GIP India: Leaders Big and Small

          Dalai Lama

You know it’s going to be a good day when within the first 30 minutes of being up you’ve “run into” the Dalai Lama.

THURSDAY morning we got up extra early because we were leaving at 8 AM to travel 2 hours on the outskirts of Delhi to visit Navjyoti India Foundation, an NGO which runs a grades 1 – 5 education program for children in the area. The mission of the day was to visit the school and for each of us to guest teach a class in small groups, keeping in mind the leadership principles we had been studying earlier in the week.

It seemed an appropriate omen for the day then that as we were wrapping up breakfast and preparing to get on the bus we learned that the Dalai Lama would be walking through our hotel in the next few minutes. We went to the lobby to catch a glimpse of his holiness and thought something like this photograph would be the best photo opportunity we would have (keep reading to the end to find out how the above image happened!)

Dalai Lama - LobbyDalai Lama in the lobby. Photo courtesy of Amy Kwan ‘15

Shining a “New Light” on India at Navjyoti

Navjyoti EntranceNavjyoti Child Education Program entrance

Until our visit to Navjyoti (which means “New Light” in Hindi) we had spent most of our days in one of the most upscale areas of New Delhi. Our visit to Navjyoti’s school was the reality check we needed to better understand some of the issues India is facing.

Navjyoti was formally established in 1988 by the legendary Kiran Bedi and 16 of her fellow Delhi Police Officers. The foundation was the brainchild of Bedi who throughout her law enforcement career and beyond has been an advocate for criminal rehabilitation and crime prevention programs (such as education of street children, vocational skills for female drug peddlers, and detox programs for drug addicts) as the most effective methods for reducing crime.

This video provides a great introduction to Bedi and the multi-faceted work of the Navjyoti organization:

The school program is located in Bawana, which is not technically a “slum” but a “resettlement colony” to which the residents of the Yamuna Pushta slums of Delhi were forcibly moved by the city as a beautification measure. Truth is, the conditions in Bawana are only marginally better than a slum but Navjyoti and other organizations in the area are working to ensure that its residents have the opportunity for a better future.

Navjyoti’s program in Bawana serves to educate children in the area in reading, math, and vocational training such as arts and crafts and yoga. The program is unique because many of the children who attend school during the day also serve as teachers to other children after school, setting up space in their homes or even alleyways to teach other children the day’s lesson. The foundation estimates that this structure allows them to reach approximately 7000 children in total.

Teacher or Student?

We were enthusiastically greeted in the school courtyard by a class of young boys and immediately invited to play a game of “Huggy Bear” to get acclimated. It was going to be a fun day!

2015-03-19 10.00.50 (2)School boys welcoming us

Before we visited classrooms we had a formal introduction to the foundation by Sunny Nagpal, who (true to his name!) had an extremely positive demeanor. Hearing him talk about the joy he experiences in his work made one forget about some of the examples of extreme poverty we had witnessed on the approach to the building.

2015-03-19 10.11.59 (3)Thank you for hosting us Sunny!

We spent the next couple hours visiting a series of classes, including grade 1 boys music and dance, grade 3 girls math, and grade 5 girls arts and crafts. The multitude of smiling faces and enthusiastic student participation was striking.

2015-03-19 11.53.15Math class

2015-03-19 11.23.56Music and dance class

Soon after our class visits we broke into small groups and each led a class of 15 to 30 kids. We were entrusted to conceive of and instruct a 30 minute lesson plan. My group led a dual drawing and public speaking activity for our classroom of grade 3 girls to express what they admired about each other. We were so impressed with the poise with which the girls spoke and confidence with which they presented their drawings!

Before we left for the day, we were treated to a performance by the yoga students and a few female students served as our engaging hosts for the event. It was truly inspirational.

2015-03-19 15.26.21 (2) 2015-03-19 15.27.14 (2)Yoga students performance

2015-03-19 15.29.44 (2)Student program host asking a question of a CBS student

2015-03-19 15.33.01 (2)Professor Wadhwa addressing the Navjyoti class

School (2)CBS & Navjyoti students. Photo courtesy of Navjyoti.

The bus ride home was full of reflection and we all agreed the experience is one which we will continue to unpack over time. Thank you Navjyoti for opening our eyes to an example of leading and motivating others with grace, joy, and humility.

Lasting Lessons

After our whirlwind day at Navjyoti, FRIDAY we stayed at the hotel reviewing our final lesson plans, meeting with various speakers, and delivering our final presentations on great leaders in history.

To follow up on our visit to Navjyoti, we watched a documentary about Kiran Bedi’s life called “Yes Madam, Sir” – it is definitely worth watching if you’d like insight into this highly motivated and complex modern leader.

“Yes Madam, Sir” trailer:

Following the film, we had the chance to hear from Rajeev Peshawaria, who happens not only to be a noted author and thought leader on executive leadership but is also Kiran Bedi’s cousin!

2015-03-20 12.40.29 (2)Peshawaria speaking to the class

Many students found Peshawaria’s framework for how to find a “clarity of purpose” in one’s life and his notion of needing to “live life awake” to tap into your highest level of leadership potential especially relevant and practical as we prepare to reenter the workforce. Thank you Rajeev!

After lunch we learned about and practiced meditation techniques…just in time to get calm in preparation for delivering our final presentations!

Throughout the week we had worked in groups to develop presentations on great leaders that would help the class gain further insight into what leadership lessons such figures could teach us. Despite the variety of leaders chosen (Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Thomas Edison) it turned out they shared many of the same leadership qualities.

Perhaps the best talk of all was from Professor Wadhwa’s daughter, who gave us a spirited presentation on the life of King Ashoka, a legendary leader in Indian history!

One final guest

As the class was drawing to a close, we found out that after our close encounter with him the day before, his holiness the Dalai Lama (who had been leading a summit in the room next to ours all day!) had agreed to meet the CBS class and pose for a picture! We were even featured on his website the following day! It was the perfect capstone experience for the class.


CBS on the Dalai Lama’s website

Classic Kodak Moment

On SATURDAY those of us who were still in town headed to Agra to visit the magnificent Taj Mahal. There really are no words to describe what a beautiful experience it was – time for the iconic pictures!

Taj - Girls (2)CBS girls in front of the Taj Mahal. Photo courtesy of Lily Oswald ‘15

Taj - Boys (3)

CBS boys in front of the Taj Mahal. Photo courtesy of Lily Oswald ‘15

Thank you Professor Wadhwa and CBS for the chance to experience this trip. It is one that is sure to remain in our “heads, hearts, and hands” always.

– Sophie Hutson ’15

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