“To create a culture and feeling of community that appeals to every volunteer”, answers Ashwini Kumar, Vibha’s Director of Volunteer Relations, to my question on what she plans to achieve during her 3 year tenure in this new executive role. Ashwini is one-of-a-kind in that she puts her volunteering commitment alongside her topmost priorities, spending almost the same number of hours on her Vibha executive responsibilities per day as on her professional ones as software quality engineer for Boston Scientific.
Ashwini’s initiative in creating a facebook page called ‘ Vibha Active volunteers’ has been instrumental in amassing coherence among volunteers across the US and India. Now in her 8th year as a Vibha volunteer and recently having attained the role of Director of Volunteer relations, she is developing an ambitious plan to double the number of Vibha-USA action centers from 17 to 34. In 2008, during her first few days in Minneapolis, she got acquainted with the Minnesota action center. From 2008 to 2014 she grew increasingly active at the MN AC, leading the Taal children’s cultural contest and pioneering the Kalakaar art contest in 2009 and eventually taking on the role of Volunteer Relations Coordinator. “I learned a lot from the time I was in this role, which was my first big leading opportunity within Vibha”, says Ashwini, who enjoys communicating and collaborating with people on large scale projects. She moved to New Jersey in 2014 and endeavoured to revive the then dormant NJ AC to as productive a state as was possible within her one year tenure. In 2015, she moved to the Bay Area, got involved with the action center there and embarked upon her current role as Director of Volunteer Relations in 2016. Ashwini strives by the vision of creating a progressive organization that is ‘process-oriented and people-driven’. “I try to lead using consensus and garnering team support, motivating those who are intrinsically driven to bring out their best”, she describes her leadership style.
When asked about her most memorable experience over her 8 year tenure, Ashwini recounts her experience in starting up Kalakaar. The thematic online art contest was primarily meant to provide remote volunteers without access to a Vibha action center an opportunity to get involved. The prolific body of photography would also prove useful to the marketing team. As a new volunteer, she did not expect that her idea would be welcomed with much optimism. However the reaction contradicted her expectations. “When I suggested the idea, the other volunteers did not shoot it down but rather jumped in with their own ideas on how it could be implemented and brought to existence.” Such volunteer enthusiasm constitutes the foundation of Vibha’s success as an NGO. Today, Kalakaar has expanded to a worldwide scale; in 2015, the contest yielded 2500 participants’ submissions from 60 countries and was adjudicated by 24 judges. It is conducted in a streamlined process with established rules and protocols such that a new volunteer lead must easily be able to pick up the reins in coming years to keep it going. Kalakaar 2016 will take place from August 15th to September 15th, calling for submissions addressing the themes of ‘education’, ‘joy of sharing’ and ‘expression’.
By profession, Ashwini evaluates cardiac pacemaker software at Boston Scientific. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in medical electronics from Vishweshwaraiah Technological University, Bangalore and an MBA from University of St Thomas, Minnesota. In her spare time she engages in creative pursuits like digital photography, movie-making and painting. She is also an avid traveler, having visited 15 countries to date. A well-balanced, driven and optimistic Director of Volunteer Relations is just what Vibha needs to maintain and build upon its momentum as a volunteer-driven non-profit. Here’s a shout-out to Ashwini for all she has accomplished within the organization so far and we look forward to what she will achieve in her role over the coming years!