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Albert Einstein once claimed, ‘Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.’ While Einstein might have gone overboard with his scepticism of nationalism, there is some substance to the arguments of the clan who claim nationalism is a double-edged sword, which can be used to mobilise masses to fight against adversities but whose imprudent and reckless use can mar its wielder with everlasting scars.

History has witnessed demagogues twisting sentiment and using it as a tool to incite flames and use the emanating smoke to rise to higher echelons of power. Likewise, India too has seen the blatant misuse of the term by various groups to protect their interests. In the recent past, slogans of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ have also been used against anyone who has dared to place justice above the recalibrated definition of ‘nationalism’.

But there is one part of the economy where you expect nationalism to play no part. Well, it did play a large part in India till 1991 but the positive effects of liberalisation have established the age old classical theory – ‘Markets work best with minimum government intervention.’

The opening up of local markets was not just beneficial for Indian consumers who suddenly had a plethora of choices at cheaper rates. But it also forced, the till then lackadaisical local suppliers to innovate and optimise their ways to compete with the foreign companies. Over the last two and a half decades, the government has also played its part by opening up more and more ventures for foreign investments.

Most modern day entrepreneurs are beneficiaries of these free and open trade policies. The end of the License Raj also ended the prohibitions that denied entry of private entities into many segments. Add to that the exposure to unlimited sources of global funding made possible due to the relaxed regulations. One would expect, these entrepreneurs/technopreneurs to be champions of free trade that espouses minimum regulations. It is in the light of these expectations, that the calls of protecting local businesses in the name of national interest by people like Sachin Bansal and Bhavish Aggarwal sound both bizarre and hypocritical. Remember, these are the same people who were vehemently against government interference when traditional brick and mortar stores cried foul play against the deep and predatory discounts offered by such ventures.

While the call for a level playing field, is another matter but calling on the government to save themselves from aggressive, and in many cases more innovative foreign competitors show outright timidity. While it is true that major foreign entrants like Amazon and Uber have deep pockets and can thus offer greater ‘cashbacks’ to their customers, it is also true that there lies plentiful global capital whereas the opportunities for profitable investments are very few.

The key thus lies to building excellent models and plans to gain access to these funds. And one also has to concede that most Indian startups have simply sought to replicate these foreign models without spending any time or resources on innovation. While foreign players have constantly attracted customers by new value additions, Indian businesses have been guilty of simply copying their models. The latest Amazon Store using artificial intelligence to eliminate the hassle of long queues and cash counters has already created a buzz.

While it is true, that the scope for innovation in the services sector, where most of the home-grown startups operate is much lower than that in manufacturing, there are areas and specific customer requirements that can be understood and met to gain a competitive advantage over foreign players. Despite a huge boom in the recent years, sales through e-commerce still amount to only 5% of the total merchandise sales in the country. Thus, there are vast domestic untapped markets with increasing purchasing power. In this regard, Indian firms can take a cue from the ‘Uber-Slayer’ Didi which leveraged its local advantage to oust the world’s most valuable startup from the burgeoning Chinese market. Didi, by using a combination of innovative marketing strategy of urging cab drivers near railway stations to download their apps and by focusing on markets with huge potential like Shanghai covered around 400 cities in just four years since its inception.

Another problem that Indian startups face is their inability to attain economies of scale. Due to the overcrowding in almost every sector and the subsequent price wars, these companies eat into one another’s profit through their ‘cash-burn’ tactics. Here again, Didi provides an example of consolidation through collaboration by merging with the rival Kuaidi Dache thus ending a bloody price war. Several other issues like the quality of service post-transaction, implementing efficient customer feedback and grievance mechanisms can also be implemented.

Trade restrictions by one country are often reciprocated by others. Take for instance the Great Depression (1929-1939) when the unemployment rate in the US rocketed to 25% and the GDP shrunk by more than 15%. While various factors like the failure of the banking system, the stock market crash of 1929 and the plummeted demand after the World War 1 contributed to the depression; a major cause of this depression were the trade restrictions in the form of tariffs and quotas employed by the US government which were reciprocated by other nations. Thus, at a time when startups like Zomato are expanding their global presence, and many other ventures seek foreign funding, using the protectionist policy can be counterproductive as other nations can replicate these policies.

The recent remarks by the owners of some of the champions of the Indian startup environment depict their inability to come up with world class services to match up with their foreign counterparts.

Investment in market research to design customised services to cater to the needs of the ever diverse Indian population is the need of the hour. And if these ventures are somehow able to satisfy the wishes of such a diverse flock of people, then, ‘The world is their oyster!’

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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