Why a collaborative environment is important in today’s age — says Arjun Swarup while talking about WiT Communities

We all aspire to grow, be successful, and achieve ‘more’, in whatever we do, personally and professionally. It could be as simple as being more fit (or less unfit!), getting the promotion or leadership role more quickly, or gaining new skills.

We all marvel at major successes in all walks of life, be it business, culture, or sport, and also ruminate and speculate over high-profile failures. The question arises what determines success? Is it always the result of individual perspiration and effort, and can happen no matter what the odds? Or is it more common to see it arise from well-oiled and structured systems which create the right environment?

I personally suspect the answer lies somewhere in between.

When Germany won the soccer World Cup in 2014, engineering a turnaround within a decade of shocking last-place finishes at major events, the soccer chief credited the success to one thing -

‘we had everyone, from clubs to leagues to sponsors, everyone, all ‘pulling in the same direction’.

“Pulling in the same direction” — a simple phrase, yet extremely profound as well.

All, or most of us, enjoy some to many forms of privilege in our lives, either through being born into affluence, or just enjoying disproportionate access. This can also often be simple as not being penalized for belonging to a specific gender, ethnicity, or any kind of ‘social marker’. We often don’t realize or appreciate the gravity of this, and how much of a role this ‘support’ plays.

My own journey here is worth narrating — my childhood in India was similar to that of many upper to upper-middle-class kids, with doting parents, stable home with a focus on accomplishment and values, access to the latest resources, and technologies available, and excellent schooling. I moved to the US in the early aughts to pursue a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at a top program.

It was a tough few years — living alone on campus in a foreign country (albeit one which was extraordinarily welcoming, helpful and organized) and pursuing a mentally taxing and rigorous curriculum and dealing with the usual pains of young adulthood (and not to mention the sub-zero winters with a few feet of snow). There were times when one felt like throwing in the towel, but in 2005, the moment when I got the degree, it all felt worth it.

Good times, as promised, followed, with a rewarding career and growth in financial services, and many more personal and professional milestones. Almost a decade and a half out, I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

But equally, I can reflect on all the moments, when I struggled, was about to stumble, how I had someone to help me — in ways both major and minor. Whether it was living in accommodation that had meals included, being able to have funds to get the latest academic resources, or just a like-minded set of peers to discuss your fears and frustrations with, there was always a wellspring of support and guidance to draw from. When I walked into professors’ offices to discuss problems we were facing, and moan about how difficult things were, the ears were receptive, and they wanted me to succeed.

I can’t help but wonder — was it the same for all of those in the program? There were friends from working-class and minority backgrounds, women — who struggled and didn’t have the same support. A close female friend of mine remarked that when she spoke about the difficult workload, she got responses along the lines of ‘well, are you sure you’re tough enough to handle this or are you sure you’re managing your workload well’? There were friends who were juggling jobs just to make ends meet, and if they ended missing on deadlines or not contributing enough, there wasn’t enough of an understanding of their challenges.

Those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy such support, or not face such hurdles do not realize how immensely powerful, and conversely, harmful this ‘privilege’ can be. This pervades our homes, our careers, social interactions, and broader culture. It’s also not always a one-way street as well — you can enjoy privilege in one area and face hurdles in another.

Coming together helped. During the college years, student associations and customized programs (such as the well-named program called WISE — Women in Science & Engineering) created forums where issues could be discussed, and people had a voice and a place to turn to.

These experiences left a deep impact on me, and almost fifteen years later, are the key reason for me joining Women in Technology, which understands the importance of collaboration to address an issue of importance — how to drive diversity and inclusion to spur innovation, progress, and development. I strongly believe that if we achieve even 50% of what set out to achieve, enormous collective social and economic progress would have been achieved.

We are now in an era where we are connected in ways which were unimaginable even a decade back. It is estimated that the average person today has access to more information than a head of state twenty years back.

There is power in this — the power to connect, to engage, to learn, grow, and collaborate, to share, and give. If we have insights to give or resources to share, or we are looking for support in any area, there are many more ways today to reach out and engage and get what we need.

WiT’s communities are a perfect exemplar of this, with a focus on connecting stakeholders through the entire ecosystem. The platform offers an opportunity for those who have aspirations and goals, to explore and connect with others who can help them in their journey, and also be helped.

A famous saying goes ‘We’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own’. I could personally not agree more.

Author: Arjun Swarup (Arjun manages WiT communities and contributes as a writer for the WiT India Editorial Team)

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