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How This Innovative University In Bengaluru Aims To Bring Social Change

When did you last invite a neighbour over tea or plan a neighbourhood gathering?

When was the last time you stopped to chat with your dhobi (laundress), sabziwaala (vegetable vendor) or road-cleaner?

Sometimes, these small gestures have the biggest impact in creating communities out of neighbourhoods.

About two years ago, my family and I moved into Bengaluru’s oldest neighbourhood, which was once vibrant. Around the same time, a group of housewives and pensioners came together to tackle the garbage problem in the area. They broke out of the humdrum and started to think beyond their own backyard.

Soon after, it was no longer the quiet, boring neighbourhood. Kids and teenagers joined the drive in teaching households about composting kitchen waste. Slowly, the campaign also began talking about the virtues of car-pooling and public transportation. The neighbourhood became alive and more welcoming to its fellow people like the road-cleaners, waste pickers and auto-drivers. It was transformed into an ever-buzzing, welcoming society of happy neighbours.

Finding all this hard to believe? Wait, there is more…

In another pocket of the city, a group of concerned citizens met to ponder over a question: how do we get people interested and engaged in thinking about the future? The question was posed by a 75-year-old gentleman, who had volunteered in a ‘segregation drive’. He had undertaken the hard task of convincing people in his neighbourhood to change the way in which they disposed of garbage. Through his efforts, several households began segregating their waste and started donating dry waste to the local recycling centre.

I was part of a coffee-table discussion on the nonchalant attitude that urban dwellers take towards the issue of wastage of food articles. Think about the fact that the farmer goes through many struggles to produce the food which we take for granted. While we enjoy our ‘fine-dining’ experiences and are privy to hospitality, the farmer sees very little either of the money we spend or the extra services that we receive. This is a discomforting thought, especially when one thinks of the risks in the business of agriculture.

From these discussions and thought-provoking tales, it seemed like everything was coming to a head. Communities are on the precipice of engaging and staying connected – in ever new ways! Today, communities are culturally heterogeneous. They are ‘melting pots’ that bond over similarities that extend beyond traditional structures like religion, creed or race. It is evident that the communities of the future will be very different from the ones in which forefathers were raised.

At this juncture, our next move will therefore determine whether we will live in connected societies or fragmented ones – in ‘inclusive communities’ or in ‘disconnected silos of privilege’.

The University Of Commons

Enter the University of Commons (UoC)! We are a community of citizens, young people, social entrepreneurs, and engineers connected to each other and committed to achieving scalable, sustainable, social change.

The UoC envisages engaged citizens and volunteers as community entrepreneurs. Armed with this new identity, they can re-imagine society and create a road map to achieve the change they wish to achieve.

Whether it’s a ‘waste segregation campaign’, a ‘lake rejuvenation drive’ or a ‘Walkathon’ for women safety and awareness, no change is possible without the active involvement of citizens and volunteers who care!

The other demographic that is key to our goal are the young people (preferably aged 30 or below), who make up a majority of India’s population. In order to involve them, UoC opens its doors to partnering with colleges across the country. This endeavour takes learning beyond classrooms, by engaging them in unique ‘service-cum-experiential’ learning initiatives.

For instance, if one wants to learn more about the techniques of sales and marketing, he/she can learn it by working with a waste-picker to set up business or by asking a neighbourhood to employ the waste-picker. If one wants to get their hands ‘dirty’ with the production process, they can do so by reconfiguring the ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain and market system to ensure that the farmers get their fair share of the profits.

UoC is also developing service-learning volunteer programs, internships and fellowships with our partner organisations in the fields of agriculture, waste, community engagement, creative manufacturing, education, skilling initiatives, among many others.

Social entrepreneurship is at the core of UoC’s vision. Adopting an entrepreneur’s mindset will power the change in society. This journey will entail bringing social enterprises to life and nurturing them in the areas of business processes, operational support, product-to-launch guidance, business-building, and mentorship.

Our final target is the engineers. After all, they are the ones who methodically approach problems faced by businesses, societies – and come up with meaningful solutions to resolve them. In fact, UoC is powered by the principles of a community-driven technology which has been assembled and erected by a team of 70 passionate engineers.

At present, it has taken the form of a cloud-based mobile application that bridges stakeholders across the board.

University Departments

The University has various departments, each of which will be supported by expert mentors and program leaders, who will facilitate learning experiences.

The Department of Stories is a product of the belief in the power of storytelling. It aims at inspiring and guiding aspiring children to be creative and become the storytellers of our future.

On the other hand, the Department of Journeys is all about allowing the student to embark on a journey of self-realisation. It also aims to allow the students to engage with society, so that he/she can work for its improvement. The university has partnered with social enterprises and field-work organisations for this purpose.

The Department of Entrepreneurship focuses on the grooming of potential social visionaries and social enterprises mainly through mentorship and tech-support.

Lastly, the Department of Engineering is geared towards building the ‘right technology’, which will serve as the building blocks for ‘social solutions’.

All departments have a common aim – to ensure sustainable and scalable social change!

The University of Commons is formally launching its flagship resource centre in Bangalore, at the Communities of the Future Summit and Ideathon, 2017. Learn more about the event here. The event hopes to bring together people from all walks of life to share ideas, prototypes, and designs on how we can make societies more inclusive and sustainable.

PS: This sounds exciting and we have our work cut out for us. Consider this an open invitation for all of you to join UoC on this journey. Watch out for announcements about admissions, volunteer calls, intern requirements, and full-time fellowships.


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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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