Born and brought up in New Delhi, Vasundhara Jolly is passionate about international development and conflict resolution. She has been admitted into Fletcher School Law and Diplomacy’s prestigious 2+2 program and currently holds the William J Clinton’s fellowship for service in India. Read her bold and honest appeal to youngsters to be un-afraid, take action and do what they love “in a world that tries to convince them otherwise.”
Q: Vasundhara, tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Delhi. I attended Delhi Public School, Vasant Kunj, and studied commerce (CBSE) in high school. It was during my last two years of high school studying accountancy and economics, that I realised I had no interest or aptitude for it. I decided to pursue my true interests, and I enrolled in Delhi University (LSR) for a BA in Political Science. I had also received an admission offer from Tufts University in Massacheusetts, USA.
At the time, I sincerely believed I wanted to stay in India for my undergraduation, but a month into my classes, we were being talked at, by these professors who refused to actually engage in the material – hence, I walked out. Subsequently, I went to Tufts, where I majored in International Relations. I come from a business family, and I was the first person in my family who fought to study the arts, while everybody else got BBAs. This was the first best decision I made.
Q: You have been admitted to Fletcher College of Law and Diplomacy’s 2+2 graduate program and just received the prestigious William J Clinton’s fellowship for service in India? Tell us how you went about that and what you intend to do further?
Early on I realised two things about my field – firstly, it was near impossible even getting internships in the organizations I wanted without a Masters degree. Secondly, the more experience in the developing world, the better.
Fletcher had just started their 2+2 program while I was a senior at Tufts. Keeping the above two points in mind, I applied for their Master’s in Law and Diplomacy program which is one of the oldest International Relations programs in the world. In my two years in between, I worked for Human Rights Watch in New York, and for my second year, I will now begin the William J. Clinton Fellowship with the American India Foundation.
After Fletcher, I intend to spend some more time gaining valuable field experience in other developing and conflict-ridden countries, and eventually working with an organization like the UNHCR.
Q: How did your interest in international development come about? Why do you think we don’t hear about many young people in India following this trajectory?
My mother has been working with non-profits her whole life, and when I was in the 9th grade, she started her own NGO in a slum in Delhi. Growing up, this was a big part of my life. I was writing grant proposals, and planning social inclusion programs with her before I even knew what it was called. My interest peaked at Tufts, where the environment is practically dizzying with the importance given to being an active citizen.
To me, it seems absurd that in a developing country like India, with the problems that we have, more young people aren’t interested in working in this field. Some people say that their families have suffered enough and these careers aren’t lucrative enough hence they don’t provide the security they need. Some attribute it to the fact that the aid world is oriented towards the western world. I am not sure what it is – but I do think that if you were to pack your bags and announce you were running off to Bollywood, it may be less absurd to most parents than say, going off to Nairobi.
Q: In India, you chose to gain some experience at the controversial Tehelka magazine and also worked in conflict affected Kashmir? What drew you to this?
I always loved writing. After my first year of college, I thought that journalism could be a great way to meld my interests, and decided to intern with Tehelka since I believed them to be an independent and couragous news outlet. I quickly learnt that journalism (or maybe it was Tehelka) wasn’t for me.
At Tufts, I was a part of the Oslo Scholars program, an initiative of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Through this program, I attended the Oslo Freedom Forum conference twice and I got the opportunity to go to Srinagar, Kashmir over the winter of 2012 to work with BBC journalist and author Justine Hardy at Healing Kashmir, a mental health and suicide helpline center in Srinagar. This was a uniquely rewarding experience – and I grew a lot as an individual through this experience.
Q: What are the struggles one can face if they chose to embark upon a path like yours and how do you overcome them?
It is hard to get valuable field experience without taking the first plunge of volunteering on your own cost.
The second difficulty is in making the people in your life understand this life. Being an Indian woman makes it just slightly harder given the invisible threads of social order you are expected to follow (ignore these by the way.)
The key is to keep your head down and do the hard work. It is not an easy path, and fieldwork always requires maturity and level-headedness. But when you find friends, mentors, professors who understand what you want to do, or are established in your field, hang on to them!
I keep a little post-it on my desk: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Now go out there and do it. (Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In)
Q: Any words of wisdom or a call to action for the rest of us youngsters?
I acknowledge that this path is not everybody’s cup of tea. And yet, this also need not be a full-time career choice. There are so many socio-economic problems you see around you – act locally, a few hours a week or on weekends!
Having said that, I strongly believe that the only hope our world has, is that people keep doing what they love. Think of the immediate examples around you: a quaint café you love reading in, a brewery in your city that your friends frequent, a bakery, or a gym even. These are all labours of love by passionate people who wanted to do what they love. Its important to remember that in a world that tries to convince you otherwise.