ROTARY YOUTH LEADERSHIP TRAINING INNOVATIONS FROM UDAIPUR - Turning a Traditional Awards Event into a New Youth-driven Social Design Experiment

Hoping to enliven the annual speech-heavy Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), Udaipur Rotary leaders invited BMCT to reformat the proceedings into a more engaging interactive celebration of youthful creativity. BMCT gratefully responded with "DESIGNING OUR SHARED FUTURE" - a full day DIY think tank workshop on how to identify, frame and communicate vital transformative messages in the fields of education, social equality and eco-social health.

For over 10 hours, 140 students from 18 local schools and 10 countries brainstormed motivational concepts; composed plays, poems, songs & art work; and then market tested their creations on a wildly appreciative evening crowd. As one young participant remarked, "the presentations were cool, but the process was amazing. They let us generate the ideas, debate the strategies, run the show. Most of us started out as strangers, but we quickly learned to respect each other and ended up as friends." See "Read more" for how...

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RYLA Workshop Design


Udaipur’s Meera & Elite Rotary Clubs’

Game Changing 2015 RYLA Youth-Driven Workshop Paradigm

This year District 3052 Udaipur Rotary Clubs, Meera and Elite joined hands to sponsor the RYLA “Rotary Youth Leadership Awards” event from October 23rd to 25th at the Delhi Public School campus in Bhuwana, Udaipur.

The RYLA program was developed to cultivate effective youth leadership skills, drive & vision; and Rotary clubs around the world annually hold these events to encourage best practices for this vital mission. Here in Rajasthan as well, Rotary District Governor Pradhuman Kumar Patni and RYLA convener, Madhu Sareen were keen to experiment with fresh methods and invited Udaipur’s Big Medicine Charitable Trust to help formulate a new approach.

BMCT founder trustee, Rita Dixit-Kubiak suggested that we forgo the conventional top-down motivational lectures from experts to youth; and project director W. David Kubiak proposed an interactive youth-centric think tank format entitled ‘Designing our Shared Future’ to brainstorm new ideas to improve education, social equality and eco-social health. The workshop model was inspired by the Rockefeller Award-winning “Design for Change” program developed by Riverside School founder Kiran Bir Sethi in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Both Rotary Clubs heartily embraced these suggestions; and happily the youth-driven brainstorm model proved to be a resounding success. We received 100% positive feedback from all the delegates and mentors, leaving each and every Rotarian organizer delighted with the end result.

So what did we do? In this report we will concentrate on the game changing workshops that distinguished the 2015 RYLA event from previous efforts over the years.

Rotary Udaipur Meera and Elite Presidents, Vandana Mutha and Manish Gulandia worked arduously to engage a rich diversity of individuals and organizations to ensure the event’s success and Rotarians liaised with BMCT via the tireless Madhu Sareen.

We were blessed with a very diverse group of 140 youth delegates aged 14 to 34 whose main selection criteria was their social commitment and engagement.

Rotary officers invited principals from 18 public schools & Meera Girl’s College to send representatives. BMCT gathered Indian delegates from the Indian Institute of Management Udaipur, Mohan Lal Sukhadia and Swaraj Open Universities; and foreign delegates from Afghanistan, Britain, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda & USA. Some of the foreign delegates traveled from Delhi and the rest were from Udaipur schools and NGOs.

To mentor the workshops, Madhu & BMCT invited twelve experts in the field of education, social justice and human rights & eco-social health mentors from New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Udaipur. (For further information on the distinguished mentors please refer to the mentor bios).

The mentors’ role was to facilitate interactive exchanges within delegate groups deliberating on different aspects of the three workshop topics. We kept the group size small, between 10 ~ 12 participants, to allow intimate deliberations and individualized attention.

We also pre-decided participants for the four groups in each subject area with emphasis on diversity. Each group had a mix of school, university & foreign delegates to ensure the fertile mingling of different classes & school communities and different points of view.

The final shape of the “Designing Our Shared Future” brainstorm and presentation prep workshops as well as the evening presentation session were worked out on the night of October 23rd in active collaboration with the mentors, Rita and Madhu.

