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Democratizing Inspiration and Providing Personalized Mentoring: Insights from Network Capital

How an accident inspired a global mentoring revolution

TEDx where I shared the Network Capital vision

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

· What you love

· What you are good at

· What the world needs

· What you can get paid for

The Young India Fellowship (YIF) was how I began my “Ikigai” journey. As a mechanical engineer who spent a significant portion of his undergraduate education pursuing theater and parliamentary debating, I often struggled to figure out how to balance my passions with conventional career wisdom. I soon realized the importance of creating a tribe of mentors and found them first at YIF, then in business school and subsequently at every step in my life – UNLEASH being one of them. This growing tribe of mentors helped me navigate some of the most intricate professional and personal challenges. Case in point – when I broke my left arm on a bitterly cold night in New York bang in the middle of the placement season in business school. They inspired me by their generosity and commitment to my growth. They helped me formulate some of the most important questions. They challenged me, comforted me and unconsciously planted the seeds of “Ikigai” in my life.

I believe that the secret to a fulfilling life and a meaningful career is the relentless pursuit of Ikigai. Unfortunately, most schools and colleges around the world are designed to crush it. 21st century educational institutions still operate on the 18th century factory-based model of standardizing aspirations, creativity, pursuits and dreams. The most glaring side effect is that students and young professionals make career choices based on insufficient information and insights. They spend way too little time figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, dreams and aspirations, and way too much time trying to crack the code of professional success – exams, appraisals and trends.

I am trying to alter the alchemy of career exploration through my peer mentoring community Network Capital. Our adventure of being a 30,000+ strong mentoring force across 104 countries is fueled by “trust leaps”. We exchange ideas, insights and feedback with fellow community members we know nothing about apart from the fact they are partners-in-crime in our mission to democratize inspiration and make best-in-class mentoring accessible to every person. In a world obsessed with building walls and firewalls, we are committed to building bridges that transcend differences of nationality, culture, conviction, political belief and orientation.

Fundamentally, building communities is about nurturing values and developing shared ownership among members. In creating effective mentor-mentee pairs, we use a chatbot and other aspects of conversational AI but our true strength is the breadth, depth, versatility and diversity of our community.

Network Capital started as a social experiment to explore whether young professionals from vastly different political beliefs, diplomatic orientations and convictions can serve as peer mentors. Turns out they can – in the first 3 months we saw mentor mentee pairs across India-Pakistan, Iran-Israel, Russia-Ukraine – to name a few. They were not “tolerating” each other. They were relishing learning with and from each other.

While Network Capital is focused primarily on personalized mentoring, it has also emerged as a movement for social change. Archana, one of our community members from Kolkata, leveraged support from fellow community members in the city to prevent a minor from forcibly getting married. Allie Chen, a PhD candidate at Harvard, has been serving Syrian and other refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Greece, focused on providing therapy for victims of sexual violence and torture. Recently, she joined hands with several other change agents and curated a “Day in the life of a refugee” simulation in Davos so that senior industry, policy and technology leaders become more sensitized to the global refugee crisis. Tiffany Yu, Nipun Malhotra, Kalyani Khona and many other leaders in the accessibility space are relentlessly working to create meaningful social and economic opportunities for the differently abled. From the very beginning, Network Capital served as a platform for under-explored transformational stories that inspire by example and double up as models for alternate career paths.

The success of our experiment gave us confidence to scale and build a truly inclusive skill sharing and peer mentoring community open to all who have the hunger to learn and willingness to share. I believe that every single person has something to learn and something to share. From day 1, we focused on building a culture of radical collaboration and forging meaningful partnerships to inspire innovation and enable skill-sharing at scale.

To share an example, Network Capital partnered with NITI Aayog (Government of India’s premier policy think tank) for Atal Innovation Mission as part of which highly skilled and motivated young professionals mentor students in tinkering labs across the country. Through such partnerships, we aspire to democratize inspiration and bridge the gap between boardrooms and classrooms.

85% of the jobs of 2030 haven’t been imagined yet. And we are just getting started with the 4th Industrial Revolution. I believe that in future most people will be “career entrepreneurs”. They will monetize their unique skills on the global market instead of seeking conventional employment. We are already seeing that happen. Let us take AirBnb as an example – one of the fastest growing sections on their site is “experiences” where micro-entrepreneurs create a personalized, local experience for tourists resulting in a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

The pursuit of careers will undergo tectonic changes and students, professionals, employers and educational institutions will need to adapt. They will have to learn and unlearn consistently and efficiently. This if of course easier said than done. Change, especially when it comes from all directions at breakneck speed, is unsettling. That is why we need to comfort people and give them confidence that they will not be weathering the storm alone.

What started off as a social experiment has matured into a global community providing personalized career guidance to over 30,000 people. We got here without spending a single dollar on marketing. My role as the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Network Capital is to ensure that we remain true to our founding principle, remember who we are and what we stand for.

Master community builder and serial entrepreneur Caterina Fake quoted, “What you tolerate is who you are.” Walking past a downtown Seattle coffee shop, I saw a huge canvas that summarized what we will never tolerate. This is the precise quote: “No Sexism, Racism, Ableism, Homophobia, Transphobia or General Hatefulness. You will be asked to leave.”

Network Capital aspires to help build meaningful careers and inspire “Ikigai” in everyone but one Network Capital is not enough. We need many. We are blessed to have brilliant community members who are leading similar initiatives for refugees, people with physical disabilities, veterans, among others. Giving wings to the dreams and aspirations of these micro-communities is of paramount importance to us. We are taking baby steps – inch by inch, play by play.

After my accident in December 2013, I spent a few months largely confined to my bed. It was the core time for placements and I was busy staring at the ceiling for most of the day. I remember one of my mentors coming home for tea. He didn’t say much but I felt much stronger next day. In a way, this is how Network Capital came into being.

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