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New eyes after India

New eyes after India

If in your travels, you come across one of the participants in Course 20 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, grab them, and ask them simply, ‘how was India?’ 

Twenty-six leaders embarked on two hectic weeks absorbing the country’s striking character, and it is no overstatement to say that they return with new, life-changing perspectives.

For most, it has made a lasting impact that will affect their lives and leadership well into the future. The following is a small snapshot of the lessons, inspiration and altered world-views our ARLP participants have come home with. 

Our leaders gorged on culture, religion, architecture as well as rural innovation, agricultural practices and community leadership throughout their trip. 

They hopped from a week in Delhi to a weekend in Agra—taking in the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal—and then to a week in the fascinating rural realms of Hyderabad. 

For those wondering, ‘why India?’ the answer is manifold. 

With its rapidly growing economy, India is now Australia’s fourth biggest export market, buying our coal, gold and wool, among other commodities.

But it is not merely trade synergies that have made India such an impactful destination for the past seven years that it has hosted the ARLP’s overseas component.

We are linked across many other modes of cultural exchange, including education, ICT and business connections.

But the real value of the immersion of rural Australian leaders in India is less easy to define. While our two nations share a colonial past, a love of cricket, ease of communication—even some climate similarities, it is a world of where culture, history and religion collide in fascinating ways.

For these rural Australians, it offers a chance to witness leadership on a whole new scale, and individuals and organisations striving and succeeding amid the backdrop of a 1.2 billion-strong population.

For Katy Hamilton, used to life on her farm north west of Forbes in New South Wales, and her community role as an occupational therapist, India was akin to a new sensation washing over her. 

“India’s diversity was displayed on the roads,” she says, recalling a snapshot of humanity embodied in its various vehicles.

“There we were observing everything on the jam-packed roads from our big pink tourist bus. In our view we had the BMW and Mercedes Benz cars representing the wealthy of India. According to one of our guides, a trend in dowries these days includes buying expensive cars such as these.  This wealth sits side by side with a dilapidated local bus, chock full of locals going about their business, women up the front in a cluster and men jammed up the back, eyeing off the tourists as we eyed them back,” she says. 

“Sometimes smiles and waves were exchanged, to the amusement or discomfort of both parties. Hugging our other side was a shiny tractor with a farmer at the helm cruising along at snail pace, belching dark smoke into the mix of road fumes. Tucked in between the large vehicles, whose size was of great advantage in the right-of-way game of ‘chicken’, were tiny cars, a fleet of tuk-tuks, pedal bikes and rickshaws weaving their way through motorbikes and oxen pulling loads, all choreographed by the incomprehensible rules of engagement on India’s roads.”

For Katy, who is sponsored by the Department of Health, being swept up in the throng of life revealed the diversity of the people whose country she was in, and the order lurking beneath seeming chaos.

And the beauty of the ARLP journey to India of course, is just such diversity.

A tour of Ayurvet, a unique Indian company specialising in herbal health care and nutritional products for animals, offered a perspective on approaches fusing traditional, natural health practices with the push for better yields in agricultural produce. It showcased their work towards more sustainable food, fuel, fodder and fertilizer production.

The group also toured the headquarters of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), where participants learned about groundbreaking research and techniques improving the resilience of grain varieties grown in dryland tropics. 

Another of the many faces of leadership in rural India was revealed during two days spent with the Navjyoti Foundation, the organisation founded by Indian anti-police corruption activist Dr Kiran Bedi. Navjyoti’s community-focussed goals include providing education, vocational training and empowering women. Here, the Foundation group witnessed positive community developments achieved through women’s self-help groups.

They then met with the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, which run a crisis centre for women and offer hugely successful micro-credit plans and bank linkages for women to access. Course 20 observed one room of about 40 women representing close to 100,000 people scattered throughout their communities, and were blown away by their smooth functionality and ability to listen to one another. 

Befitting India’s reputation for unpredictability, Program members were also privy to an historic moment in the country’s political narrative, as 18 February saw the state of Andhra Pradesh realise its 60-year-long battle to separate back into two entities.

Professor K Nageshwar; a political leader instrumental in the struggle for bifurcation, made time throughout his frequent media appearances to speak with the group about leadership in the face of such a complex challenge.

These leaders have returned from what is a part of Australia’s wider discourse with India. Many relate learning further tolerance and respect for cultures that may at first seem alien to our own. They report awe at the undaunted way in which India’s leaders tackle issues on a massive scale. They see that the responsibility for many of the globe’s most pressing resource challenges are shared, and they see that there are many more ways than one to meet these. They have taken inspiration from those achieving big results with few resources.

Put simply, they have seen through others’ eyes, and undoubtedly, they have returned better leaders because of it.

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