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How This Woman Has Been Driving Change In The Social Sector For 17 Years

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I like the culture of startups. It’s almost like you’re raising your own baby. It’s that sense of belonging and ownership.” – Dimple, a chief financial officer.

Nine years ago, Dimple was headhunted for the post of chief financial officer (CFO) of a fledgling organisation. In the process, she also became the first member of the organisation’s finance team.

She calls it fate. A few months earlier, she was about to submit her application for the Teach For India fellowship, following in the footsteps of a colleague at her previous company. She says: “We used to discuss where our country was heading towards over lunch. Then, we started wondering how long we could stay passive? When one of them got into the fellowship, I was inspired to apply, but my daughter was only three years old, and I couldn’t leave her alone for fives weeks at Institute. I thought I would wait until she was a little older.

Dimple handled the setup, approval and hiring procedures at Teach For India in its early days. She still remains a driving force at Teach For India.

She fondly recalls playing musical chairs at the single table which they called their ‘office’. “If there weren’t seats, you’d go somewhere else! But we could shout across the table and get things done. Everyone was multi-tasking: there was nothing like an odd job or a small job. They were good times, challenging times. Now I can laugh about it”, she reminisces.

She drew from her more than 17 years of experience in the industry, which included a stint with FedEx (when it was first launched in India), to create strong, sustaining systems. And she’s most proud of building them.

She further adds: “One of our board members told me that someone from another non-profit organisation claimed that we at Teach For India have made life hard for other NGOs, because we’ve set very high standards for reporting, accounting and transparency when it comes to compliance. Their donors ask, ‘if Teach For India can do it, why not you?’ ”. In fact, Teach For India was awarded at India’s Most Ethical Companies Conferences & Awards in 2015 for fostering a culture of transparency and for its contributions to social causes and empowerment.

Internally, Dimple leveraged the team’s visibility across the organization to foster a culture of ‘cost-consciousness’. “If we set a budget of 100, I do not have the luxury of spending even 100.01, because I do not have that 0.01, unlike many other businesses. We’re really focussed on efficiency and being resourceful”, she says. There’s always pressure. “Even a 1-day interest on a donation, for example, is huge. We promptly put things into fixed deposits and spend money judiciously”, she adds.

Dimple is really excited about her team. It’s a solid group of people that makes endless hours of doing paperwork and rushing to meet statutory, non-negotiable deadlines seem joyful. Given that three members of her staff are alumni of the Akanksha after-school program, she feels that “the proof is in the pudding – it’s right here in my department!

She has a daily reminder of what’s possible with a quality education, which she believes is the answer to everything. “As an economics student, I really feel that we’d have a better Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio, better infrastructure and more vibrant rural economies with jobs, only if everyone was educated. It’s the only solution.” A believer in ‘life-long education’, she’s fully supportive of team members who are also pursuing their Masters in Business Administration (MBAs) and further studies.

Her exemplary leadership led to her appointment as an independent member of sexual harassment committees of various corporate organizations. While this role is beyond her capacity as CFO at Teach For India, she says: “I am working towards maintaining fairness, safety and protection for women. Though I’ve never personally felt discriminated in any way, I know there are issues.

While Dimple has transformed and moulded the organization, being a part of this journey has transformed her too. “Before joining, I had a limited understanding of the problems the sector faces. When you are negative and pessimistic, it usually comes from ignorance. Now, I am much more aware of the reality, which is actually worse than what I thought it was. Yet I am so much more optimistic, because we are actively taking part in the change. Every time I see the Teach For India fellows do what they do, my belief becomes stronger and I know that at the end of the day, I’ve done my bit to contribute”, Dimple states.

 

In the traditional division of labor – who is responsible for making a difference?

At Teach For India, women break rigid notions of what it means to be a nurturer and a leader, and challenge what “service” looks like in the popular imagination. We also recognise and celebrate the incredible journeys of some amazing women who are driving change inside the movement for educational equity!

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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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