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A Conversation on Volunteering with an Ace Volunteer

A Conversation on Volunteering with an Ace Volunteer

“ Volunteering isn’t only working, it is about learning and unlearning.”

She was 13 years old when she first volunteered. In her own words, “That first brush with volunteering was so breathtaking. After that I couldn’t be stopped.” While most of her peers were busy giving exams and following a routine pattern, she traveled to the rural interiors of Rajasthan and Bihar to volunteer.

Today, at 24 years of age, Bhawna Khattar, a graduate of Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication has worked with 8 incredible not for profit organizations. Her journey is one we can all admire and envy at the same time.

As we continue writing on the theme of volunteering, we thought it would be fitting to interview someone as experienced as she. In her intense yet quirky way, Bhawna spoke of her volunteering journey, what made her take it up and why it is important to volunteer.

You have been volunteering for quite sometime now, what has the journey been like?

I have volunteered with different kinds of organizations such as Deepalaya, Teach for India, Rajasthan Bal Kalyan Samiti, Barefoot College and many more. All experiences have been extremely diverse yet, somehow connected in one way or the other. I think, the most important aspect is your own journey as an individual and how it relates to the outer world. So, slowly I have started to build connections.

For me a volunteering journey provides a first hand opportunity of looking at a situation from multiple angles rather than just looking at the tip of an iceberg. For example: If you look at education, you cannot look at education alone, you have to determine the reasons of why a child is not attending school, and in a lot of cases, the reason is ill health or malnutrition.

Adding to this, volunteering is a great way to make friends, all from different places, from different walks of life who give you more lenses. That’s how the journey looks to me, now that I look back. And I believe there is always a long way to go!

When did your interest in volunteering surface and why?

In my case, as far as I can remember, may be going back to sixth or seventh grade. I think the more important question here is- why? My reasons have been to explore. I wanted to intern at Deepalaya because I wanted to understand the usage of communication in education, then Rajasthan was because I was super-excited to live in a new place.

The reasons have always been different but the motivation has been to explore myself in new environments. Also, my college had mandatory social sector internships for us that pushed me to go for volunteering.

Do you think volunteering has helped you grow?

Of course, it has. Volunteering is much more about learning than working. It has taught me to be patient with others but more importantly, with myself. It has taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes that it’s fine to fail. I’ve learnt the value of delving deeper into subjects, to understand first and opine later. More importantly it has taught me that moving out of my comfort zone is the only way to be comfortable with myself.

I think here, it’s also important to understand that volunteering can mean so many different things, in so many different areas but one thing that remains common is the will to find more questions.

Would you recommend young adults to go out and volunteer? Why?

Yes, definitely. In fact I think it has become a “trend” for youngsters to volunteer now, don’t you think? As for the reasons, there are so many. Bu two major ones that I can think of are to remove your own boxes and not be limited by your own mind.

Like you said, today there is a frenzy to grab the best volunteering opportunities amongst students. From a very young age, kids are being pushed to go and volunteer. Why do you think that is?

Because we live in a world which talks of goals but not the process. We want to be ‘someone’, so it’s seen as a way of reaching that particular goal which to me is not volunteering at all. Volunteering comes out of one’s own will, not the societal pressures.

Do you think volunteering is tailor made only for school and college student, can professionals and senior citizens benefit from it as well?

There should be no bars when it comes to volunteering, it can help everyone.

What are some of the best volunteering programs according you?

Again, very subjective but anything that allows for an internal unlearning journey. Few places that come to my mind are Project Potential, Auroville, Shikshantar Andolan, SEARCH in Gadchirolli, Barefoot College and Pravah.

What according to you are the do’s and dont’s of volunteering?

For the do’s I think its important to keep an open mind. Be patient with yourself and others, be prepared for cultural shocks, share and express when there is a need to. It is essential to follow the rules of the community where you’re staying and most importantly take care of your health!

For the don’ts it’s important not to keep assumptions. Don’t blame yourself solely for things that go wrong, reflect and understand why. Also, don’t assume that you are a savior; try not to be the hero. Sometimes it’s not cool to be Batman! And lastly, I would suggest, just relax!

Can you tell me that one moment from your volunteering journey that made you realize that it was all worth it?

We were conducting a week long training in a government school with our 40 ‘Village Visionaries’. On the last day, we were asking everyone about their biggest learnings and one girl who comes from a community where girls who dance and sing are frowned upon said this- “Main soch rahi thi ki abhi toh mujhe rokne wala yahan koi nahi hai par jab sab dance kar rahe the tab bhi maine nahi kiya. Par sawaal ye hai ki kyun nahi kiya?” ( I was thinking that as of this moment there is no one who can stop me, but while everyone is dancing I am still not ready to do so. The question that comes to my mind is, why am I not dancing right now?) I think her questioning her own action made me so happy.

