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Apra Kuchhal Represented Jaipur In Fortune Global Women’s Mentoring Programme

  • JWB Post
  •  July 18, 2015

Apra Kuchhal, a name which is not new on this blog! She has been featured before in our campaigns: Aid to Maid and Mother’s Day Special, and we all were a part of events conducted by her during her tenure as the Chairperson of FICCI Flo Jaipur Chapter. This spirited woman recently added another feather to her already loaded cap, and we just couldn’t miss telling you all about it!

She was the only woman from Jaipur amongst the 19 women across the world who participated in the Fortune /U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Programme, which is held every year in the United States. The Programme is one of its own genuses, for it aims to impart the knowledge and expertise of the most accomplished women leaders of America to women professionals across the globe!

So, there I was sitting in the beautiful drawing room at Apra’s residence, which had a gracious traditional tinge to it along with the essence of modernity. I was excited to meet her!

How did you get selected?

I was nominated. Once you’re nominated, you have to apply to the embassy and fill up a form.

If you had to describe your experience of this programme in one word, what would it be?

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Learning!

Tell me about your first day there.

It was joyful! The first day when I reached there, of course all of us were jet-lagged, but I was super-excited! You know, it was my first time to the U.S. and there were a lot of mixed feelings of how things were going to unfold. Meeting fierce women leaders from across the globe, who are doing so much that we cannot even comprehend! That gave me the kicks! I told myself that I was fortunate to be going to the US for participating in an event like this.  

Who was your favorite batch mate?

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They were all amazing! It is difficult for me to pick one. I could connect with them all, be it the one from Ghana, Zimbabwe, Poland or Ukraine. I learnt organization skills from the Polish woman, and dynamism from the Ukrainian batch mate. They all taught me something or the other, and were my favorites at each point of time.

So, how did the mentors pick mentees? Tell me about your mentor.

They were pre-assigned. Our resumes had been examined to make the best mentor-mentee pairs. But I was fortunate to have been mentored by two women: Karen Hughes and Ann Davison, both of them coming from the global PR and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

With mentor Karen Hughes

With mentor Karen Hughes

I can’t proceed forward without introducing these stellar personalities. Karen Hughes is currently the global vice chair of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. She has served as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State and as a counselor to United States President George W. Bush, in the past.

Ann Davison, Chair, U.S. Public Affairs and Crisis Practice, Burson-Marsteller helps organizations create communication and public affairs programs designed to raise awareness and shape attitudes with the goal of changing individual behaviors and public policies. She has led public policy, reputation, advocacy and education campaigns for elected officials, Fortune 100 global organizations, non-profits and private foundations, for over 25 years. Being able to spend time with, and learn from them must sure have been an unmatched experience for Apra!

With mentor Ann Davison

With mentor Ann Davison

She continued, “You know I think many a times we say that we have one, two or three mentors, but the fact is that we meet mentors throughout our lives. We just need to identify them. They are people who guide us, inspire us, and make us sail through the toughest of times!”

What was your first impression of them?

It was fantastic! I’d done my homework very well. And I was very excited to meet these powerful women who had done and were doing so much for their communities, for their country! So I was completely enthusiastic to spend time under their shadow.

What were the weaknesses pointed out by your mentors in you?

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They said being a social entrepreneur, connecting and helping people is good, but I really needed to think about earning my kind of earnings too, so that my work is valued, of course, not from the poor people, but maybe by charging a certain amount from the well-to-do. Secondly, they pointed out that it was very important to be absolutely clear and blunt in your dealings and not fool around. You say what it is and what it is not.

Getting back to the magnificent Programme! Tell me how did it progress?

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There were orientation classes the entire first week which included both personal sessions and group sessions on taking yourself and your business to the next level, and also social media sessions. In the following two and a half weeks we were sent to our mentors’ companies to spend time with them and learn from them. After that, the last few days made up the wrapping session, wherein they discussed all that we learnt and made sure that we took it forward.

So how do you plan to take it forward?

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I believe that women across the world are same, the problems and circumstances surrounding them are same, probably, the magnitude is different or the way we act on them is different. From the past 18 years I have been working for women empowerment in my own small little way. After this trip, my promise to myself has become stronger. I believe we need to form a chain of women empowerment; a chain wherein each one of us can help each one of us. I am always available for sharing my experience with women, whatever they want, howsoever they want. I have formed a small little foundation, We Care, which aims to promote women empowerment, youth, art and culture. So anything or everything that involves changing or transforming one’s personality to become a better human being, I am ready to do it and I have been doing it.

How do you feel you have changed as a person after this trip?

The change that has happened to me is that I have grown up as a human. I have become more receptive to ideas. I have become more patient, more sensible. I have started to analyze things in a very different manner. I have come to believe that the whole world is shrinking – and we are just a few hours away from each other.

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There was an unusual depth to her voice and serenity in her demeanor as she spoke this last sentence.

I am sure your trip must have been full of a plethora of fun moments. But what would you call as your fondest memory?

