• Deborah Dutta

Verghese Kurien Rural Internships: Creating pathways for empathy and empowerment

Updated: Apr 28

A path forged by fateful encounters


In an interesting set of interviews, a batch of students from the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) spoke to some of their alumni working in the development sector, asking them a deceptively simple question – “What motivated you to join this sector?” How does one walk away from plush salaries that MBA graduates garner, to spend time in villages convincing farmers to adopt sustainable practices? Are there options beyond the binary of the ‘jolawala’ and the ‘briefcasewala’, as one remarked? What did it take to continue to work in their respective fields, taking tough times for granted while celebrating every minor change that their efforts had enabled? Most of the alumni traced their initial inspiration to work on societal issues to their village field exposure and summer (then development)internship segment, designed as part of the IRMA curriculum to ground students’ ideas in the rural context. “If students can be brought into direct contact with the rural poor, especially women and children, it will motivate them to work for them… in the efforts to rise out of poverty they will discover in themselves, unknown corners of their own humanity and develop a determination to do something effective about it.” Fr. Bogaert, had reflected in 1997, on motivating professionals for rural India.

IRMA interns participating in a training session for farmer producer organisations (FPOs)


Youth is not wasted on the young


Youngsters working hard at the fields along with farmers.

Young people are uniquely positioned to empathise with others’ situations. Unlike, the older generation who tend to be more cynical or disaffected, studies show that given relevant exposure, young people are more willing to engage in civic issues, even at a personal cost. The emotions underlying the general brashness and risk-taking behavior associated with the youth also power incredible passion and tenacity for purposeful action. The ‘rebel without a cause’ exists when appropriate direction and experiences are lacking. Conventional educational systems often lack the pedagogical interventions that could help students find agency, purpose and satisfaction in ways that contribute to societal good. Field exposures offered by various development institutes are one way in which this gap is partially addressed. Most learning, according to Ivan Illich, “is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.” Along with formal education in classrooms youth need wider societal exposure through learning opportunities from multiple disciplines.


‘The fellow without a ship’

Discussion and engagement sessions of India Fellows

In recent years, several public and private investments have made available various internship and fellowship opportunities for youngsters to gain exposure to the rural areas. These include opportunities such as Young India, Buddha Fellowship, NABARD, Gandhi Fellowship, India Fellow, Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship, Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship, Earth Ambassadors Fellowship to mention a few. These are welcome developments that have enabled young people to engage with ground realities and explore meaningful career options. However, they are too few to capture India’s demographic dividend. Moreover, as Dr Ajit Kanitkar has pointed out, the lack of proper guidance and mentorship can leave students without a sense of direction during their internship. This is also a loss for the development sector, as the human potential remains underutilised. More importantly, Dr Kanitkar writes, “The young entrants are coming with fresh perspectives and are not constrained by circumstances, hierarchy and past baggage that sometimes can be limiting factor.” In the absence of adequate attention by the host civil society organisations, they lose out on the interns’ enthusiasm and initiative. Adequate handholding and guidance must accompany students’ foray into rural issues.

Discussion and engagement sessions of India Fellows

At a recent meet up with the current batch of India Fellows, I got a glimpse of the extensive guidance provided to them through fortnight-long contact sessions with seasoned academics and practitioners. Most of the fellows felt that such sessions had helped them navigate dilemmas and problems encountered in the field as part of their fellowship.



Verghese Kurien Rural Internships: A step in facilitating meaningful, guided exposure

In an attempt to support such initiatives, IRMA intends hosting the Verghese Kurien Rural Internship (VKRI), which aims to provide youth from public (central and state) universities an opportunity to intern with CSOs working on agriculture and allied issues. The sectoral focus seeks to break silos with more youth without agricultural backgrounds seeking to be part of India’s farming futures often after their stint in the software industry. Farming connects social, economic and ecological dimensions in fundamental ways. In partnership with outreach platforms, the project will be reaching out to host CSOs who are actively involved in the rural sector and have a clear agenda/ work plan to engage the students.


Overview of the VKRI project initiative

Based on their experience and work with the organisation, students will be encouraged to share reflective articles. These could form a repository of ‘authentic student voices’ embedded in their perceptions rather than formal reports usually drafted by researchers. The efforts made towards informing students about the internship through curated talks and presentations at the universities would hopefully generate wider awareness about agriculture, sustainability and livelihood issues. This can lead to collaborations between academics and practitioners to co-create knowledge and policies for ground-up, social transformations. In the face of unprecedented and dynamic changes in society, there is an urgent need for empathetic and inclusive innovations to create equitable, sustainable and flourishing environments. Relevant internships can provide young people with the impetus and ideas to spearhead such initiatives. Nurturing such kinds of grounded learning and the motivation for action is a worthy cause to pursue.


If you are an organisation interested in hosting interns, or a student looking for meaningful internship opportunities, please visit https://www.smallfarmincomes.in/internship for more details. You can also write to us at farmincomes@irma.ac.in to explore collaborations and internship projects.


Deborah Dutta is a Senior Research Fellow at IRMA. She is part of the Living Farm Incomes Project.