In Conclusion

We have said it before and we stand by it even now, volunteering is one of the best things that can happen to you, doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It has the power to change perspectives, break stereotypes and mould you into a different person all together. We hope that after reading about Bhawna’s journey, you are as inspired as we are and are ready to create your own unparalleled experiences.

A Conversation on Mentoring with an Expert Mentor

A Conversation on Mentoring with an Expert Mentor

Mentoring is not just a duty; it’s a place for both, the mentor and mentee, to feel safe, reflect and feel empowered!

When you decide to take on, or accept a mentee, along with your role as a mentor comes responsibility, trust and commitment. It is a relationship premised on mutual give and take as any other relationship. Being a mentor is no easy task. It is a role that one must assume with full responsibility for, only after careful consideration.

Given the importance of mentoring in our careers, we thought of writing another blog, documenting the perspectives of a mentor herself. So we tracked down Pratibha Pathak, an associate coordinator for a not for profit organization called Pravah. An extremely energetic and compassionate being, Pratibha has been mentoring young adults on both personal and professional fronts for the past few years. Over an hour-long conversation, she spoke about a number of topics, such as, why mentoring is important, what are the qualities of a good mentor and her journey as a mentor.

There is a lot to take away from this conversation!

You have been mentoring for quite sometime now.  Each one of your mentees has a different story, a background and set of problems. How has the experience been for you as a mentor?

It’s been very different. I joined Pravah as a volunteer and had no idea about the concept of mentoring then. I had never been mentored by anyone previously either, so it was a lot more difficult for me. It was during my interactions with people in SMILE, an internship carried out by Pravah, that I finally learnt the basics of mentoring. Later, when I joined in an official capacity, I started my journey as a mentor. Even then when I had got a hang of some basic mentoring skills, I still didn’t know what I was doing. But one thing was certain, being a mentor meant I had a responsibility to perform.

Slowly I realized that mentoring is not about telling any of these kids what they ought to do and what not, it is a space that needs to be created for any mentee to be themselves. Yes, you’re right, each one of my mentees have a different story to tell and that made mentoring all the more challenging yet exciting enough for me to pursue.

Pravah has a unique system of mentoring everyone, from the founder to an intern. You have had mentors as well, how has that been for you? Do you think their mentoring skills have influenced yours in any way? If yes, then can you explain how?

Yes, I have had mentors both through formal and informal channels. Whenever I feel someone can help me, I reach out, doesn’t matter if he/she is assigned to me or not. I think the conversations I have had with my mentors have helped me grow and ease out the unnecessary pressure I have been forcing on myself. Also, I use to have a very narrow vision, I think that got widened in the process as well.  So yes, I would say my mentors have been an integral part of my journey.

As for answering the next part of your question, I think yes, my learnings from the conversations I have had with my mentors have impacted my mentoring skills. It has helped me grow and a lot of other people as well. My mentors have influenced me in the way I speak to my mentees. I’ll give you an example for this, I have always been a curious person, so you can understand I have this need to know everything. But when you become a mentor, you have to understand that a mentee doesn’t always want to share what’s on his/her mind all the time, so there is no point forcing it out. This was something I learnt from my mentors. Today, I have come to a realization that the essence of mentoring is to let things be until the mentee is comfortable and is ready to talk.

The process of mentoring is all about give and take. Do you think you have learnt some things from your mentees as much as they have learnt from you?

I think my biggest reflection as a mentor is how similar all of us are, and by us I mean both the mentors and the mentees. This I understood not just through my reflections, but also from my mentees. I think in terms of factual experiences, we are all different, but mentoring made me realize that emotionally we are all the same. I’ve learnt that it is important to constantly go back to who you are as a person when you try to help them. Mentees will never understand what you as a mentor are saying if you somewhere can’t connect yourself to their story and that is why it is important to reflect on yourself. This is what I have learnt.

Each mentor has a different way of approaching and mentoring someone. What is your mentoring process like?

First of all, I think having a mentoring “process” as such is a foolish thing. We have to understand that every single mentee, no matter what their age, is different. So simply put, there is no one process. Having said that, there are some common things that I do with all my mentees. First, it is important for me to let them be. I never question them, until I feel I have understood them to a certain level. The time my mentee is sharing is the time for me to just simply understand, and not prod around as that can completely backfire. Apart from that, the golden rule I believe that always works is investment and care.

