Lessons Learnt As A Milaap Fellow | Milaap

Lessons Learnt As A Milaap Fellow

A year back when I was in the final semester of post graduation in Journalism and Mass Communication, I didn’t have any idea of what I was going to do. Being inclined more towards research, rather than work in the industry, I was on the lookout for such opportunities. When I found out about the Milaap Fellowship, I applied for it. The journey which began on 2/07/2018 and is still continuing has been a great learning curve. Most importantly, it has helped me come across a treasure trove of knowledge. The stories I've written, the people I've spoken to and the places I've explored have enriched my journey exponentially.

Meeting with fellows during our training in Bangalore

I had a negative impression about the micro-finance institutions in India. I had the naive idea that such institutions charge exorbitant rates on the loans they provide to the rural population and fleece the people of their money. During our Fellowship training and the session with our CEO, Anoj Viswanathan, I understood how the actual importance and need for micro-finance institutions in India. Anoj informed us about the reducing balance method of paying monthly instalments of the loans which when calculated was in reality at par with the rates charged by private and public sector banks. Moreover, these banks won’t lend out a small amount of money and for the various purposes required. Another factor was that the borrowers didn’t have to go anywhere to pay the monthly instalments, rather the employees from the micro-finance institutions would visit them monthly and collect the payments, nor did the borrowers have to keep something in collateral to secure the loans. As Anoj summed up quite nicely that all these services came at an operational cost which needs to be covered for the growth and survival of the institutions and the industry to thrive. The one-hour session was quite productive and also pointed me in the right direction pertaining to the topic of my research.

The Digital Financial Literacy Program, an apt example that highlights the work done by Micro-Finance Institutes 

The field visits, an integral part of the fellowship, helped me understand more about the role of micro-finance institutes and their importance in empowering the rural folks as well as in raising their standard of living. I came across a lot of villages in remote areas where these micro-finance institutes have been able to reach out and provide financial aid to the residents for their needs. Moreover, they have combined with various governments institutes to reach out to these people and bring them to the mainstream by connecting them with various government schemes. The Digital Financial Literacy project of SIDBI in collaboration with Mahashakti Foundation, field partner of Milaap in Western Odisha is an apt example of this.

Meeting with different people to get interesting content for blogs

Writing blogs on interesting aspects through my journey as a Milaap Fellow helped me develop as a writer as well as gain productive experiences. The blogs written by the fellows are worth mentioning as they have been sources of useful information which I might have not been able to gain access to. Be it about the lives of women entrepreneurs in Manipur, or the boatmen in Kolkata or the medicinal uses of Mohua and much more such information, all of them were accessed via the blogs written by the fellows. Roshni Ross’s blogs on the life of ex-Devdasi women were useful in bringing to light the plight of these women.

Visit to Puri After the KIIT Seminar with Co-Fellows and Mouli

One of our fellows, Vaibhav Bansal, was invited by KIIT University in Bhubaneswar, Odisha to speak on the future prospects in the field of Biotechnology. He found it prudent to mention his experience as a Milaap Fellow which made the organizers extend the invitation to Milaap. The power talk was given by Mouli Chatterjee, Manager Fellowship and Content, about the work done by Milaap and how the fellowship is an amalgamation of different fields was indeed quite interesting. She mentioned how different people use the fellowship for different purposes, for instance, a previous fellow who was had worked for Practo used the fellowship to showcase her work in the social sector to pursue academics abroad. The occasion also provided us with a chance to meet and we had quite a lot of fun. Post this, Mouli told us to reach out to several colleges and provide them with details about the fellowship program as part of the Milaap Fellowship Outreach program, which gave me a chance to interact with students at Birla Global University in Bhubaneswar. Representing Milaap at such a stage was an enriching and a happy experience.

Travelling with Adithya was always informative as well as joyous.

I will admit that I am a very reluctant traveller, but thanks to Adithya, a fellow at Bhubaneswar, I realized that travelling can be fun as well as informative. The discussions we had during these trips were rich sources of information. Our first visit was to the Buddhist Triangle near Bhubaneswar where we visited the ancient Buddhist sites namely Udaygiri, Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri. Adithya was my personal tour guide. He pointed out the various details about the sculptures coupled with the sense of coming in touch with ancient India. We also visited the Sun Temple at Konark as well as the Shanti Stupa at Bhubaneswar. The interesting aspect of this journey was the evening lights show which depicted the history behind these heritage sites. My interactions with the other fellows proved to be quite conducive for my future prospects.

I received valuable inputs regarding how to prepare for my GRE exam as well as to shortlist universities and colleges for my PhD from Srividya, a fellow from Tamil Nadu. Not only this, she provided me with the whole set of study materials required for the preparation of GRE. Roshni's (a fellow from Karnataka) photo blog titled “The Dictionary of A Devadasi Women” was a good lesson to understand how to work on a photo blog. Moreover, she also provided with a good reference - “Soup’s A Concise Dictionary Of Indian Hair”, for a more comprehensive and detailed study.

Attending a training session by Mahshakti Foundation to understand the significance of Digital India

The fellowship helped me also narrow down my area of research as well as provides me with a good experience of how to conduct primary research. I have been interested in conducting research pertaining to government policies aimed at upliftment of the rural population.  The digitization drive undertaken by the government is a great initiative to widen the ambit of financial inclusion as well as plug the loopholes in the Public Distribution System. The fellowship gave me the opportunity to study and observe the significance of this policy from close quarters. Moreover, it has helped me collect primary data which will go a long way in preparing my research proposal. For me, the Milaap Fellowship is an amalgamation of every aspect of my field, Journalism and Mass Communication. The work of a fellow requires them to be a writer, an interviewer as well as an analyser. As my friend and co-fellow, Adithya rightly said, "the fellowship is for those who are at the beginning of their career and still trying to figure their area of interest. This fellowship can be a good place to begin with."
I would like to end by pointing out that the Milaap Fellowship provides ample time to its fellows to pursue other interests as well. Many of the fellows in my batch including me prepared for various competitive examinations while doing our work. With this thought in mind coupled with the chance to explore a new place and learn new things, I decided to continue my fellowship for the next six months.