Monthly Archives: February 2010

Show Me the Fellowship!

By Ralph Vacca

I’m no Jerry Maguire but I had you at “fellowship” didn’t I? Understandably so… fellowships seem to be everywhere with new ones popping up as fast as those Facebook groups, 1 million people for [fill in the blank] (my favorite is the one to bring back Frankenberry cereal).

But in all seriousness there does seem to be a dramatic increase in fellowship opportunities. Specifically the fellowships I’m talking about are the ones around social entrepreneurship, social innovation, social change or whatever term you ascribe to that entails solving social problems. Even more specifically when I say fellowships, I mean finite developmental opportunities that provide practical experience in getting involved in the social change movement (think Teach for America).

So what’s the deal with these social change fellowships? Rather than argue what is meant by social change, or label the fellowship explosion as a “fad” or “innovative”, or even compare them with internships and volunteer opportunities, I’d like to plainly and simply ask two questions I’ve recently found myself thinking about as I try not to think about the cold slushy NYC weather.

First is the idea of how do fellowships serve as a catalyst to change an entire sector? Secondly, what are the implications for fellowships in recruiting locally or outside the local community?

So what got me thinking about fellowships? And no I won’t make a Lord of the Rings joke here. What did it was my recent trip to Hubli, India this past January. Most probably have never heard of Hubli, but a friend described it best when she said it’s like Ithaca, very lovely but not sure why you would visit. Anyway, I was there as part of an NYU course in International Social Impact Strategies, and I had the pleasure to learn more about an interesting fellowship called the Deshpande Fellows Program (DFP) housed at the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship (see image of cool building below).


In Hubli, in addition to permanently raising my tolerance for spicy food and watching Avatar in Hindi, I was inspired by the fellows in the DFP that were creating enterprises ranging from milk collection/distribution initiatives to security force services. Truly some very cool initiatives.

So… quick overview of DFP? Sure! DFP is a six-month program that trains and empowers locals (mostly those in the Karnataka region) to become social entrepreneurs and tackle mounting national social problems such as poverty, hunger and education. Through intense experiential learning the cohort of learners engage in projects that develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills including how to use social media, devise business plans, and develop grassroots initiatives, etc.

So on to the first question I posed earlier. How do these fellowships serve as a catalyst to change an entire sector? Something that kept coming up was the challenge in getting the development sector in India to be more risk-friendly promoting innovation and new entrepreneurial ways of working. So in answering this we started to ask ourselves, should fellowships focus on preparing leaders to enter existing organization to bring about change from within or prepare entrepreneurs that will start new organizations that foster social entrepreneurship culture and innovation from the onset?

I likened the question to a romantic relationship where one asks themselves if they should work on changing a semi-functional relationship or start anew with someone else, this time knowing what works and what doesn’t. Maybe not the best analogy but nonetheless relevant because what you face in trying to change organizations are people and a series of relationships that shape the organization’s problem-solving approach. So therein lies the challenge for fellowship programs in that there seems to be a difference in preparing intrapreneurs with organizational change skills versus entrepreneurs that have enterprise birthing skills.

In line with thinking about the focus of the fellowship is also our second question, about the fellows themselves. What are the implications of fellowships recruiting locally versus outside the local community?

In learning about the DFP, it was inspiring to see the power of recruiting locals to address local issues. From being able to leverage the existing social capital they have within the communities being served, to inspiring a new generation of changemakers in children that see themselves in these leaders, the DFP made me wonder what would happen if Teach for America focused on cultivating local talent to work in schools being served? As we look to change pockets of the social sector through human capital development efforts (such as fellowships), how important is it that we focus on local talent that are not just passionate about social change, but often resonate with the issues on a personal level because they lived it, they understand it, and they are product of it.

So regardless of what answers you come to in pondering these questions on fellowships and social change, I’m sure we can all agree that having more change agents running around trying to make the world a better place can’t be a bad thing. So to the social sector…. show me the fellowship!

