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What The World Economic Forum Taught Me About The Power Of A Community

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By Akshat Singhal:

Early this year in January, at World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos —Elif Shafaq, author of the best-seller ‘40 rules of love’ quoted during an interaction, “We all are connected. We need to remind ourselves again and again”. This thought stayed with me.

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Later in February, one of the Global Shapers from Venezuela had sent a text on our WhatsApp group called Davos50 about the violence taking place in his country. Immediately, all other Shapers jumped in to send their support from different parts of the world to be his voice. Elif’s quote made so much sense to me. Other Shapers clicked pictures conveying their support to Venezuela and shared it on the group. We realised the power of a community and how powerful it can turn out to be, if it is organised towards certain goals (in this case, support to Venezuela).

I was at Davos as a part of Global Shapers community. 50 of us got an opportunity to be at the Annual Meeting 2014 and represent the worldwide 3000+ strong community of Shapers. Theme of AM14 was ‘Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business’.

Since our work at The Blue Ribbon Movement is about building leadership amongst youth through training interventions, the entire Davos experience was quite reinforcing for me at many levels. Especially, after meeting the Global Shapers and rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the business, political and civil society world, I could see the power of collective consciousness emerge.

I would like to share few of the many thoughts that stayed with me –

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“A great leader has brains, vision, soul, values and a heart”- Prof. Klaus Schwab
Prof. Schwab’s quote was a good reminder of sorts. WEF’s outlook on Global Agenda speaks of the need for new ways of leadership as one of the top 10.

At a dinner session around Neuroscience of Leadership, a Wharton Professor spoke of how creating a culture of love within your organisation can transform the way we engage our employees.

In an exclusive interaction with Global Shapers, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer emphasised on how listening and empathy is key for leaders at the top level. At another conversation, I realised how deep listening and debunking stereotypes could be a solution to our problems in South Asia.

Leadership has come full circle, and we seem to be going back to basics, placing equal, if not more emphasis on the means as much as the ends.

From the various theories of leadership that have evolved over time, increasingly more and more importance is being placed on aspects like values, empathy, humility as hallmarks of great leaders. The ever evolving perspective of leadership now goes much deeper than aggression, getting work done and influencing people.

New citizen thinks
Over last few years, right from Arab Spring to the movement against corruption in India — there has been an emergence of a new citizen.

During a session one of the panellists shared about how, on one hand we have citizens taking things in their own hands and on the other, there are about 42 pieces of legislations which will pass amongst the parliaments of the world and make it all the more difficult for civil society to participate.

Though both forces exist, digital civic participation introduced by organisations such as Change.org and purpose.org is shifting the balance of power towards citizens. Citizen’s participation in democracy building has moved beyond voting and will increasingly happen to do so.

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“Japan’s economy would go up by 16% more, if women participated in labour as much as men” — Shinzo Abe, Japan’s PM
True that. Right from the Prime Minister of Japan to the global media, low women participation was echoed. 50% of Global Shapers were females vis-à-vis about 15% at the Annual Meeting 2014. I had many conversations on gender issues with my fellow Shapers and Head of UN Women and gender was a trending point of discussion at this year’s annual meeting.

Changing the mindset of men to innovative ways of including women in the workforce (like flexible working hours and mentoring) was brought up.

Women’s participation in the workforce, matters of the nation and all aspects of society can have definite impact on the economies and eradication of poverty. While the trend is getting better by the day, the need of the hour calls for women’s participation like never before.

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“Enough innovative power in the world. Use it to solve social problems”- Mohd. Yunus, Nobel Prize Winner

‘Social Entrepreneurship’ will surely influence the way businesses are being built. During a panel discussion moderated by Tony Blair and chaired by Mohd. Yunus, Bill Gates and Richard Branson— the discussion went about how hybrid social enterprises are evolving and it is yet difficult to have one standard way of building them.

While a number of hybrid social enterprises have started springing up globally, the trend is rather recent. How best these models can be used, and how to reach their true potential, is something that will evolve with time.

Quite a few Global Shapers are Social Entrepreneurs and most of them were on this quest of figuring out the right model including me. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. It is certainly a beginning of a trend the world will see in terms evolution of enterprises.

End of the day, I derive a lot of strength through Co-Shapers and from the community. Davos gave me a wider exposure to WEF’s different communities and the context to what is happening in the world in terms of social issues. It’s been 6 months since Davos happened but the reflection, reinforcement and reshaping of thoughts continue.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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