With the Head of Airforce and Chinese batch mate Sophia

With the Head of US Airforce and Chinese batch mate Sophia

As Fortune Magazine was involved in this programme, there were two dinners organized during our trip, for Fortune’s most powerful women. These were hosted by the US State Department, one of them was in Washington and the other in New York. The one in Washington was hosted in the Benjamin Roosevelt hall which is decorated with stunning art pieces throughout. John Kerry, US State Secretary was the chief guest at this dinner, and we were all thrilled to be a part of all of this! Dining with the most powerful and influential Fortune women who are changing economies across the world, was an experience of its own kind! We clicked scores of pictures and selfies, wanting to capture every moment of our presence there. Even today, I often close my eyes to think about that day and feel that rush of happiness inside!

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It was like she had time-travelled back into that moment in the Benjamin Roosevelt Hall and had taken me along with her. Her excitement was contagious!

And what was the most challenging situation you faced there?

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With Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo

You know, the business environment there is totally different from here. The Americans are extremely focused, punctual and sorted out individuals who believe in working hard, but also never forget to take holidays and enjoy. If they tell you this work has to be done at this time, it will be done come what may! I wondered how could anyone be so professional! The first 2-3 days I found it difficult to adjust in their system. That was a challenge for me! But I realized what was required were a few modifications here and there, and there I was on the right path with double productivity, energy and better focus.

You were amidst women from different countries and cultures. What were their perceptions about India?

Batchmates

Batchmates

You know one thing that really aches my heart is that because of the recent happenings, we have been termed as a country which is unsafe for women. People across the globe have become very apprehensive about visiting our country. And the perceptions they have built are beyond imagination! They asked me questions I could never imagine I’d be asked.

The pitch of her voice sunk low and reflected the eerie pinch she felt as she spoke all this.

Is India really unsafe for women?

Do you really not get out at nights?

Do women get raped so many times?

How are you stopping all this?

Are men not educated in your country?

Are women still not allowed to work?

If you file a case in your lifetime, your children will have to fight it? Because there are so many pending cases already.

How do you answer such questions! And when they’re asked on a public forum! It really made me sad. I thought that of course we needed to do something about women security, and secondly, we needed to be responsible to report what is true and not exaggerate things, because we don’t realize that it has a far reaching impact on our country and on people who are doing a lot for the country.

Speaking of all these perceptions, were you able to clarify or break some of them?

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Earlier I didn’t know, but it is a fact that the kind of disparity between men and women is present across the globe, in some way or the other. There must be things happening in their countries too but maybe they’re not talked about much on the television, which also hints at the fact that maybe things are being blown out of proportion in our country. That is why I had to clarify a lot of things.

They asked that while travelling in India, one tip that they always get is to be aware of people. Should they not speak to anyone? So you see we Indians are the ones who are saying such things, don’t do this, don’t do that! We have ourselves painted a picture for our country, which is not very true.

I’m sure there must have been some positive perspectives too…

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Oh absolutely there were! People feel that we Indians are very intelligent; we work hard, multitask, and we’re also the masterminds behind a lot of great things! They think that we believe in doing things and proving ourselves. And of course our culture! They appreciate the fact that we Indians are very colorful and cultured people, and that we respect our elders.   

And just as she said this, the song “Desh rangila, desh mera rangila” started playing in the surround sound stereo system built inside my head.

Have you attained a new vision for balancing personal and professional life after your trip?

During one of our sessions there, we asked a question to the senior-most CEO, “What is work-life balance?” Do you want to know what she replied?

I’m all ears!

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She said, “Don’t ask me this question because there is nothing like a work-life balance! When work is your passion, how can you balance it? There is no definition of something that you’re passionate about. So work-life balance is needed when you’re not passionate about your work. If you are a passionate and a balanced individual, you will be able to manage everything- your work, your husband, and your children.”

Also, one thing that I learned there is that when you don’t understand what is happening around you, it is best to unplug for a while. Turn off, and then turn on! When you do this, you will be able to increase your productivity and concentration.

Did your family notice a different side of you after the trip?

Umm, my children are too small to notice a change. But my husband observed that my horizons had increased. I’d introduced a few changes at my workplace and in my life – and he is quite happy about them.

How can one balance social work and monetary returns at the same time?

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I’ll tell you the best way. Go to your regular job, but manage at least 2-3 hours a week to devote to social work. If anybody turns around and tells me they can’t even set out 2-3 hours, I would say they are not managing their time correctly. Spend those hours in an NGO, connect with people, do your bit! Be married to what you are doing. You know when you’re married to somebody, you love them, admire them, at times you’ll even hate them. But you try to do your best and that best is not what people determine. That best is according to your own sensibility.

Don’t make barriers for yourself. You need to remind yourself that you are the best, you can do it, and that you will do it. And then go about conquering the world!

And so I took my leave and went about triumphing the world, with a diary and pen in my hands, to bring this article to you all.

PS: Mentoring Walk is another initiative of Vital Voices, which was introduced in Jaipur by Archana Surana, who was the first Jaipur woman to have participated in Fortune /U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Programme. JWB Team was a part of Mentoring Walk Jaipur this International Women’s Day. In case you missed the story, read here!

Photo Courtesy: Shashank K. Tyagi 

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