There could be times when personal judgments or biases cloud your advice for a mentee, how do you tackle that?

Openness! That’s it. If you are not open to hearing the other person’s views then mentoring is futile. I think it is acceptable to disagree, but a mentor must respect the mentee during that process. It is very important to approach the conversation positively and understand what is it you want to take away from the conversation, as a mentor. Only if a mentor is open to the idea of the other person being different, can he/she break down biases, or at least keep them at bay.

Today, the culture of mentoring has become extremely popular within schools, colleges and work places. Why do you think is there such a rise?

I feel that life is much faster and we want to do so much. Given the little time we have and today’s technology being fast paced, we aren’t really slowing down and reflecting. We aren’t creating spaces for people to have a reflection of their own perceptions. Today, I think people miss that space, in fact they need it. A space they can call their own and who better to provide it than a mentor?

How important do you think mentoring is? Does it really impact lives for the better?

I strongly believe it to be a good practice. It adds value to all stages of a person’s life. We need mentors because they help us think outside the box. There are times when we need to look at our problems from a different lens, and mentors provide us with that. Apart from this, I think they can help boost our performance and build a network of contacts that we can use in the future.

But we need to understand that mentoring is a two-way process, it’s about giving and taking energy, and if it’s not helping either the mentor or the mentee, then perhaps mentoring is not a good option. There can be cases where a mentee hasn’t come in for a conversation with an open mind or the mentor is not in a frame of mind to listen. So mentoring only works if both are on the same page.

What do you think are some of the skills a mentor must have and what must he or she refrain from doing?

I can’t generalize for all mentors, but I can tell you what works for me. Being open-minded and leaving perceptions behind while talking is the first. There is a word we use in Pravah, it’s called “Carefrontation”, it means it is necessary to both, care and confront while we mentor; I think this is a must. Honesty, enthusiasm and above all empathy is needed. I cannot stress on how important empathy is.

As for what a mentor must refrain from doing, I think being unapproachable is one of the biggest sins that can be committed. A mentee needs to feel welcomed and not feel inhibited while approaching a mentor. Apart from that, showing a lack of interest and disrespect would be next on my list.

Nothing makes a mentor more happy than see their mentee grow. Have there been any moments for you? Could you describe some?

Yes, definitely there have been a lot of moments for me. It is difficult to even choose one, but I will try. Last year, I was mentoring a volunteer from Bihar. I think I probably had just three or four conversations with him. His problem was that he didn’t talk much, either to me or anyone of the other volunteers. He felt he would be judged for speaking in Hindi; he was scared of the repercussions he thought he would have to face if he talks. After a couple of conversations with him, I saw him bloom into a different person all together. He grew more confident and he started talking, out loud! Knowing that I have contributed in some small way, is something I will always cherish!

In Conclusion

Mentoring is a hard task, it can sometimes even seem like a thankless job. The time and effort that you invest in a mentee, while leading a busy life of your own can make you question if it is all worth it? You might even wonder, “What am I getting in return?”

We agree with Pratibha when she said,

You would be surprised how amazing it feels to see an individual prosper and know that a part of his success comes from your guidance. As you teach your mentee, you will learn too. You will gain a deeper understanding of yourself as a person and will discover strengths you did not know you had and will admit weaknesses you would want to work on.

A big thanks to Pratibha for sharing her mentoring experiences with us so expressively. Please join us in wishing her many more successes in her career ahead – she certainly deserves it and more for all the light she spreads around her.

Trust us when we say this, the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing your best to help build another individual’s career, will make you feel content and in that moment you will realize it was all worth it.

8 Simple Steps to Nailing that Volunteering Interview

8 Simple Steps to Nailing that Volunteering Interview

Today, volunteering is no longer seen as a burden or a waste of time. It is a stepping stone that can help shape career prospects and make one stand out in the crowd. As a result, there is a fierce competition amongst students to find the perfect volunteering opportunity and nail the interview. While a volunteering interview might be slightly different from a job interview, it isn’t any less important.

If you have been called in for an interview that you were hoping for, but are apprehensive regarding your chances of selection and don’t know what to do, then please, don’t panic. We have put together a set of pointers that will help you get prepared and ace the volunteering interview.


