Clinton School student Chelsea Miller’s International Public Service Project took her to Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, to work with Arthik Samata Mandal. ASM’s mission is to promote scientific, secular, and democratic outlook among people and to help them to become conscious citizens creating a new society based on Gandhian values of truth, non-violence, equality, dignity, freedom, and justice.
Miller’s work with the project included marketing content creation and partnership development.
How does Arthik Samata Mandal go about executing its mission?
Basically, this organization, for the last 40 years, has been the only reliable nonprofit in the 13 districts they have worked in. So the way they carry out their mission is by going and interacting with the community. Literally, they go and meet with people, and they have staff members who come from the community. They find out what the community needs through those meetings, and that is what they base their work around.
ASM started after the Andhra Pradesh cyclone, which took out thousands of people in 1977. They originally started as disaster relief. From there, they expanded into over 100 different types of programming. They have recently scaled things back due to staffing and budgetary reasons, with the way the government of India is changing and evolving.
What were you specifically tasked with?
I conducted over 100 first-person interviews. I was interviewing former staff, current staff, beneficiaries, people who were beneficiaries who then turned into staff members, people who were in the government who had worked with ASM, people who worked with partner organizations that worked with ASM – I basically talked to hundreds of people whose lives have been made better through ASM, or they worked with ASM to make lives better. I then turned that into a 40-page book all about the work they have done with women’s empowerment and gender equity.
The partnership development aspect is very Clinton School-specific. They would love to have a Clinton School student there each year to help with their institutional memory. They want to create books, like the book I created, for all of their programming. So a Clinton School student that is passionate about health could do something for all of their health programming. Students could do something similar for their education programs, or child rights programs, etc.
My final deliverable to the Clinton School was a business report making the case for why ASM should be a recurring program and host organization for the Clinton School Office of Community Engagement.
What was your biggest professional challenge?
The biggest professional challenge was being the only truly fluent English speaker. In talking to people, I was under the impression that everyone would know English and be able to hold a conversation with me. Members of my host family, the people I stayed with, spoke fine English but spoke Telugu probably 90 percent of the time. So that was a real professional challenge. Probably 80-90 percent of the interviews I had to do were conducted with a translator in the room.
What was your biggest personal challenge?
I am the oldest of four children, so the biggest personal challenge was that I’ve never really been alone in my life. I basically spent nine-and-a-half weeks by myself. Learning how to be by myself was a challenge. Plus, I was living where I was working, so the work-life balance was also a challenge.
How did you enjoy your personal time away from work?
There is a hospital on the complex and they had women’s physio classes, so I was working out every day. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what is next in my career. I did journaling exercises and brainstorming about what I want to do after graduation. I want to make sure I spend my second year at the Clinton School lining things up correctly.
I was lucky to have the support of several fellow Clinton School students who motivated me to spend a lot of time reading, journaling, and working on my personal growth and development. I wanted to push myself out of my element and stay there as long as possible.
At the end of the trip I got to travel with Natalie Ramm, who is an MPS and JD concurrent student at the Clinton School and Bowen School of Law. That was a really incredible experience.
Her IPSP experience was very different. But it was nice to be able to come together, debrief our experiences, and travel around India with our public service hats on together. It was great to experience that before coming home and returning to our normal lives.
Did this experience have any impact on your long-term plans?
Definitely. Something that I have known for a long time is that I am good at connecting people who have resources to people who do not. So being able to look from a bird’s eye view of an organization that’s had such an impact in such a relatively short amount of time was important.
Being able to come in and say, “These are things I can offer you to help you improve.” Or, “These are partnerships I can help you develop with foreign NGOs.”
I’ve realized I would like to be in some sort of policy or advisory position to help nonprofits more efficiently and effectively. Watching how nonprofits, businesses, and the government interact in India has given me a lot of ideas on how we can improve those partnerships here in the United States.