Namaste! Last weekend, I spent over 50 hours with the core leadership of HSA, learning how to make effective presentations, understanding how to lead others, and testing my beliefs as a Hindu in what could only be described by these two words: Dharma Initiative (DI). More than just a leadership camp or a social gathering, DI is a colloquium of the brightest and most energetic minds in HSA. The three National Officers at DI— Varun Mehta, Ramya Ravi, and Kushal Mehta — gave presentations pertaining to the growth of HSA and the personal development of the officers. Those who attended DI would unhesitatingly agree with me in saying that the National Officers did an excellent job of preparing and conveying their ideas in a clear, comprehensible fashion.
This year, DI was hosted by Sivagami and Chinna Natesanji in the scenic Hill Country of Austin, Texas. Every morning, we would wake up to the sight of the rising sun, and following a quick breakfast and shower (having two bathrooms for almost twenty people certainly put the HSA leaders’ logistical skills to the test!), the day’s presentation’s would commence. Being surrounded by such relentless enthusiasm and willingness to serve, one cannot help but feel motivated to play a greater role in the HSA movement— which is precisely what happened to me. I gained something new from every presentation and enjoyed hearing their unique perspectives on each topic.
Starting off, Ramya gave presentations on “one-minute” management and the principles of a true leader. What I found most helpful was her highly pragmatic approach to goal management. She suggested we evaluate ourselves on a weekly basis rather than performing the traditional annual or biennial self-evaluations common in work places. Also, she encouraged us to share our reasons for joining HSA, and interestingly, I found my answer had changed from a year ago, taking on a stronger religious subtext. Next, Kushal talked about presentation style and vulnerability. I enjoyed the way he used examples from the real world, drawing on presentation tactics from figures such as the late Steve Jobs. His take on the concept of vulnerability in a leader particularly interested me since I initially thought the idea was rather contradictory, but after experiencing the subtleties of trust in “Opening the Bridge,” I was convinced of its importance. “Opening The Bridge” is an activity in which people connect their arms in a manner similar to the locks of a canal, and one person is instructed to run straight through the series of “bridges.” As the person runs, the people forming the “bridges” must quickly raise their arms to unlock the bridges and avoid a collision. As one can imagine, the activity directly tested the level of trust between all the Officers. Lastly, Varun helped us identify our leadership styles and discussed the future of HSA. We took a short personality-type quiz, and the results surprised most people, making them more aware of their disposition as a leader. Varun challenged everyone to identify HSA’s shared vision in the coming years, which elicited ambitious responses such as receiving recognition from the White House and national interfaith groups. As shown earlier, each of us had different reasons for joining HSA, but ultimately, we were able to formulate a collective goal in which all of us could identify a common interest. Personally, this collective moment best captured the essence of DI and epitomized everything that attracted me to HSA in the first place.
Over the course of DI, I gained new skills and perspectives, and I was inspired to participate more in HSA, simply by being in the company of dedicated Branch, District, and National Officers. I came to DI as simply a member, but by the end of the weekend, I had “bought in” to the ideals upheld by HSA and realized how much more I could contribute in terms of my unique talents. Additionally, I came to know everybody at DI on a deeper level. UT-Austin Financial Officer Karthik Bande echoed the same sentiment, “Getting to know the Officers, especially the National Officers, on a personal level helped me understand why they make certain decisions. It’s important that we Branch Officers know their motives so that we can support them at the branch level.” Having an integrated leadership core for any organization is essential, and it was clear that DI engendered the sort of trust needed to progress as an organization and more importantly, establish lasting friendships.
Branch and National Officer Shashi Dongur stated, “HSA is like a temple,” and as with any temple, its quality depends on the extent of the care shown by its devotees. Continuing the analogy, we must maintain the principles outlined in the HSA Constitution and periodically polish them as the organization evolves. Moving forward, I am thrilled to be involved in HSA, and I hope to be a significant part of the young Hindu voice in America. Namaste.