I come from one of the many middle class families in Andhra Pradesh where success meant joining the elite educational institutions (that too only engineering and medical institutes) of the country. So without ever pausing to think if engineering was suited for me I finished my B.Tech in Information Technology from NIT Surathkal. Then I worked for a couple of years as a software developer for the investment bank Lehman Brothers which was later taken over by Nomura. After working for a couple of years I then did my MBA in HR from XLRI Jamshedpur.
So how did an out and out corporate guy like me end up in PMRDF? My first introduction to this sector happened when I was working in Mumbai for Nomura. I along with a couple of friends from my office started a social venture called Swayam. As a part of the venture we introduced making paper bags as a livelihood for women. Fortunately our venture was selected for the global social venture competition at ISB where I got the opportunity to witness and interact with many others working on beautiful ideas to make a positive contribution to society. That venture sowed the seeds of interest in the development sector. The PMRDF notification came out during the second year of my MBA. I immediately applied. I always believed that to really understand development I needed to work at the grassroot level and understand for myself what development actually entails.
The PMRDF experience till now has been a mixed bag. The positives have been that I am for the first time staying in a tribal interior habitation which in itself has helped me understand lot of things about lifestyles of tribals. It has helped me realize that government is the biggest social enterprise, the biggest social entrepreneur and the challenges it faces in dealing with the scale of its operations are extremely complex. I did get to see how awry things shape into by the time they reach grass root level from the top. Of course on the negative side has been the lack of proper structure and direction of the program.
One of the real dilemmas working close to the field level is the enigma created by different developmental narratives. Should tribals be mainstreamed in to the economy or are they better off retaining their traditional life styles? Is it possible in this globalized world to remain aloof even if they want to? Is a capitalist model ideal or a socialist one? I don’t have answers to the above questions but these are the questions that confront me every time I delve into the depths of different developmental issues.
But there was one question that I wanted an answer to when I joined the fellowship – the question of whether I would really enjoy the development sector to make it my career choice. And the answer to that question has been a resounding yes. That for me is the biggest take away from this fellowship.
R Ramesh Reddy is based at East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.