Consistent preparation for any interview is essential as it speaks volumes about your professionalism and also reflects your enthusiasm for the volunteering opportunity. There are a number of ways in which you can prepare before the big day arrives!

a) Do your research

Before you go for any interview, it is extremely important to find out as much as you can about the organization, the position, and the person/people who will be interviewing you. Understanding the organization’s mission and history, goals and sense of style can not only help you in determining the sorts of questions that will be asked, but can also help you decide whether it’s the right place for you. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to give intelligent answers. Knowing your interviewer’s name and some details will allow you to strike up a conversation, which often leads to the interviewer forming a more positive impression.

b) Make a list of your skills

Another important part of preparation is to make a list of your skills, certifications, abilities, experiences, and professional or personal qualities that are critical to the position. Review your list, and the volunteering requirements, prior to the interview so that you are fully prepared to share with the interviewer your qualifications. It is important you look through your list before hand, as taking long pauses to recollect information during the interview will not help set a good impression.

c) Practise with a mock volunteering interview

This is perhaps most important step that should not be missed. Take advantage of your research and go through a mock interview with a friend/colleague. It is helpful to review potential interview questions so that you are confident during the interviews. In addition, the more prepared you are, the better equipped you’ll be for interview success.

d) Work on your resume

It is safe to say that your CV is the single most important thing in the recruitment process. Make sure it has all that your interviewer needs to know about you and not a word extra. Be direct and prepare your resume in such a way that your qualifications, skills and achievements are searchable and stand out. Add links to your work portfolios, online profiles or blogs so that there is an additional outside reference for your skills.


Believe it or not appropriate clothing does make a big difference! The right outfit can help make a great first impression.

This brings us to very important question, what’s the appropriate dress code for an interview? The dress code may vary, depending on the formality of the workplace or the job. However, it is important to pick out an outfit that makes you look professional and feel confident, as well as something that matches the ambience of the organization.


Trust us when we say this, nothing looks worse than arriving late to an interview! It would be more prudent if you arrive a few minutes early so that you can settle down and be ready for your turn. However, do not come in too early for the interview, as you will put yourself and the recruiter into stress, because he/she might have other working duties before your interview.

In order to be punctual, make sure you know where the interview venue is and how long it will take you to get there. Map out the directions on Google maps beforehand if necessary. If despite all the precautionary measures you are not able to make it on time due to an unforeseeable crisis, make sure you call the recruiter and inform him/her beforehand.


This is something that is easily forgotten but is very crucial! During an interview if your phone starts to ring, it can be annoying and distracting for both, the interviewer and yourself. So remember to mute it or turn it off.


Be conscious (but not overly), of your body language. As you walk into the interview room, smile warmly , firmly shake hands, and say something pleasant. Remember to make eye contact and don’t gesticulate a lot. During the interview, maintain a good posture and appear relaxed. Lastly, try not to cross your arms or legs in front of your body and do not put your hands in front of your mouth.


All your preparations up till now, boil down to this stage. This is your chance to shine!

Every volunteering interview has a different tone as no two volunteering opportunities are the same. Opportunities differ because of the work, time period, the people you’d be working under and more. However, there are some common questions that are asked across all volunteering interviews. The idea behind such questions is to asses your intent, skills, level of experience and whether you would be a right fit or not. Some of these are:

a) Why have you applied for a volunteering position?
b) What do you hope to seek out of this?
c) Why do you think we should select you?
d) What are your strengths and weaknesses?
e) Describe a time when you overcame a challenge, whether in school or college.

As we have already discussed, practising the answers to these commonly asked questions is one way for acing the interview. But, in order to sail smoothly until the very end you must keep some more pointers in mind. These are as follows :

i) Be Yourself

At an interview, you’ll likely feel nervous and want to perform your best. It’s a scary situation, no doubt about it. But try to remember that you don’t need to put on an act to get this opportunity, you just need to be yourself. Focus on remaining calm and listening closely to the conversation as it unfolds.

ii) Listen closely and pay attention

One of the worst things you could do in an interview is have to ask an interviewer to repeat their question because of your inattentiveness. Don’t disqualify yourself by letting your mind wander. Most interviews won’t take more than 15 minutes, and certainly never longer than an hour or so. Focus on the conversation at hand and respond actively.

iii) Think before you speak

When you’re asked a question, you don’t need to have an immediate answer. In fact, it can be a turn off for an interviewer to feel as if you’ve given no thought whatsoever to a complicated question. Slow down and think about it. Pause and say, “That’s a great question, let me think of an answer.”

iv) Be structured and precise

When giving your answers, try to get the substance of things and keep a certain chronology. Do not jump from one subject to another and try to add too many things – your answers will appear chaotic. Furthermore, even though you have practised the art of answering the questions before hand, don’t try to recite them like a speech on the day of the interview; let your answers unfurl smoothly.

v) Speak about real life experiences

You’ve researched the organization and you’ve read the volunteer’s description. So during the interview, try to match your stories and experiences to what they are looking for. Give a detailed explanation on how you have solved problems and overcome obstacles in the past. But once again, make sure you’re listening to them and answering their real questions, and not just trying to run the interview yourself.

vi) Be honest

If you don’t know an answer, be honest about it, there is no shame. No good interviewer expects you to know absolutely everything. But at the same time express your interest in understanding and learning more or add a good question related to what they just asked.


