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A New Wave of Train Journeys Designed to Build 21st Century Leaders

On Christmas Eve, a train packed with 400 young entrepreneurs will set out from Mumbai on a 15-day circumnavigation of India known as the Jagriti Yatra (“Journey of Awakening”). Along the way, they will meet with role models whose innovative social enterprises are contributing to India’s rise, and network with others who want to build up their country through their various passions.

Three years ago, when I was in India researching e-waste recycling as a Fulbright scholar, I took part in the Jagriti Yatra. The experience changed my life, and led me to develop a deep appreciation for an important concept that exists across all cultures: journeys build leaders. It also inspired me to bring the idea of using vintage trains as a platform for entrepreneurial leadership development and shared discovery to the United States via the Millennial Trains Project (MTP), a series of transcontinental train journeys that began last August and will next travel from LA to Miami in March 2014.

Like India’s Jagriti Yatra, MTP is pushing the boundaries of what we expect from great travel experiences to include forms of interaction more commonly observed in stationary environments such as start-up incubators, creative design studios, and the liberal arts programs of top universities.

On train lecture

MTP mentor Mike Zuckerman leads a workshop of civic hacking. Photograph by Malcolm Kenton

These journeys have a purpose. They challenge us to grow as leaders by reminding us what it feels like to do something on a big scale, expose us to trans-regional perspectives, and provide space outside the frenetic pace of modern-day life that allows us to really listen to ourselves and those with whom we are traveling.

In addition to providing ample space for us to reside and engage with fellow travelers as we venture from one community to the next, trains help us achieve personal growth by forcing us to experience the reconciliation of opposites: to be at rest while moving, to savor nostalgia while creating new memories, to participate in community untethered from any one place — these unusual patterns break us from convention and, ideally, help us get into the rhythm of creative problem solving.

JI Idea window 2

MTP participants post discussion topics on the windows of our 1950s dome car. Photograph by Malcolm Kenton

While personal transformation can take place as a by-product of extraordinary travel experiences, it can also be intentionally integrated into our itineraries so as to more consistently foster meaningful outcomes.

With the Millennial Trains Project, for instance, we partnered with educators from City Year, a leading non-profit focused on America’s high-school drop out crisis, to design a curriculum that guides participants through inner journeys of discernment that mirror the progression of our train across the country’s vast and varied landscape.

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MTP participant Margaret Kargbo looks out onto the Nevada desert. Photograph by Malcolm Kenton

Everything about the curriculum is designed to help us achieve and sustain our inner-world clarity in ways that empower us to more effectively confront and navigate outer-world complexity in the communities where our train stops and for the rest of our lives.

Our participants say this works, and I think it has a lot to do with the unique environment that trains provide for close interaction and shared discovery.

Readers interested in following the Jagriti Yatra’s annual circumnavigation of India can learn more at www.jagritiyatra.com/. Those interested in participating in the Millennial Trains Project’s next journey (LA-Miami; March 16-26) can learn more at www.millenialtrain.co.