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On Returning to India: the story of two AIF Fellows

For those who go abroad to study, there’s always that small chance that they don’t want to return – for many reasons – job and career prospects, matters of the heart – the list is endless. But met two people who not only wanted to return, but have also taken a giant leap into the fields of development work in India.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   12-09-2013

For those who go abroad to study, there’s always that small chance that they don’t want to return – for many reasons – job and career prospects, matters of the heart – the list is endless. But met two people who not only wanted to return, but have also taken a giant leap into the fields of development work in India. Meet Nikhil Mahen and Meghana Rawat – two members of the AIF William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India - Class of 2013-14 – whose journey to promote social change is simply infectious!

“If you leave your country you should rule and conquer – if you’re not conquering, you should come back.” – Nikhil Mahen
Meet Meghana:

Originally from Dehradun, Meghana studied Mass Media and Mass Communication at the University of Delhi before starting her career in Mumbai with Elle India’s marketing team. She took a break to complete a Masters degree in PR and Advertising at Australia’s University of New South Wales, in Sydney. After returning to India she resumed her job with Elle India – this time in New Delhi, and decided after a while to apply for the AIF Fellowship program. During the upcoming fellowship year, Meghana will be working with the Purbanchal Maitri Development Society in Guwahati, Assam.

Meet Nikhil:

Having completed a Masters degree in Engineering Management from Duke University in the U.S., Nikhil spent four years working for Deutsche Bank’s Investment Banking group in New York. Then one fine day, he decided to take the leap to return to India and work in innovation-consulting, a part of which included designing strategies to help rejuvenate the microfinance business for a leading livelihood promoter in India. Nikhil will be working with Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, for the year.

The American India Foundation  is committed to catalyzing economic and social change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health, and leadership development. Founded in 2001 upon his initiative, former U.S. President William J. Clinton is the honorary Chair.

AIF’s William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India is a leadership development program that provides a select group of young professionals from the USA and India the opportunity to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises for 10 months, in order to strengthen the civil sector and accelerate impact for underprivileged communities in India.
1.    Why did you decide to return to India?

Meghana: When I went to Australia I was pretty clear that I will come back. I don’t regret that. I think I could apply my Australian experience better here.
Nikhil: I came back last June – because this is where the party was. India was becoming this hub of frugal innovation. I was being sucked into the same financial services sector in New York – and the decision to come back was validated by the things I learned and the people I met.

2.    What do you think this fellowship will help you to achieve? 

Meghana works on a project with one of AIF's youth education programs; photo courtesy AIF
Meghana: I hope to do something for India. Earlier I had somehow been sucked into the corporate sector. I wanted to see how NGOs really contribute to India’s efforts – and I also want to see myself grow, experience a new location, and handle my own project in the field of communications.
Nikhil: I guess the biggest thing for me is the chance to learn from some of the most innovative organizations. If I can learn the logic of their behaviour, that logic can be mapped into a lot of other things. My host organization, the Aravind Eye Care System in Tamil Nadu – has brought about a change in the medical industry and how the medical industry changes a patient – doctors from all over the world go there to learn. It’s a real opportunity to be a part of something like this.
3.    How do you fit your experience studying abroad into this whole equation?

Meghana: It was a self-awakening, self-realization process; learning so much and getting to know that the world is so much more than we’re used to. It also widened my approach to the kind of working and learning abilities that I have. It was such a beautiful experience, it will stay with me forever because it taught me to realize my potential.
Nikhil Mahen (Right) during Fellowship training in New Delhi; Photo courtesy of AIF
Nikhil: It was enlightenment. Learning the fact that my skill set could be used in so many ways gave me the confidence to believe that my skills could be used in areas I didn’t even know existed. I experienced so much interaction with other, non-engineering careers, which really broadened my own horizons.
4.    After the fellowship ends in 10 months time, what do you hope to have learned from the experience?

Meghana: I want to first get into it, first see what it’s about. This whole year I’ll be working for an organization that works towards helping improve women’s livelihoods.
Nikhil: I’m on a thought experiment from my last job – it’s called “I’ll figure”. There’s never a time in life when you’re not planning for the next step – from the first week of my one year MA program, I was told to start job-hunting. This is the time to step back and go with it.
5.    Why a fellowship as opposed to an internship?

AIF Fellows and their mentors meet in Delhi before they venture into the field; photo courtesy AIF
Meghana:  A fellowship is hands on training – it’s a whole different approach;  you’re indirectly driven to achieve something. You can carve your own path.

Nikhil: My prerogative to contribute to the organization – I have a choice that whatever I do can make a big difference. Secondly it’s the people here – you’re meeting some interesting people with some great experiences. That in itself brings a whole new perspective.
6.    Aside from the working portion of the fellowship, what are you most looking forward to doing over the next year?

Meghana: I’m quite excited about travelling the northeast part of India.

Nikhil: I took a map and figured the distances for every cool place that I want to travel to!

Thumbnail image courtesy of: Magic Bus India

A bit more about AIF’s William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India: - This year's class is the 14th and comprises of 35 Fellows. The Fellowship has matched 331 Fellows to 156 Indian development organizations over the past thirteen years.
Recruitment for the 2014 - 2015 AIF Fellowship class will begin in November 2013. To learn more about the Fellowship experience, please see here or contact


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