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It was by chance that I stumbled on the Enactus programme during a townhall at DBS where the team was presenting their work and requesting for volunteers. I was excited, put my hand up as I wanted more hands on experience with their programmes. I joined their business tools team, early this year and as the oldest member of the team, I must have got the average age of the group up by 20 years! It was indeed a very young team of volunteers drawn from various academic institutions, corporate houses and consultancies and they were working on design thinking, building capacities of students with accelerator programs and such. This was my forte and I went in with the premise that I would contribute most and with great ease. Surprise! It was I who was reverse coached and mentored instead. Volunteering time at Enactus opened a world of learning to me! I am happy to share 4 things that I learnt that most volunteer can also benefit from.

[Pratima is a part of the Fast Forward committee at Enactus. The committee’s objective is to help build interest and capabilities of students to drive social enterprise start ups. The committee focuses on getting students interested in their first year of their university, building leaders along the way and training the cohort to enable them to initiate a start up / social enterprise. Pratima works with a subset within the Fast Forward Committee called the business tools team which deals with design and delivery of training. ]

Pace yourself! Don’t expect to change the world in one go

Initially, I was deeply involved and engaged in all the activities at Enactus. I attended a session where we were deciding which tools to choose to enable the students get their start ups operationalised. We went through an 8 hour review with books, tools, slides etc and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘why am I here? I wanted to get away from my corporate life of meetings, deliberations and endless discussions on what kinds and which tools to use! I was there on a weekend to serve as a volunteer but I was doing the same thing as my work!’ Feeling disheartened, I questioned the team if we really need to do the entire drill and was promptly told ‘This is a critical process and different volunteers have to arrive at a consensus to move forward. We can’t just do something because one person in the team wants to do it.’ I had to step back and re-evaluate. The journey was not a linear path like some of the other volunteers get to experience. I could plug in and plug out and Enactus allowed me to do that. That was the beauty of this programme and I learnt that I had to find the right pace to contribute than do it my way.

Shed that ego and be prepared to be humbled

In the spirit of giving back you arrive with an ego that you have a power to give but in the end you go back with an understanding that you don’t actually have much to give. Let me explain with an example. The team at Enactus was planning various exercises for a day-long training. Usually the post lunch sessions are slow and boring and I know this too well as an experienced trainer. Hence, I did up a game that could be conducted post lunch to step up the energy. I also designed the facilitator pack and other materials that I would normally prepare for a training programme. I walked in with all hopes of carrying out my plan. But for various reasons the game that I had in mind got knocked off. At the end of the day I was basically documenting the training. I thought I was there to enable the process because of my expertise and experience. But at the end of the day, I was doing what they wanted me to do rather than what I wanted them to do. It was a humbling experience and it was good to have an experience of this kind because it’s a great leveller.

Volunteering is not just giving but taking too

The expectation when you volunteer is that you would bring something valuable to the table. Many times, we hope that the recognition or the pat on the back that we may not get at your workplace, we would immediately receive it here. But many times your takeaway is a lot more than what you give. Being there, being on time and giving is certainly what you do while you volunteer. But you also network, make new friends and understand all that is happening out there. It opens your mind to other possibilities that you can bring back to your workplace.

Keep an open mind. Go with the flow

The Enactus engagement is over weekends. However it is not regimental that you need to be there despite your personal or professional commitments. Just like work, there are some peaks, troughs and ambiguous moments. Also, there are other people who are working with great intensity and each volunteer brings their passion and interests to the programme. The world is much larger out there and I have met and added new friends who are very different from me but are amazing as they bring in multitude of perspectives. Just as we volunteer, students from various institutions are also volunteering their time at Enactus to involve in projects that do good. So we have to be open, tweak around, make changes that matter, but mostly just be there for them and remember to soak in the experience.

Pratima Krishnan is a Senior Vice President in Group Human Resources at DBS Bank. Her expertise lies in the area of Talent Development, OD and change, Learning solution design, Workshop facilitation, Coaching, MBTI, PDI 360 and Talent View of Leadership.

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