The workshop guidelines for mentors & youth delegates were as follows:

1.      Choose the general issue area to focus on, i.e., education, social inequality or eco-social health
2.      Facilitate maximum participation and exchange between the youth delegates.
3.      Keep the process co-creative and not competitive.
4.      Ensure that shy youth are drawn actively into the sharing process.
5.      Kick-start the first workshop with self-introductions and the sharing of personal experiences of what they felt needed fixing in education, society and their surrounding environment.
6.      Keep brainstorms positive & allow space for all ideas with “yes, and” rather than “no, but” responses.
7.      Help break out groups agree upon specific sub-topics to facilitate focus, synergy & efficient use of time, e.g., Education groups chose elementary schooling, university life or vocational training as topics; various Inequality groups focused on caste, race and gender discrimination; and different Eco-Social Health groups worked on pollution, water, climate and food & agricultural crises, etc.
8.      Point youth towards issues’ root causes & interconnectedness to arrive at effective remedies.
9.      Help youth envision quick, bold and/or long-lasting solutions to the problems they address.
10.  Have all 12 break out groups select two scribes to record the points being shared and create charts mapping the interactive progress of ideas (for later exhibition and/or use in stage presentations).
11.  Encourage groups to present their ideas in the form of dance, music, skits, poetry, charts, art, etc.

Participant response to the 12 workshops that took place through the day on October 24th was overwhelmingly positive. Common feedback was: a) it was their first experience of a participatory and democratic workshop process; b) the groups’ international, cross-cultural and cross-generational diversity enhanced their learning process; & c) the mentors listened well and facilitated proficiently.

We could sum up the mentors’ reactions as a mix of surprise and delight. They felt the youth were:
a) aware and genuinely concerned about the problems they are facing; b) sincerely serious about wanting to design solutions that would work; and c) deserving of similar platforms and opportunities to engage with one another, discuss more problems, try new experiments and bring their ideas to life.

The diverse and highly creative stage presentations by the 12 break out groups clearly demonstrated their recognition of the most serious issues in education, social justice and eco-social health both locally and internationally. Some focused on presenting solutions while others tried to dramatize their problem areas to heighten the audience’s own awareness, thinking and concern.

But whether the groups presented their ideas in the form of songs, skits, dance, poetry or visual arts, one could clearly see that they had invested considerable thought and creative effort to communicate their ideas. The youth huddling together in their groups in animated exchange, well past the scheduled workshop time, must certainly have influenced their spontaneity on stage. The international and cross-generational input greatly added to the charm and creativity of the performances.

Mr. Patni’s remarks at the inaugural ceremony that the front seats in any RYLA event should be reserved for the youth rather than adults and that the focus should always be on their concerns set an inspiring positive tone for everyone throughout the weekend.

Mr. Gulandia’s and Madhu’s heartfelt reiteration of Rotary’s commitment to nurturing youth leadership and constructive activism were equally welcome words to the large enthusiastic audience of  local & foreign youth delegates, mentors, educators and civil society dignitaries..

The event’s final memorable words bubbled up spontaneously from the dancing youth delegates buoyed by their appreciation of the whole unique experience and their belief in Rotary’s continuing commitment to their cause: “We want RYLA, We want RYLA, We want RYLA!”

RYLA Workshop Guidelines


NOTES FOR MENTORS   (Please also see Workshop Design below.)

Brainstorm mentoring success depends on the quality & quantity of contributions that a group generates;
its inclusiveness & openness to everyone’s ideas; and its sense of shared accomplishment at the end.

A Mentor’s prime role is catalytic – sparking fresh thinking and expressiveness from group members.

Our delegates are charged with imagining solutions to problems that they already personally recognize. They are not here to learn about different crises or new problems that only the mentors may know about. Our focus therefore is on developing effective problem-solving skills – helping them learn to solve problems they are aware of, not lecturing them or raising their awareness about other crises.

Mentors should refrain from suggesting their own solutions until the brainstorming process is completed. As respected elders, their ideas are likely to skew the group’s thinking and restrain its creative freedom.

All mentors are encouraged to:

a) ask delegates which experiences helped them most clearly perceive the challenges they’re discussing.

b) help ensure all voices are heard and draw out the quieter delegates (and calm the overexcited ones ‘-).

c) help show connections between different delegate concerns to create effective brainstorm synergy.

d) offer brief descriptions of a problem’s history or development if requested to do so by the delegates.

e) fill in awkward pauses with questions that help enliven the delegates’ own insights and interactions.

f) generally contribute with provocative questions rather than statements to keep delegates thinking.

Education Workshop
Education Mentors may help delegates consider the difference between “education” that “educes” and nurtures students’ inner talents; and “instruction” which inserts outside structures - both useful tools like literacy, numeracy, etc. and the culture’s orthodox values and rules for “acceptable” thoughts & behavior.

Education Mentors may be asked by delegates to briefly explain the motives & origins of modern public education or how we got the system we are experiencing today.

Eco-Social Health Workshop
Eco-Social Health Mentors may ask delegates to consider the common denominators if any between the various types of eco-social malaise that concern them.

Eco-Social Health Mentors may be asked by delegates to briefly explain the origins of certain socially or environmentally destructive practices and who profits from them.

Inequality Workshop
Inequality Mentors may ask delegates to consider the similarities and/differences between different forms of prejudice & discrimination and how they are sustained.