More Information
Deshpande Fellows Program:
Ralph Vacca:


by Visra Vichit-Vadakan
Once a year, Park City is transformed into a bustling film
hub.  It’s hard to imagine that
this sleepy ski town could be transformed into a star-studded show down with
film screenings, art installations, industry workshops, and of course- parties
starting early in the day and ending early in the morning.
For a film student studying in the United States, Sundance
Film Festival is the Holy Grail of film festivals.  Over 9.000 films are considered for the 250 slots for short
films and feature films screened during one week in January. Sundance 2010 was
my first Sundance experience.  I
was the actress in a short film, “The Visitors“,  that was selected to screen
alongside 5 other shorts during the festival.

At the festival, I was mostly interested to learn about the
network of support that Sundance Film Festival created for the young and
upcoming filmmakers attending. 
Most helpful were the daily workshops on various aspects of the business
and future of filmmaking that the festival held at large venues scattered
throughout the city.  Apart from
the film festival, the Sundance Institute also supports young emerging
filmmakers through writing workshops, directing workshops, and finding funding
for feature films.
After Sundance, I flew to the Netherlands for the
International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
IFFR was established in 1972 and has a rich history of
supporting young filmmakers through various funds and grants but also by
connecting them to the right industry people.  To this day, they remain one of the largest film festivals
in Europe that focuses on emerging talent. 
Two short films that I wrote/directed, “rise,” and “In Space
were screened there.
The festival was incredibly supportive of its
filmmakers.  Apart from the
workshops similar to the ones that Sundance Film Festival offered, IFFR
scheduled meetings for us with industry professionals who acted as mentors for
us throughout the festival.
As a Reynolds Fellow, I am interested in starting a network
of support for your emerging artists in Thailand and Southeast Asia and I am
considering starting a mentoring program that could expand into an event based
showcase similar to a film festival that would springboard young careers and
connect them to potential business partners and funders.
Any thoughts?

To Visualize a Different Reality – The Photography of Chris Jordan

by Annie Escobar

Amid the constant inundation of advertisements and images that surround us, we may often filter photography into the category of visual noise- another message trying to sell us something else. 

The work of Chris Jordan, who is coming to speak at NYU on March 3rd as part of the NYU Reynolds Program’s Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speakers Series, does just the opposite- his images make us think twice about our daily habits. In the project that made his name known, titled “Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption,” Jordan photographed piles of trash and landscapes of waste, visually stunning and equally horrifying, cementing his name as a critic of consumption. The geometric repetition in his images (that makes his compositions so pleasing to the eye) is representative of the mass produced and commercialized nature of the American lifestyle. His work has since evolved, but each project considers the material footprint of humans and the ways we tie our physical belongings to our definition of ourselves. 

Jordan’s focus on material culture left behind is not limited to our waste. His stunning photographs of post-Katrina New Orleans show destruction in a way that immensely humanizing. An empty church, a decomposing piano laying dead in the middle of a canal, a soaking wet phone book full of numbers to houses that no one occupies… This post-apocalyptic terrain, full of human influence but absent of the human body, makes us consider the world we want to leave behind.   

90-ccar-thumb-250x143-83.jpg     91-ncar-thumb-250x143-85.jpg

I first became aware of Jordan’s photography two years ago when I saw “Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait”, the images in this project are visual representations of statistics that look at American contemporary culture in all the “vast and bizarre measures of our society.” The statistics he visually depicts cover a wide range of social issues: yes, consumption, but also topics as diverse as incarceration rates and cigarette addiction and health care coverage in children. One piece titled “Constitution” consists of five 8 x 25 foot panels. From a far distance it reads “We the People” but as the viewer moves in closer they see that the larger image is made up of 83,00 smaller images of Abu Ghraib prisoner photographs, representing the number of people who have been imprisoned at US-run detention facilities with no trial or other due process of law.  The human mind cannot comprehend statistics of this scale. In fact, research has shown that we can comprehend very few statistics at all.  Jordan’s photos stay in the mind, they combat the psychic numbing of statistics and they help us amalgamate the pieces of our large and fragmented world. Yes, they are terrifying and overwhelming but in a way that is surprisingly beautiful and quite frankly, necessary. 

