/ɡrɪt/ : Courage and resolve; Strength of character.
Two weeks ago, on March 20th, Udhyam Learning Foundation launched its first pilot “entrepreneurship bootcamp” with a group of approximately forty 11th standard commerce track students at Christel House, a charity school for low-income children. Neither the students nor the Udhyam team knew what to expect. We have all been surprised, in good and in challenging ways, by the program and by one another. One of those surprises has come around a core Udhyam value: grit.
The first week of the Udhyam Shiksha program focuses heavily on non-cognitive elements: the core values essential to an entrepreneurship mindset. The program builds experiential learning for all these values: creativity, self-awareness, openness, confidence…and grit. There was a lot of failure, especially around this element of grit. When the students were asked to build a bridge and things got tough, there was cheating.
When, in an offsite teambuilding exercise, students were faced with the possibility of failure, short cuts were taken. In the midst of a difficult and chaotic puzzle, many disengaged and withdrew. The facilitators gave tough feedback. “If this is how you respond to these small challenges, what will happen when you are faced with business challenges? These are the easiest tests you will face in this program. Things will only get harder.”
But not harder than what these kids have already faced in their lives. On day 2 of the program, we went deep into self-awareness and all shared our life stories. Students shared about family deaths and illness, mornings starting at 4:30 a.m. for paper routes before school, two-hour one-way journeys taken for the opportunity to study six days a week, 52 weeks a year. We heard of families split from lack of resources, children taking on the role of caretaker for sick parents, the commitment to studies as the only way out. The Udhyam team left the day feeling heavy and small, the weight of these stories bearing down on us. All of us had cried. All of us agreed we had ourselves learned something about grit that day, something that we had not learned before on our own life journeys. And we were humbled by this lesson.
So then this becomes the challenge brought to light through the self-awareness elements: how can these kids leverage their intimate knowledge of grit and resilience in a way that propels them forward? The work becomes about a mindset, a reframing of experience so that the students’ hardship is viewed as their greatest asset rather than an obstacle or source of shame. For many of these kids, the obstacles that they have faced and conquered to date are more than many will face in an entire lifetime. What has this taught them about themselves? Can a program like Udhyam Shiksha Program help them reinterpret it, apply it towards building a uniquely successful life’s work?Can it teach them how to harness it in their business, never giving up in the face of inevitable hardships and failure? The integration of past experience with these new entrepreneurial concepts is the hope we are holding, in tension, as the program continues to unfold and teach us all something of the grit we hold inside us.