By Sharmistha Banerjee
Global Links Scholar,
I began my career as a teacher in a middle school just after I finished college. I soon realized I had aspirations of teaching at higher levels, thus I completed my Master’s PhD. Over the years I studied hard to prepare class notes, wrote research papers to get publications and often mentored students in their career paths. At the end of the day I often felt, oh what a reward being a teacher! I made myself happy thinking I did my job well. While I was happy teaching at the university level I often asked myself, “how can this teaching be really meaningful?”
Being a Professor of HRM and OB, I delved into these thoughts, trying to relate academic learning to my own career. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s examination of self-reported levels of happiness and meaning showed that 75% of the respondents scored high on levels of happiness, but low on levels of meaning (National Academy of Sciences of USA, 2013). I came to learn that more than being ‘happy’ with work, increasing a sense of ‘meaningfulness’ is one of the most important ways to increase productivity, engagement, motivation, and performance. (Roso Research in Organizational Behavior, 2010). This research forced me to examine where I invest and focus energy, especially in my work.
Teaching, like most professions, comes with its own unique rewards (like preparing youth for their careers) and challenges (like low pay and intellectually unrewarding responsibilities of invigilating examinations and evaluating examination papers). I again asked myself, am I making any meaningful impact in lives of my students?
Thanks to the Global Links (GL) Program, the answers began unraveling before my eyes and in my heart. While organizing outreach seminars on social entrepreneurship for GL, I was unsure what response to expect. When large student audiences arrived to enthusiastically join, I felt so encouraged. Moreover, when some boys “gate crashed” into the sessions, which I had initially targeted at girl students only, I was impressed by their eagerness. How could I think only girls would want to empower girls? As time progressed and GL partnered with Bandhan bank loanees I realized that this was the vehicle I could drive to make considerable impact on my students’ lives and thereby find meaningfulness in my teaching. My purpose would no longer be confined to knowledge dissemination in the factory producing money-making MBAs.
Now that we are almost at the end of the practical 9 month interface, I realize that all 14 GL volunteers have been so much part of my day to day activities; they have been in my office, visiting clients, chatting up with me in coffee shops, visiting my home on Sunday afternoon, fully integrated into my work life. They want to talk and they do so meaningfully about their learning, ‘their’ business and where they wish to take ‘their’ venture. One of my most significant observation was Sirshita’s journey from, “my client’s business’’ (as she spoke to me in February), to ‘didi’s (elder sister in Bangla language) and my plans are…………’’ and now in August she is interacting with large number of retailers about “expanding our business’’.
When the 14 GL volunteers contact me at different times of day to ask about not only their immediate client related issues, but also their pains and challenges in handling the issues and complexities arising in their interactions, I am struck by how far this experience is taking us beyond the syllabus, text or expected course examination. When the students discuss their businesses and how they can improve upon them, I realize I have been able to take these students to a depth of business analysis more than the best MBA student has gone. For example, Kalapi, very passionately spoke about the lack of involvement of the loanee in “my business’’, the woman who received the loan was hardly given any role in her own business and Kalapi felt so frustrated! Through this experience and regular contact with the female loanee Kalapi is not only applying the knowledge but also has a goal that the woman business owner has to be empowered to run her own business. That is meaningfulness on multiple levels.
Priyanak’s demure nature has often made me wonder, is she really involved? Then one day she said, “my client has started writing her own accounts, and I taught her that!!” The glitter in her eyes said it all. The meaningful impact that I was so looking for is created in these student volunteers. Aneesha was desperate because her client was not answering her phone calls and she was so eager to help; she asked if she could visit her on Eid more as a social gesture – to break the ice and build a broader relationship. How involved they have become, shows in Sreedipta’s conversation about the exam grades of her client’s school-aged son. They are almost close friends now, and Sreedipta thinks that this business is their future together.
Through Global Links, meaningfulness has revealed itself for me and for my students. Together we have learned that education without involvement and empathy limits impact, as economic advancement for a business without self-empowerment for the women limits growth. We are so fortunate to been given the liberty to participate in a program such as Global Links by our families. Taking this liberty forward creates positive change in ourselves, our communities, and eventually our world.
Meaningful empowerment is achi!