In 2022, the pandemic finally gave way to travelling! I have been working with 30 Ashoka ASPIRe Fellows since 2020 and needless to say, we’d only ever seen and heard one another on video, sitting in 14 different countries across the world.
Together, we’ve been on a journey to co-create their scale ambitions leveraging Societal Thinking. I’d been waiting for a very long time to be able to meet all the Fellows, to get to know who they were outside of Zoom meetings, to see the world through their eyes.
At long last, in July, we got together with 8 Fellows in Bangalore, India. It was at once exhilarating and disarming to meet them in person. We all met each other like long-lost friends, the room abuzz with greetings and laughter. They were familiar faces and voices and yet completely new people. I was excited to get to know them.
During a break in-between sessions, I sat next to Maya Welch, Impact Lead at Healing Fields Foundation. Under a big banyan tree, Maya and I spoke about our lives and the work we do. In her, I could sense a will to imagine and believe in achieving what some would think as naive but I consider audaciously optimistic. Isn’t hope, after all, the heart of every effort towards creating societal change?
It isn’t a fairytale, she told me, the journey of achieving an audacious goal. It has ups and downs, twists and turns like any other endeavour. What keeps them going is the mindset that there are certain things that need to be done on a very large scale by someone. At present, there are not many people in the sector who have tried this, making us as prepared as anyone else to take a stab at it, she smiled.
When challenges present themselves, which they do on a daily basis, it is this mindset and her optimism that becomes resilience, keeping them going. For her, resilience is also what drives experimentation. Navigating risk and failure is more important than not trying at all! To solve at scale, especially, one-size-fits-all kind of solutions don’t work. Maya believes that the more the diversity of the problem, the more they need to experiment. Every experiment and every iteration unlocks new information about what might and what might not work at scale.
She believes that it’s the resilient mindset that enables them to walk on the edge of having a deep attachment with the mission and at the same time stay unattached with the means of reaching there.
According to Maya, the problems that they are dealing with are hard for sure but not unsolvable. “Designing to solve them at scale seems to be the only way out!” she emphasised.
I often go back to my conversation with Maya. It answered some of my questions and asked some new ones. More than anything, it reminded me of a line I love: “I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance. Never settle for the path of least resistance.”