As a photographer, I am incredibly moved at the ability of his photography to take abstract statistics, ideas, and places and make me see and feel them. The power of a visual representation cannot be exaggerated. If we can visualize the enormity of the problem, it activates our ability to imagine a different way. It is when we begin to expand our imaginations of the way the world our world is that we can begin to visualize a different reality. 

Photography of this kind brings intangible ideas and transforms them into a reality we can see.  My own work in Nablus, Palestine this past summer attempts to take a large and daunting conflict, the discussion of which is often filled with the poisonous venom of rigid ideologies and destructive stereotypes and give it a human face. It becomes very difficult to ‘other’ when you know the eyes of the mothers and their children. It is their voices that are seldom heard.

Instead of averting our eyes from the conflict, and placing it aside as a never ending cycle of hatred and violence, we must make our view of it focused on the individual story. I hope to bring forth the faces and voices of those rarely visible in our imaginations of this conflict. 

That is where photography comes in. From thousands of miles away, you can make eye contact with Fauzia, a beautiful 4 year old girl from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Nablus. Her eyes tell the story of how PTSD has already shaped her life, yet they are also a testament to her innocence. If you really look at the contours of her face and her expression maybe you can begin to imagine what it must have been for her to see her brother, a ‘militant’, murdered.  

Jordan’s photographs are also about discovery- the viewer begins with the confusion of the whole image and with each subsequent zoom pieces together more and more visual information until the final moment when they realize what the singular object that makes up the rest of the image actually is. It is in this process of discovery that the viewer is transformed. 

It may seem that our two different styles of photography are opposite- my work strives to be intensely individual, focusing on one person and one story at a time while Jordan’s work looks at the overarching whole, showing the effects of millions of people. I believe, however, that they are indeed part of one narrative: the consequences of forgetting our interconnectivity as humans. My work aims to put humanity back at the center of the discourse- we must never let the huge and overwhelming discourses of ideology take precedence over people. Jordan’s work inspires us to consider our practices as pieces of a whole, to never consider our lives in isolation. He often brings together fragmented materials that could never actually exist in only one place. His images remind us that we must mentally tie our habits to their consequences, it is when we lose that connection and think of our daily actions as singular and small that we also forget our interconnectivity as humans.

Haiti – Relief and Restoration

by Courtney Montague

Global Volunteer Network and Global Volunteer Network Foundation (an organization founded by a 2009 Reynolds Fellow- Courtney Montague) joined forces just one week after the Earthquake to send an advance assessment team into Haiti. Ale Carvalho, a 2009 Reynolds Fellow, joined the assessment team as the team’s doctor and medical expert.

I just spoke with one of the Haiti Advance Team members and she told me this story: Her second day in Haiti she came across a boy who was starving. He asked if she had any food. She gave him a granola bar she had. The boy broke the bar into three pieces and gave them to his two friends who had joined them.  Before the starving boy could put his tiny piece of granola bar in his mouth another boy joined them and without a second thought the first boy broke his tiny piece in half and gave it to the fourth little boy. That tiny piece of granola bar was all that boy probably ate that day….

This boy’s strength and the beauty of the Haitian people’s spirit in the face of adversity is inspiring. We, as a global community, must honor that spirit by working to help in the restoration of a devastated country.

It is for that reason that the Global Volunteer Network will be sending groups of volunteers into Haiti in early April. Volunteers will work on a variety of programs under the following three categories: community development, childcare and construction.

If you are interested in volunteering please go to:

If you are interested in donating to the reconstruction efforts please go to:

- Courtney Montague