2016 Social Entrepreneur in Residence Jyoti Sharma Reflects on 'Truly Enriching' Experience

by Jyoti Sharma, 2016 Social Entrepreneur in Residence
February 1, 2017

Jyoti Sharma joined Brown in Spring 2016 as the Swearer Center's first Social Entrepreneur in Residence, an appointment that provides entrepreneurial social change senior leaders a chance to reflect, explore academic and research insights and pursue new ideas in their areas of interest. Sharma is the founder of FORCE, a nonprofit that works for water security and sustainable sanitation in India. After completing her yearlong residency, which included teaching a course at Brown, Sharma reflected on her role:

"Being a part of the Swearer Center as the Taubman Fellow and Social Entrepreneur in Residence in Spring and Fall Sessions of 2016, was a truly enriching experience -- personally and professionally. 

Perhaps the most exciting part of being at Swearer was the opportunity to interact with Brown students. In retrospect, I realize how special that was. They are perhaps some of the brightest in the world, come from all over the world, have a liberal, accommodative worldview, are innovative and have a desire to make the world a better place to live in. In my role as a mentor for the Social Innovation Fellowship winners, it was inspiring to see the passion and hard work that students put into their social entrepreneurial ideas. Their purity of intent and faith in their ability to find solutions for problems that plague the world was wonderfully refreshing. More importantly, their ideas were mostly ‘doable’. The Swearer community outreach opportunity allowed them to draw their inspiration from those they wanted to serve and to contribute in ways that were not prescriptive but were participative. 

It was also tremendously enriching to interact with the faculty. I learnt so much from watching them involve themselves with developing the skill sets of their students. As they helped me design my course pedagogy, I learnt how to walk the tightrope between giving structure to thought processes and giving freedom to explore ideas. It was inspiring to see their constant efforts to add value to their courses and also to mentor students in a more meaningful way. More than anything else, however, I was deeply touched by the total commitment of the faculty to the ideals of humanity, equality and justice for all. 

In retrospect, I also realize that much of the value of the SEIR program, both for the SEIR and for Brown, comes from its flexible design. Though it set clear expectations, it did not bind me with restraints on how I would meet those. I had complete flexibility in designing my course, selecting my project and any other activity that I chose to take up while I was there. The only proviso was that it should meet the academic standards of Brown and that it should add value both to Brown and to my work. 

To be a SEIR, I had to step back from front-ending my NGO. This was a blessing as it allowed me to look back at my experience with FORCE. I was able to see patterns that I had not spotted before. It gave me strategic insights that I had not had time for before. I was able to take the time to do exploratory reading, write on issues that mattered to me and to expand the horizons of my knowledge. Coupled with the flexibility of the SEIR engagement and the richness of interactions I had with students, faculty and everyone in Providence, it made this one of the most creative periods of my life. In barely 9 months, apart from developing and teaching the course, I was able to complete writing a book, write and publish an article, mentor SIF students, develop a collaborative research portal and contribute to many of the Swearer activities. In addition to all this, I was able to make the blueprint for the institution I wanted to set up after getting back to India and connect with faculty members across disciplines in my quest to create a ‘BforWater’ group.

I feel that SEIR program is an excellent opportunity both for students and for the SEIR. The SEIR, being an innovator him/herself, brings his rich experience to the students. They benefit from the SEIR’s real life experiences of creating an ideals driven organization and then balancing its demands of welfare and profit towards the ultimate objective of maximum impact. The SEIR perhaps benefits even more – in all the ways I have mentioned above. 

At a personal level, being a SEIR has changed me forever. I now have a global vision and the ability to plan on a much larger scale. I feel more confident. I also have more empathy and a greater sense of oneness with people across nations and races. The relationships I made – with students and faculty- have stayed on to enrich me personally and my work for Water. 

It has been a truly enriching experience. Thank you."

To read more about Sharma, visit our People page