“We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF), an initiative by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), designed and implemented by IIM Bangalore (IIMB) provides a unique opportunity for the youth and dynamic individuals to contribute towards enhancing skill development and promote economic development. The fellowship is designed under the program of Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP). The fellowship aims to address convergence in activities and strengthening the institutional basis of various government schemes and programs at national, state, and district levels. The SANKALP scheme is aimed to address the need for national-level architecture to facilitate convergence, efficiency in governance, and regulation by setting up district-level infrastructure.
Team NSN caught up with Prof. Arnab Mukherji and Prof. Sankarshan Basu, Program Directors, MGNF, to understand the role of IIM- Bangalore in implementing SANKALP through the fellowship program. Let’s read on and watch the video from the link provided below:
Q: How are MGN Fellows creating value for district administration through groundwork for SANKALP?
A: Prof. Arnab Mukherji: On the 8th of March this year, we launched the Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) Program on the IIMB campus with a plenary address by the Union Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey. As the academic module completed by the 20th of March, it became clear that COVID-19 posed challenges for us. During the initial phase of the national lockdown, all the Fellows began reaching out to their respective districts from their homes to get an introduction to their districts and its skill ecosystem through support from MSDE and the respective state skill development missions. Currently, MGN Fellows are in 70+ districts, working with the district administration, following various quarantine norms. They have been active in their districts for a few months and are creating value not just for the district administration but also for the state administration, by contributing both directly and indirectly to the skilling ecosystem.
We’ve been working with MSDE for about a year now. We were requested by the Ministry to philosophically ideate how the institutions should work. Currently, more than 20 faculty from IIMB are engaged in mentoring MGN Fellows through a Faculty Panel that provides guidance to their activities while they are in the field.
The four modules which were originally designed were meant to be completed on campus. However, we rescheduled at least one of them to an online mode to ensure we make progress. Our Fellows are spread across India from Varanasi to West Garo hills to districts from Gujarat to Karnataka. The Fellows have spent a good amount of time in their districts and can start thinking about strategic issues in the district. They will adopt an integrated approach to address the issues in policy implementation.
This 2-year program is meant to support day to day activities in the field and at the same time think prospectively to integrate upcoming schemes, on-board various start-ups, and NGOs and carve out a strategic vision for the state. This is reimagining planning at a decentralized level to enables integrating efforts towards increased skilling and employment in medium to long-term.
Q: What is the role of IIM Bangalore in the implementation of MGNF and could you tell us how you are addressing the challenges?
A: Prof. Sankarshan Basu: One of the other things we tried to do other than decentralization at the local level is to bring on board, an external resource person to support activities at the district – the MGN Fellow. In this program, not just the faculty or experts but an external person who has an independent opinion and independent view of how things should be in the district. Even if that person is local, he or she should not be someone who grew up there as they would be clouded with the systemic view that exists.
Along with knowing what can be implemented in the district, we also want to know what is not implementable and why. This is important given the scarce resources we have so that we can focus on activities that are more likely to create change in the local context.
The Fellows are now there in the districts for about two and half months and they have made a presentable dossier regarding all facets of the district regarding population, geography, etc., Where ever the data was not available, they have made a note of that too. This compilation of district profiles is the biggest advantage. It helps in cross-learning between districts. This will help us to see the link between the districts clearly and not see them individually. This will help in making more integrated plans.
Prof. Arnab Mukherji: When we think about decentralization, we usually think of Gram Panchayat and Panchayat. But decentralization has an integrative role to play, that is to conceptually think about markets, its underlying scale, their volume of transactions, the forward and backward linkages that cumulatively frame the supply-chain and value-chain. Think in this fashion allows us to link and relate different geographies to goods and services and underlying skills and market opportunities. MGN Fellows will help the local administration in identifying these pathways for growth.
The two things that need to be addressed here are:
- Local awareness – There are different kinds of districts in India. Some of them are temple towns, some have high-quality artisan works and some are hill districts. All of them are unique and a one-size-fits-all strategy will not work. Therefore, plans should be configured to the local context.
- Youth Interest – Youth in India see this as a wonderful program. Based on dossiers that MGN Fellows have come up with, we planned to do a series of workshops to push them to integrate their findings to conceptually link growth plans to skilling ecosystems.
Q: How was the youth interest and involvement in skilling programs such as MGNF?
