The Ocean in a Drop: Inside-out Youth Leadership

The Ocean in a Drop Book CoverA wonderful book by Ashraf Patel, Meenu Venkateswaran, Kamini Prakash, Arjun Shekhar

In the West, families and governments worry about the personal and economic issues of an aging population.  In India, the challenge is quite different, and the difference is both exciting and overwhelming. The population in India and the other BRIK nations is young and getting younger. You can feel the energy and experience the innovation that come with youth, but policies and practices stretch to meet the needs and match the passions of emerging leaders. 

Patel and his colleagues at Pravah ( have focused their creative energies and Adaptive Action on Indian youth for more than a decade, and they share their insights and practices in this delightful book.  It is full of shocking, yet perfectly reasonable responses to the question, “What is the role of youth in society?”

  • Only 6.3% of the current Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, is between the ages of 25 and 40 years old, even though 50% of the population is in that range.
  • NGOs, government, and civil society provide services to support youth development, but they leave young people out of planning and leadership.
  • One primary job of adolescents is to establish their identities and explore their places in the world, but youth programs focus on externalities like sports, academic performance, service, and entertainment.

In their research and practice, the Pravah team has answered the question, “So what is the pattern of youth experience in today’s India?” They recognize that the four primary spaces of young adulthood (home, education/work, friends, and leisure) are dominated or bounded by adults, leaving youth to seek out or create spaces for their own exploration.

Pravah has designed programs that answer the question, “Now what can society’s institutions do to encourage positive youth development?” Their diverse and engaging programs set conditions for a 5th space, where youth develop into committed adults as they come to understand themselves, each other, and the world.  It is an inside-out approach that begins with personal reflection and progresses through relationships, resulting in genuine commitment to social change. The program is powerful, and the story they tell is compelling.  It is a great opportunity for Indian youth, and a powerful antidote to the malaise that plagues us in the West.  Many thanks to the team at Pravah for doing this work, for telling their story, and for inviting us into their Adaptive Action.   

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