Staying Grounded with Shikha Mittal

Anna Dausman
April 22, 2019
Alumni Stories

My colleague, recently returned from her Global Social Impact House (GSIH) fellowship in Nicaragua, beamed with a renewed sense of her work and purpose. She explained that she finally met her tribe, and when I browsed through the Center for Social Impact Strategy (CSIS)’s website, GSIH appeared to be the solution to many of the challenges I had been grappling with at the NYC Department of Small Business Services. Honestly, it almost seemed too good to be true. This statement in particulate resonated with me: Community, Strategy, Design Thinking, Storytelling and Global. Working in local city government, I was already energized and slightly nervous about the journey I was about to embark upon: What would I learn? What did I have to offer? Would this be worth time away from work? And who were all the people I was going to meet from all over the world?

When I found out I was admitted into the program, I was thrilled to meet some of the other GSIH fellows on an initial Zoom call, a few weeks away from meeting in Belize.  We were all working in areas of social impact across education, development, healthcare, farming, and more, and we represented several countries.

When we arrived in Belize, we shared a bus ride to our home for the next week, playing car games to get to know each other over the next 7 hours. There was a sense of ease within a beautiful landscape but also an expectant energy to make the most of our week together. The people that made up the fellowship was one of the most important elements of the entire trip. We had a unique opportunity to come together from Singapore to South Africa to Peru and Los Angeles, and share our knowledge and experience.

Some started their own ventures, switched careers, worked at nonprofits and community organizations – all passionate and reflected a shared purpose, to make positive change in the world despite systemic barriers and challenges. We found a sense of belonging that allowed us to both question and challenge each other but also support one another in our work as we prepared to go back to our communities. Within one week, I was committed to this group of humans, to help each one reach their goals. I was invested.

Learning Intention Setting

Credit to build this powerful community goes to the experience, frameworks and tools developed by the GSIH program team. For me, I gained great value from conversations around learning how to measure and evaluate the success of our work. I planned to bring this knowledge and tools with me to New York. One of the frameworks that has been most useful is the morning intention setting exercise.

Every morning, the fellows would split up into small groups to check in with each other. In addition to getting a sense of where they were at in the moment, each of us would focus on an intention for the jam-packed day ahead. As entrepreneurs, it’s not news that it’s a 24/7 hour job and we bring our whole selves to the table. For me, as an “intrapreneur” within an organization, it is so important to recognize this and share this with my colleagues. ‘Life’ happens, it is critical to understand that our lives are more nuanced than just our work. When we carry this in the front of our minds, we can use that self-awareness to lead fulfilling days for ourselves and with our teams.

The intention setting exercise asks six questions:

  1. How is my mind? How is my body? How is my spirit? (one word given to each)
  2. What has changed in the last 24 hours?
  3. What worked?
  4. What didn’t work?
  5. What am I grateful for?
  6. What is my intention?

At first, these questions may not flow naturally or with ease as a point of self-reflection. It takes time to meditate on it and think to oneself: Wait, but how am I really feeling right now? We can often jump to how we think we should feel or how we have felt over the last week, but this exercise helps us focus on the present moment. It allows for an opportunity to share with the group to reflect and possibly for accountability. At GSIH, our group interpreted these questions in different ways, bringing their own culture, experience, and viewpoints on how these questions would help lead to fulfilling days for themselves and for the group.

We shared one by one, or we sat in silence for some time, or we got up and moved to express how we felt. It seemed so simple, but it was a 15 minute activity that had the power to shift the day and also create a bond of support within the group.

I saw the same group cohesion grow within my own team back in New York.

Being Mindful in the Workplace

Every Monday (to shake off those Monday Blues) and Friday (to wrap up the week and unwind) my team huddles in an empty office and spends 20 minutes together to answer the six questions. I led each session for the first 2 months, but after some time other members started to lead and brought their own voice to our mornings. It was incredible to hear about the challenges, joys, and the intentions that each set forth, and over the course of our sessions, patterns emerged that led to a better understanding of self and team.

Keeping the momentum up for an optional activity like this can sometimes be a challenge when it is not a priority. One day at work, I did not have the energy to lead this activity, and when I still pushed myself to do so, my colleague noticed and started to lead instead. This continued to happen, and it was so fulfilling to see that my colleagues could clearly see the value of the intention setting in both their personal and professional lives. In fact, colleagues would report back behavioral changes in how they approached their days.

This activity has reminded our team that it is vital  to remember that we are bringing our whole selves to our work environment and the people we interact with everyday. With technology and being connected almost 24/7, our minds and bodies can be on overdrive, especially in a city like New York. The intention setting activity is a productive way to meditate on checking in with ourselves and humanizing our colleagues and teammates. It allows for us to be more mindful, self aware, compassionate and centered in our daily lives. I recommend completing the intention setting activity at the beginning and end of the week and to date each sheet to recognize patterns. For example, I have realized that almost weekly, my body needs more movement. With that awareness, I have integrated short breaks into my day to stretch and M-O-V-E.

My intention is to continue to share this simple and impactful activity that has been graciously passed down to me by the wonderful GSIH community. Remember to bring an open mind and an open heart!

Shikha Mittal is a service designer who is passionate about people, their environments, and how both interact to build a thriving ecosystem and experience. Shikha currently leads an initiative for the NYC Department of Small Business Services, Accelerator for Media Pros NYC (AMP NYC), a tailored program co-created with entrepreneurs to help small media and entertainment businesses grow in New York City. Her work diverse work experience includes UX design and integrated marketing, and she holds her license in social work. Shikha’s bachelors degree was completed at Barnard College of Columbia University and, she completed her MSW at Washington University in St. Louis where she focused on design for social innovation and entrepreneurship.