Due to limited academic exposure and professional opportunities for those looking to venture into the social sector, fellowships in the field of social sector and public policy space have become an active choice amongst youth. We got speaking to Itika Gupta, Assistant Director for three such fellowships housed at the Ashoka University to learn more about the opportunities these fellowships present, the training they provide to fellows, the on-ground impact the fellows have, and the future possibilities after these fellowships.
About the Fellowships:
The Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates (CMGGA) Program started as an experiment. In 2016, the Chief Minister’s Office in Haryana and Ashoka University collaborated to involve young professionals in policy implementation at the grassroots level.
“Most civil servants want to bring about change but have their hands full with bureaucratic challenges. Having an extra set of fellows thus helps them engage in the kind of innovations that they have always wanted to and smoothens out the implementation of policies.”
Similar to the CMGGA Program, the District Development Fellowship (DDF) was launched by the Government of Punjab and the Child Rights Fellowship (CRF) by the Government of Delhi, in collaboration with Ashoka University in 2020.
CMGGA explainer video.
Role of Fellows:
“Be it research or implementation, these fellows complete the missing link between the government and the districts. A policy can be designed well at the state or center-level, but there would be no meaning to it if it isn’t implemented well; this is where these fellows come in, by debottlenecking challenges at the level of implementation.”
The Associates or Fellows, in all these programs, act as enablers. They catalyze the process of inter-departmental coordination and collaboration, closing the loop between the policymakers and the local administration.
The program integrates a top-down approach for policy implementation with a bottom-up approach for solving governance challenges. Through their work at the grassroots, they increase the visibility of local-level challenges for the policymakers; supporting the administration in implementing policies the way they were intended to be and, engaging in research and innovation to design solutions for the issues in the district.
“The main activity common across all projects is evidence-based problem-solving. The Associates need to utilize the existing data to come up with actionable items. They need to collect all the existing information, understand how the systems function, and identify where the interventions can be made to get the ideal outcomes.”
Fellows are tasked with quantitative and qualitative data analysis to come up with actionable insights. These are, then, plugged into the process of identifying the most appropriate levers to bring about a change at scale. The amalgamation of their quantitative analysis and qualitative understanding helps in shaping strategic solutions for governance problems. They are also involved in monitoring and evaluating the impact and sustainability of their solutions by defining and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).
Training and Resources Available for Fellows:
What sets these fellowships housed at Ashoka University apart, is the training and resources provided to the fellows at these programs. The university functions as a knowledge partner in these endeavors by different state governments, providing the required guidance and mentorship to the fellows.
Upon joining, fellows undergo a two-week long orientation program where they are given training in the following areas:
● The theory of Governance structures and Public Administration;
● Practical aspects of Public Administration and implementation of Public Policy;
● Relevant hard-skills and soft-skills training for Data Analysis, Presentation Design, Stakeholder Management, and the protocols to be followed while interacting with government officials, etc.
Subsequently, under the CMGGA Program, Associates also undergo refresher skill-training sessions called ‘The Forum’. The Forum is held after Associates have completed seven weeks on the field where, apart from refresher training, the Associates also get the chance to discuss their experiences and the challenges they have faced. It provides them an opportunity for critical reflection on their work and peer-learning.
Apart from this institutional training at Ashoka University, some of the fellows also receive constant mentorship through the buddy system or mentors. This additional support is provided by the Program Team in the form of a State Unit which works closely with the state leadership to understand their priorities and mandates; the unit acts as a key enabling factor in the programs and helps in acquiring a uniform impact.
“One central theme amongst these Fellowships being housed at Ashoka is ‘a driving factor from within the Government’—someone who is willing to drive it from within the system and is at the helm of affairs. We are grateful for these champions in the government who opened their doors for Ashoka University and the young professionals; and spent a significant amount of time mentoring the teams. ”
Prerequisites to Being a Good Fit:
These fellowships are designed to introduce more people to the workings of the public policy infrastructure and urge them to participate in the social sector. The prerequisites for being a good fit, in keeping with this broad vision, are not limited to specific academic or professional qualifications and include:
● Passion for working in the sector
● Basic problem-solving skills
● Ability to think on your feet
● The basic idea of the program and the major problems being faced in that particular state
The nature of the work carried out by the fellows and the training provided to them opens up a wide world of opportunities. Some of the common paths that fellows choose to go down after completing their year at the fellowship include:
● Civil services
“A lot of people aren’t sure about their decision regarding civil services and the program gives them clarity about it.”
● Higher education, specifically in the policy space. CMGGA alumni have gone on to universities such as the National University Singapore, Brown University in the United States.
“The theoretical frameworks that you might come across during your Masters also make much more sense post the fellowship.”
● Various divisions of the United Nations
● Managerial positions at various Foundations and NGOs, social enterprises like CSF, Indus Action, Dream A Dream