Inequality Mentors may be asked by delegates to briefly explain the origins of certain forms of prejudice and who profits from this bias.


Like the globally viral Design for Change program from Ahmedebad’s Riverside School, this RYLA gathering asks you to look at each of our social & environmental problems as a design challenge.  The goal is to discover, refine and communicate fresh solutions for serious problems in your communities and the world.

Since RYLA is all about nurturing a new generation of creative leaders, we ask you all to think and act like leaders today. Developing leadership is itself a design challenge: learning how to perceive the problems and opportunities around you;  how to imagine better ways of doing things; how to develop new approaches that create that change; and how to give your ideas life and power to touch other minds.

 We therefore ask you:

1.       to identify the problem(s) that personally mean the most to you,

2.       to envision what the root causes are,

3.       to imagine effective solutions to those challenges, and finally

4.       to skillfully communicate your ideas to spread them & give them power (with music, art, drama, whatever)

Education Workshop delegates: things to consider before you start:

1) Looking back at your own life, please rate the priority you felt your schooling gave to the following needs – with [_(1)_] indicating your schooling’s highest priority and [_(7)_]  its lowest. 

  • Your personal needs and talents.                             [____]
  • The schools’ teachers’ needs                                   [____]
  • The needs of education administrators                    [____]
  • The needs of future employers                                [____]
  • The needs of the surrounding community                [____]
  • The needs of the Indian nation                                 [____]
  • The needs of humanity & the living world                 [____]

2) Where are the biggest problems you’ve seen in the education system you have watched or experienced?

  • In the classroom? (problems with teachers, other students, resources, etc.)
  • In school policies? (problems with curricula, testing regimes, etc.)
  • In the larger educational system?  (problems with its philosophy, overall goals, etc.)
  • In society's expectations? (problems with parents, officials, employers, etc.)
  • In the society you're being prepared for (problems with the economic

3) What are the differing challenges of educating for lucrative employment, critical thinking, creative expression, democratic citizenship, etc.

Eco-Social Health Workshop delegates: things to consider before you start:

  • What are the most serious threats you see facing our shared social and environmental future?
  • What are the things you would most like to change?
  • Who is benefiting most from the current system and what are their sources of power?
  • What would be needed to create that change?

Inequality Workshop delegates: things to consider before you start:

  • What forms of discrimination have you personally experienced or witnessed?
  • What types of inequality trouble you most?
  • What types of inequality affect the most people?
  • Who is benefitting most from these situations and what are their sources of power?
  • How do caste/class/sect/gender inequalities & discrimination differ and/or resemble each other?




MORNING WORKSHOP DESIGN    Developing your Suggestions & Ideas                    Duration: 90 minutes

1)  Self-Introductions                                                                                                  ± 25 min.

Subgroup mentors are each given 3 minutes to introduce themselves and describe their areas of interest and expertise that the delegates may draw upon.

Each subgroup delegate is given 2 minutes to a) describe themselves in whatever way they wish,
b) explain why they chose this group, and c) say what problem(s) they take most seriously.

2) Refining subgroup focus & structure                                                                 ± 10 min.

Subgroup participation is generally based on each delegates’ previous choices, but themes can be modified by new ideas (e.g., suggested by Self-Introductions) and agreed on by group members. Each workshop will have 4 subgroups, but depending on interest 2 subgroups may choose the same focus.

Education Workshop - basic subgroup focus options:

Vocational education


Eco-Social Health Workshop - basic subgroup focus options:

Public Health
Mental Health
Food & Agriculture

Inequality Workshop - basic subgroup focus options:


3) Selecting subgroup scribes/ reporters                                                                              ± 5 min.

Each subgroup chooses 2 session secretaries to record and report back on the subgroup’s ideas and suggestions. Two are needed so each one also has time to creatively contribute.

4) Subgroup Brainstorm session                                                                                               ± 45 min.

Suggestions for basic changes in structures, rules, policies, etc. that would improve conditions. Ideas are explained & thrown out freely during the first 30 minutes and then discussed together at the end.


AFTERNOON WORKSHOP DESIGN    Developing your Messages                         Duration: 90 minutes+

Mentors/subgroup secretaries recount/refine the morning’s suggested solutions    ±10 min

Delegates choose messages to work on and presentation partners                             ±15 min.

Delegates develop presentation materials                                                                         ±60 min. (open-ended)
   e.g., creating art or posters; writing songs, poems, skit scripts, etc.


EVENING PRESENTATION TIME       Communicating your Ideas                                   ±2 hours

Mentors & subgroup secretaries will report  on their sessions and introduce the presentations on their topic.

With 12 subgroups presenting, presentations may generally range from 3 to 7 minutes.