A: Prof. Sankarshan Basu: MGNF was inaugurated by MSDE on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Fellowship will have a larger impact with visible support and patronage from the level of Prime Minister. With one newspaper advertisement and a campaign on LinkedIn, we got over 3000 odd applications, out of which 2700 applicants took the test and completed the process.
Prof. Arnab Mukherji: Once we saw these applicants, we were excited to realize that high energy, well-rounded youth were expressing interest and are willing to commit themselves for two years. They were wondering if it was an academic program. But we were clear that it was a blended certificate program for rural immersion, working with the government to have a very rich group of individuals, truly committed to the public policy space. This Fellowship hit the right nerve among the youth who want to work hard and learn about the complexities that shape India.
Before we launched the program, we had no idea if this would be of interest to the youth in India. We now realize that there is a critical mass of youth who are willing to take up this challenge and respond to the country’s needs in a useful, creative, and hands-on manner.
Prof. Sankarshan Basu: A majority of the applicants were freshers, but we also allowed people with work experience from engineering, software, journalism, social sciences, and the non-profit space to join. Some of them had guaranteed jobs but they gave them up to be a part of the nation-building scheme. It might be interesting to work in districts when you are from metro cities, but is not the most convenient thing to do. However, a large group of people has come forward, willing to take up the challenge as long as they get active support, not just financially but holistic support. The Amazon Prime Original Video, Panchayat, captures and glamourizes some of these aspirations while contextualizing the context for many – the reality is experienced through a program like MGNF.
Q: What makes MGNF different from other such programs previously launched?
A: Prof. Sankarshan Basu: The PMRDF program was a similar model, but it was discontinued. One of the major learnings from this was a strong academic partner was necessary to support the Fellow in the field. When it was only between the Fellow and the district collector there are often challenges that the Fellow alone may not be able to negotiate
IIMB will play this role in Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) to anchor the academic program and actively support the district immersion process. This makes it significantly different from most other Fellowships that exist in the country today.
There is an advantage of the faculty actively mentoring along with a team. We have a similar interest in policy space and have certain quality expectations. It is not just a practical prescription but builds towards an academic rigorous outcome. Based on this data and inputs, it becomes a body of literature in terms of the development of the district, which unfortunately is fairly missing in our context. While national and state policies and program exist this need to be tweaked to the local context and its in this setting a program such as MGNF has a major role to play.
In a management context, we teach students how to address the cross-cultural differences that exist at the ground level. These differences create a roadblock in terms of implementation even for the best of policies. Through the MGNF program, this will be huge learning.
More about SANKALP: To learn more about SANKALP visit: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/sankalp/
Q: What trends do you notice in terms of response from the districts?
A: Prof. Sankarshan Basu: In general, the support has been phenomenal and we have got enormous support from the districts. It would be unfair to expect the same level of response across the 70 odd districts. COVID-19 pandemic has posed several challenges in terms of travel, quarantine centers, etc. However, some of the states like Assam and Meghalaya flagged these issues, the Meghalaya SSDM Director, Mr. Bhupendra Hajong, paid extra attention to arrange for travel of out-of-state Fellows, and attended to people who needed medical attention. Many such officer driven examples are critical to the success of a program like MGNF. Across the 70+ districts, concerned individuals were informed at the right time, District Collectors responded promptly and MGN Fellows have been widely welcomed.
When we were planning for deployment of fellows in the districts, we had many apprehensions about it as how would the district administration receive them. As there is a perception that the government machinery particularly at the lower level is opposed to external intervention. We had also planned meetings with district collectors but did not happen due to COVID-19.
But the interesting thing is the kind of acceptance they got. At the ground level, the administration was very welcoming and took the trouble of understanding the needs of the program and the individual Fellows. The local administration wants them to support skill development activities but also help integrate across other schemes and departments too. The Fellows also provide an independent view of the local administration.
Prof. Arnab Mukherji: Recognizing everything that Prof. Basu said, the reception has been warm, but we are still in the first two months of the program. Going forward, local conditions may change, the fellows are now in unchartered territory, they will only have their own lives to live. There will be heterogeneous series of experiences and there may not be uniformity of outcomes.
Prof. Sankarshan Basu: We would like to acknowledge on record, the support from MSDE all the way up to the Additional Secretary, gone out to support the fellows and the program. The secretary is just a phone call away and has provided tremendous support.