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The Choice Between ‘I’ Versus ‘Us’

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By Gaurav Shah, Founder, Indian School of Development Management (ISDM):

Previously, I had written about the concept of ‘agency’ (the capacity of individuals to act autonomously  and to make their own free, informed choices and decisions about things that concern them) and its integral importance to the work done within the social development sector. To be human, to live a life of dignity with the freedoms that are guaranteed to us, we need to be able to exercise ‘agency’.

The concept of ‘agency’ should hold true for all stakeholders within the system most definitely – including the beneficiaries (for lack of a better word) and the employees of social sector organisations. This necessitates the creation of an organisation which has the maturity and openness to listen to diverse opinions, the capacity to get into discourses, and the ability to guide those discourses to a logical conclusion (or possibly, an emotive conclusion?). This is in direct contrast to a ‘command and control’ organisation, where ideas and opinions might flow upwards but directions and directives typically flow from the top to the bottom.

Conceptually, an organisation embracing ‘agency’ has a lot of appeal, but it is not easy to implement in reality. Where do we draw the line between individual opinions/values and organisational priorities and need (in case they conflict)? What processes should we use to ensure that decision making is not ignoring critical and enduring concerns of individuals (not just because it helps improve the quality of work being done but also because it’s important as a goal in itself)?

While there may not be a ‘one size fits all’ universally-true approach to this, being conscious of some factors can definitely help in the process.

Listen With Respect

If we have strong beliefs based on our values, so do others. The ability to listen to people and trying to understand where they are coming from is extremely important for cultivating a healthy and respectful group dynamic. At the end of it, we may still choose to disagree, but the process should leave people feeling satisfied that their viewpoint was genuinely heard and discussed with an open mind. This also involves deep listening coming from a space where we suspend the rational mind for a while and listen to the individual’s heart.

Choose Your Battles

It may not be possible to have our own way all the time in an organisation (that may not be healthy either because it presupposes that we, at all times, have all the right answers). It is critical to prioritise what’s really important – either from an ‘organisational’ imperative or a ‘personal values’ standpoint – and argue only that case in a cogent, exhaustive manner. People pushing for their viewpoints all the time tend to lose credibility among their colleagues, which could also lead to the creation of a blind spot (or a deaf ear) towards them. That would be counter-productive for all parties concerned.

Be Cognisant Of The Bigger Picture

While the concept of the ‘larger common good’ is sometimes used to justify potentially unacceptable actions/decisions, it should still be an open factor during discussions. The ‘larger common good’ could be as simple as an organisational deadline which needs to be met, or as complex as the discussion between scale and quality in any social intervention. For instance, watering down elements of an intervention (so that more people can be reached) can be used to justify interventions in organizations where scale is a strategic imperative possibly due to funding issues, etc.

Avoid Creation Of ‘Permanent Minorities’

As far as possible, people taking sides during a discussion should be based on the discussion in question and the merits of the arguments. In such a case, one might stand up for the ‘minority opinion’ in a particular discussion, while upholding the ‘majority opinion’ in another. This is healthy and enduring. Creation of ‘permanent minorities’ for other reasons can always have disastrous consequences for the organisation in the future.

The choice between being true to one’s values and going along with the organisational ‘majority decision’ (post discourse) is always a tough one. Ultimately, if there is too much and too frequent a clash between the two, then we should decide whether this is the right team/organisation for us to be in. Till then, however, there is definite merit in standing by each other as a team, while continuing to make efforts in influencing and persuading others.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
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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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