Travel Grants for Design: Merit Vs Means and other lessons I learned from fund hunting

Harshali Paralikar
4 min readOct 16, 2019


In the early first half of the year 2019, two of my out-of-classroom still-in-school projects got selected for two prestigious conferences around the globe.

I was still trying to digest the completion of the adventure that these projects had been.

As a design student, I had successfully co-executed meaningful, rigorous ideas within tight deadlines. We’d put a cherry on the cake with robust documentation outputs like photoshoots, papers, and articles on the projects. It was surreal to have done so much.

So when the news of the conference selection came, I was washed with a sense of achievement. The pride that one feels for one’s own work is different from the recognition that is bestowed by the public. This pride had been extremely elusive to me for years, partly because design education teaches you to be critical of everything, and partly because I struggled to make sense of what I was studying, let alone finish it so conclusively.

Conference #1 needed us to go to Cambridge Massachusettes, USA. Conference #2 needed us to go to Manchester, UK.

We really wanted to attend the one in the US. But the overall expenses for five days was around USD 3k per person (roughly INR 2.15 lakh ). That big a sum was too much to ask of our parents. We evolved strategies for getting the necessary funding.

My project co-partner Ajitesh Lokhande and I applied to numerous grants and foundations. We wrote to organizations whose contributed huge sums for tech and innovation, those who dedicated themselves to design. We wrote to MDs and CEOs of design consultancies offering to scale our project for them. We wrote to educational institutes if they could fund our research in any way to facilitate our travel.

Nothing worked. The organizing committees of the conference were kind enough to allow us to present a remote demo. We’d still be included in the conference, but we wouldn’t be able to go.

It took me some time to reel in from this defeat.

I’d spent four months on the thorough execution of these projects, and then four more looking for funds for the travel. It felt like a failure, like a sports event I’d prepared for so long, and in competition against my own self, I’d failed.

I was raised to believe that if you put in more effort than what was expected you’d always be successful in achieving your goals. But for the first time, I witnessed that effort alone was not enough. It had to be complemented by the means to realize it. While I was busy being the enthusiastic nerd in school, writing applications and completing portfolio for college, my parents were quietly preparing (ever since my birth) to support my dreams.

That extra effort, that ambition, the sincerity, the achievement, they were all complimented by my parents’ emotional and financial support. So when I completed projects and got myself a ticket to present them internationally, I felt like that was it! I’d done it all!

It never once struck me that merit is not enough. We need the means to support it.

I eventually did not go for either of the conferences. However, good things came out of those 4 months of fund hunting.

  1. I learned to manage a day job and my side hustles. I’d fund hunt three hours before, and three hours after work.
  2. I learned how to manage dates and the importance of scheduling and using a calendar.
  3. I learnt how to read many grant applications in a day (they’re are intensely verbose documents ) and still not have it take a toll on my spirit.
  4. I ended up speaking to A LOT of people about who I was, my work, my interest. I made new friends with similar interests.
  5. I got over my fear of cold emailing- I’d type out a sincere inquiry and send it shamelessly to people, irrespective of their organization or designation.
  6. As a result, I ended up email corresponding with some really cool people holding big positions- people who I’d never even think I’d reach out to otherwise.
  7. I realized how lovely everyone is! Just by the fact that they stopped to write back to me say sorry they can't help but express interest or encouragement- reminded me that integrity still existed!
  8. I learnt that reaching out to people can go a long, long way. I learnt to identify and pay more attention to those reaching out to me and give them a helping hand in my best capacity (this lesson was a reiteration of my 1st-semester jury lesson from prof Tarun Deep Girder: take people along, grow together!)
  9. And most importantly, I recalled my lesson of being aware, keeping my eyes and ears open, and connecting the opportunities from different avenues of my daily life.

Getting someone to believe in you enough that they’re ready to fund your dreams is a challenge and a skill. You need only a few people’s support. But for that one magical email which reads ‘yes!’, you have to knock on as many doors as possible.

For those of you who are about to start, or in the midst of fund hunting, I wish you a storm of luck!! Just remember this:

Whether your dream gets funded or not does not reflect upon how amazing it is or how credible you are. Don’t let self-doubt engulf you. Remind yourself that you’re better than being a victim of Merit vs Means and continue to work towards your cause. And occasionally, stop to help others who might face the same.

I spent an insane amount of time looking for possible funders and grants. I ardently hope that more people benefit from the time I invested in this hunt. And so, a link of my excel sheet containing a list of all the grants for India-US and India-UK travel is here, and can also be found in the next article.

Good luck and hopefully, bon voyage!



Harshali Paralikar

Product Designer-Researcher. I write and rhyme here. Asking myself- what do I have to offer the world?