Benjamin Kinet, a business student at Warwick, holds the hand of a crying street child in a Mumbai slum. After more than a week together, they understand each other and are friends. A week later, he stands in RBS's Indian headquarters, analysing one of the world's new powerhouse economies. A year passes and Louise Lower, a history student at Exeter, does the same, caught between the soaring wealth and grinding poverty sprawled around her.
This heady concoction of experiences is pure India, and only months before these students had no idea that it would be within their grasp. Their opportunity, from RBS's "An Indian Summer" competition, was hard won through entrepreneurial grit - by street-level fundraising for young people's charity The Prince's Trust after being selected from hundreds at their university to compete for the chance.
Neither Benjamin nor Louise had seriously considered banking as a career path beforehand. But, after their experience of RBS's foreign office and their charity work, both have new-found ambitions of a career in this sector. The Gateway had the opportunity to catch up with them and hear about their experiences of the competition first-hand.
University of Warwick, BA Management
How did you get involved in the competition?
The application process was quite mysterious. I received an email offering a trip to India - there was very little about banking. I had no idea what they wanted me to do until I was invited to an interview in a local Indian restaurant. I think because I had a genuine interest in the country and its culture, and tried to convey that as much as possible, they saw something in me and selected me to join Warwick's team of five.
What happened next?
None of us knew each other, but we were all told to come up with a business plan to raise as much money as possible for The Prince's Trust. We were encouraged to think of something as entrepreneurial as possible. We asked local shops to sponsor us and give us food at a discount that we could sell on to make a profit. These and online donations brought in around £1,500.
For the day in London, we spent a lot of what we'd raised before to hire a Formula 1 simulator in Spitalfields Market. We ran a competition and managed to source some great prizes from local shops. Our target market was City professionals, and we got some great rivalries going between competing firms. At the end of the day, we took the leftover prizes and auctioned them off in a bar which made us £800 in about 45 minutes!
We stayed up all night working on our presentation for the RBS executive board. It was hard, but I think it helped us get our passion across. The amount of money we raised, as well as the entrepreneurial way we went about it, seemed to really impress the judges, and we were told shortly after that we'd be going to Mumbai. It was an incredible feeling of achievement after all the exhaustion and hard work.
What was it like going to India?
Mumbai is one of the most intense cities in the world; huge, hectic and crazy and there's so much to do. For the first two weeks, we worked with a local charity called Support in the slums, helping to rehabilitate street kids with substance addictions. It was difficult to connect with them at first, but after we'd spent more than a couple of days with them there seemed to be a kind of breakthrough and we became friends. It was really difficult to leave once our time with them was up.
It was such a stark switch from the charity work to the next stage: our placement at RBS. But getting to see the bank's Indian operation was a fantastic and complementary experience. We were given huge amounts of access to the bank's work, for people without extensive industry experience. I really enjoyed the buzz of an emerging markets office, and that week convinced most of us that we wanted to pursue banking as a career.
How does taking part in a scheme like "An Indian Summer" compare with a more traditional internship?
Both routes are really useful ways to make yourself more employable. How this scheme differs from an internship is that you get to use your entrepreneurial skills and work out how to do things yourself rather than learning how things are already done. Having these clear goals and a potential prize to win really helps you focus.
But even if you don't come out on top and win a trip to India you've still gained great skills, made excellent contacts within the bank and got to know the industry a bit more. These things are really important when you come to apply for graduate positions, and taking part in the competition will mean you have a lot to say for yourself at interview. I hadn't considered a career in banking before, but this programme has opened my eyes to the exciting opportunities in the sector. I wouldn't have the options ahead of me that I do today if it wasn't for this competition.
University of Exeter, BA History
What drew you to the "An Indian Summer" competition?
I was in my second year and didn't have any firm ideas about what career path I wanted to take. I went to a lot of talks and read a lot of literature from various employers, but this competition stood out as something totally different. The prize was a huge draw, but I also liked the idea of doing something self-driven and entrepreneurial.
What do you think impressed the judges most about your efforts in the competition?
We were all encouraged to fundraise as creatively as possible, and our team decided that we'd try to make sure everything we did was in keeping with the Indian theme. The competition had changed from the previous year to only focus the fundraising efforts on one day in London, but we thought that in order to raise a good amount of money to be able to invest in making that day a success we'd do something on campus as well. There were 15 universities competing in my year, so we wanted to put in the best performance possible.
So in Exeter we rented a rickshaw for a day, which we paid for with sponsorship money from shops who wanted to put their logo on the rickshaw. We also sold Indian sweets along with the rickshaw rides; in total we raised about £500 to invest in our main event in London.
For the day in London, we arranged to rent out an art gallery in Notting Hill where we displayed donated Indian artwork. We also sold Indian-inspired food to visitors to the gallery and passers-by outside, including our own range of popcorn with Indian flavours such as balti, tandoori and chilli. We also kept a little back to hand out at our presentation to the RBS executives, which they seemed to love! Some teams had made more money than us, but I think we won because we'd stuck so closely to the theme of the competition and because our ideas had real business logic behind them.
How was your time in India?
It was always somewhere I'd really wanted to go because it's so different to the UK culturally and such a fast-growing economy. But it's really the personal things that stuck with me the most. One of my strongest memories is pulling up to the orphanage where we were working on the first day. I was really nervous as I'd never worked with children before and also because I had no idea what to expect - I thought they might be really hostile to outsiders like us. It was emotionally difficult getting to grips with just how little they had, but they were so friendly and made us feel welcome and appreciated for being there with them to help out.
Then during the week at the bank I was really surprised by just how much I managed to learn, having gone in with not much banking know-how at all. We rotated through several teams and were given talks by really senior people and encouraged to ask whatever questions we wanted. It was a really fantastic time.
What do you feel you've gained from participating?
Joining the competition inspired me to apply to work at RBS, and I've been offered a graduate position. But participating didn't just give me the idea to apply - I also gained all the skills and understanding which made me right for the job. The charity work in particular taught me a lot about empathy and understanding people, and since banking is all about building and maintaining trusting relationships it was an absolutely vital experience on a personal as well as a professional level.