often than I would like it to. But over time, working and interacting with so many individuals in the field and outside, has made me realize that it is what it is, and I have to embrace this reality as is.

One of my first visits to the SMART center of the employability project run by TMF. (Photo courtesy of the author)

November 2022 to Present: At my Host Organization, Tech Mahindra Foundation (TMF), I have the prospect to understand both the non-profit and the corporate side of things, which helps me get the best of both worlds. While I have got an opportunity to work in the field of mental health that I feel passionate about, coming with very little knowledge has been tough, both domain and work-wise. In the next few months, I am hoping to not only develop my domain-specific knowledge but also essential skills that will guide me ahead in my professional journey.

The Mind@Ease initiative by TMF which is being created as an aggregator platform for mental health organizations that can be accessed when in need by anyone and everyone is truly now my passion project. Along with that, getting a chance to work hand-in-hand with their employability projects to set in place a peer support system for the youth in classrooms brings along ample opportunities amidst treading on a difficult path considering the sensitive nature of the issue. In such situations, I have realized that keeping an open mind about learning as much as one can is vital and possibly the only way out

My favorite visit has been to the Noida Deaf Society where during this particular visit I got a chance to celebrate Diwali with the students. (Photo courtesy of the author)

While this project falls under a thematic area that I don’t specialize in or have previous experience working in, it presents itself as an immense learning opportunity. In merely a few months I have got a chance to be a part of and learn so many intricate details about working around mental health and in this space. I have become more cognizant and aware of these issues when handling anything related to the subject. I am also positive that this will be enhanced as I progress further on my project in the coming months. Being inexperienced isn’t all that bad after all because it helps you learn from the bottom up, build newer ideas, and bring a fresh perspective.

Every line of work presents numerous challenges to each and everyone, every day. So at that point, a headstrong nature while dealing with such challenges is not only crucial but the only way out. On so many days, I ended up questioning myself, my skills, and if I am even worthy of being where I am. So, on those days, it becomes important to look at the bigger picture and to look at why you are doing what you are doing. Being the youngest, the inexperienced one, doesn’t make it a challenge but a mere superpower. It brings to you the opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn in more ways than one can imagine. It is a chance to learn and build something completely new.

So, the next 9-10 months are a chance and come to me as an opportunity to do things the right way. I want to get the experience I lack, and be able to understand firsthand how the social impact and development sector operates. I have the opportunity to see how things really are at the grassroots. As I write this, I am already three months into my project and filled with gratitude. I am grateful to be able to do what I do, to be able to recognize my privilege and learn more about myself. All this along with being able to interact with individuals and stakeholders which was missing in my professional experiences and in everything I previously got to be a part of.

My only goal is to be able to graduate from this fellowship with a newer thought process and as a better and more aware individual. I want to try and make some impact, if not more. I also want to take experiences and interactions with me that guide me in the future, in whatever endeavors I take up.

So, this blog also goes out to anyone and everyone who might doubt their capabilities, who might feel they are a misfit at work, might feel confused, scared, or nervous, you have got this!

About the Author:
Sanaa Munjal is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Banyan Impact Fellow with Tech Mahindra Foundation based in Delhi-NCR. For her Fellowship project, she is working around mental health and is supporting the organization to create a social media strategy along with a model for their Mind@Ease project to identify and train youth who can further support their peers professionally and personally. Hailing from Jaipur, Rajasthan, she moved to New Delhi in 2019 to pursue her undergraduate degree in Economics (Hons.) from Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. Owing to the pandemic, she explored diverse domains, and through volunteering opportunities, she delved deeper into the development and social impact space. She worked with organizations like the United Nations Global Compact Network India and NITI Aayog, which helped her gain policy and research-driven experience. She also obtained a diploma from the Indian Institute of Governance and Leadership in International Relations and Diplomacy. She was selected for prestigious fellowships including the Transform Schools Fellowship, where she developed a curriculum for the teachers on menstrual health, and the Millennium Fellowship under MCN and UNAI, where she co-founded Project Raah, aimed at educating students around topics like climate change, consent, etc. She has held several leadership positions including serving as the President of the Global Association of Economics Education, J&M Chapter, and even co-authored a research paper that was further added to the virtual library and literature on COVID-19 by WHO. Apart from this, Sanaa also enjoys art journaling, reading and is passionate about traveling for which she runs her travel blog. Eventually, she wishes to work in the public policy and social impact space and as an AIF Banyan Impact Fellow, Sanaa is hoping to use this experience to gauge the ground reality around mental health and leverage this opportunity to understand the development sector and expand her learning horizon.



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