Interviewers often ask if you have any questions during or after the interview, which throw off a lot of first-time interviewees. It is important to bring in your own set of questions as it shows you are engaged in the conversation. Some questions that can be useful during an interview are:

a) How do you like working here?
b) Who will I be working with most closely?
c) Could you provide me with the project details that I will be working on?


As the interview comes to an end, it is time to bid adieu to your interviewer with a smile and thank him/ her for taking out the time. The very next day, send across a thank you letter and enquire about the course of events to follow.

Having gone through our fair share of interviews we understand how edgy and anxious you must feel. But it would help if you try to keep an enthusiastic and positive attitude, from the time you start preparing for an interview till it’s time to say goodbye. This will help you remain cheerful and optimistic and sure enough your interviewer will feel the positive vibes too. We hope this blog helps you to crack that interview and you come out of the room smiling!

Volunteering – Why it should be on every student’s priority list

Volunteering – Why it should be on every student’s priority list

While the idea of volunteering has been around for quite some time, it was always been perceived with some amount of disapproval from parents and has been seen as an additional chore by the students. However, with times swiftly changing, volunteering has grown to be immensely popular and has become a trend among  students.

The million dollar question to ponder over is, WHY. Why is there a sudden rise in volunteering by students? We believe that the desire to create something meaningful and to give back to the society is the top reason for any student to volunteer, but that is just the tip of the iceberg! At a much deeper level, it is because of the benefits a student reaps that volunteering has become so sought after.

Below is a list of 5 reasons why we think every student must volunteer at least once in their life! Take a look!

Reason 1: Develop your Skills

Volunteering exposes you to a whole new world of opportunities and at the same time helps you in honing your existing skills. It teaches you things that can’t be taught in classrooms. Take for instance, the ability to work in teams – we can’t stress enough how important that is in today’s job market and volunteering more often than not, involves working in teams. It brings out new hobbies, interests, and helps form opinions. You’ll be surprised at how good you’re at things you have never done and volunteering can give you opportunities to try all of them out. A volunteering experience can actually help you take a step forward towards deciding your career!


According to a survey conducted by Chronicle of Higher Education and Public Media’s ‘Marketplace’, “Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships, volunteering and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”

While applying for a position, without much prior work experience to show to your employer, volunteering stints could vouch for your all-round abilities;your ability to organize events, make optimum utilization of the scant resources available, handling operations, managing people to name a few. Even while applying for higher studies in foreign countries, we believe these experiences will surely help you boost your CV.

Reason 3: Rediscover Yourself – Get Out Of The “Comfort Zone”

Volunteering widens your personality horizon by exposing you to different kinds of situations and environments that will make you “uncomfortable”. It is a exceptional process that pushes you to your breaking point and helps you unlearn and discover yourself. Travelling in adverse conditions and developing a resilience, living on meager resources and discovering your sense of empathy for people, all these will give you a new and appreciative perspective in life and help build character.

Reason 4: Meet Diverse Groups

Volunteering brings together people from diverse fields. Interaction with co-workers presents an excellent networking scope. It enhances cross-cultural understanding and develops people skills. We have often heard that lack of communication skills during interviews and in work places is a common pain point of most employers, so a volunteering stint might do wonders in this regard! In the end we’d like to add that when we interact with diverse groups, it helps widen our own thoughts and ideologies, and so can you.

Reason 5: Travel! 

Going on vacation during some time off is all well and good for a while, but if you’re looking for something adventurous, fulfilling and productive, it would be an excellent idea to go down the volunteerism route. This allows you to travel to a hill,a forest or a beach and volunteer for a cause! It’s a good way to get to see your country from a completely different point of view, meet some interesting people, be independent and assist those who are less fortunate.

So remember, the next time you feel the urge to be productive and contribute to the enhancement of the society and yourself, just pack your bags and go volunteer. The longer, the better!