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Life Lessons From Mark Zuckerberg’s Speech At Harvard

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By Saara Abid and Asfa Altaf:

“The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose” – Mark Zuckerberg

Harvard University is for the luckiest and the most astute of all humans. Going to Harvard is in itself an accomplishment – a purpose fulfilled. A purpose in self-interest, however, is no longer potent enough to perpetuate a healthy human existence. A shift towards a self-assisted purpose in the direction of human welfare is being observed these days.

Every single one of us strives towards a purpose that we hold dear. Some are able to attain their objectives, while many others end up compromising on their goals. The sad, stark reality is that not all people who are ‘able’ achieve their targets – and not all who achieve their targets are able enough.

Mark Zukerberg, in his commencement speech at Harvard, reflects on this bare reality and comes up with a pragmatic solution.

Zuckerberg makes us believe that only having a purpose in our life is not enough to change the world. We should bring out the will to pursue this purpose in everyone, and give them the freedom to change the world with their own new ideas.

‘Purpose’, according to Zuckerberg, is the feeling that we are a part of something bigger than our mere selves and that we are needed if we are to achieve something bigger and better. As he says – “There is true happiness when we are part of something big, something that accrues benefits not just to us or our immediate concerns but to life and living on the whole.”

As an example, Zuckerberg alludes to an anecdote shared by John F. Kennedy. JFK visits the NASA Space Centre and asks a janitor what he was doing. The janitor replies, “Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” This was the happiness, the contribution of a janitor – to make another man reach the moon. It was his purpose in life to make someone reach their destination.

Zuckerberg feels that many of us are not able to pursue a purpose as we lack the luxuries to do so. According to him, pursuing our true aspirations requires a comforting back-list of essentials – a stable family, healthy parents, no back-breaking loans and emotional stability – all of which, in contemporary times, are luxuries. As he meets children from juvenile detention centres, opioid addicts, illegal immigrants and many more, Zuckerberg realises the only thing missing in their lives is a purpose. If they had the freedom to pursue their purpose, their fate would have been different. This should be the prerogative of the privileged – the ones who can afford such luxuries, the ones going to Harvard or Oxford, and the ones who have enough resources to help others seek their purpose.

Thus, we need to renew our sense of purpose. Without a purpose, there’s no point in our lives. And this purpose should endear a sense of fulfilling others’ purposes too. The role of ‘equality’, through which everyone gets the freedom to pursue their own purposes, is very important here.

Ways To Pursue Your Purpose

1. Taking meaningful projects together

We can break a single stick easily, but not a bundle of sticks. A large number of people worked together to put a man on moon – be it the operator of the spaceflight or the janitor. ‘Strength’ should be our weapon and ‘purpose’ should be our aim. People should work together to solve problems easily, quickly – and this creates a sense of purpose in everyone. Everyone becomes motivated, and gets equal rights to participate in their purposes. And this makes our work/projects better and well-developed.

2. Redefining the idea of equality

There should be the freedom to pursue our own purpose. Many entrepreneurs have the easy choice of trying out a lot of things with their new ideas which bring progress all over world. As Zuckerberg remarks, “The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.”

Zuckerberg’s commencement address at Harvard clearly won over the hearts of many young people and inspired them in ways more than one. (Representative image)

We use economic metrics (GDP, etc.) to measure progress, which seldom present the true picture of progress. Why not explore concepts like universal basic income, so that everyone gets a chance to try out new ideas.

While teaching children at an after-school programme about entrepreneurship, product development and marketing, Zuckerberg saw that every student had the hope that one day, they would join a college to fulfill their purposes and dreams. They would also bring about change in society, by ensuring equality and freedom among the people.

3. Building communities

The belief in ‘one of us’ means that the whole world can work together to bring change. The only thing people have to do is to take a step forward and be a part of the change by building communities. By this, we can gradually end poverty, and even cure and put an end diseases, or do something worthy. In the process, we can become idols for others who will carry forward the chain of change. Coming together can help us pursue our own purposes. We can give freedom to all, new different ideas will take birth, and seeds of goodness, harmony will have their own place in society.

There will be people in our society who will ‘lock’ us and criticise us. Still, we need to create a better society for the expansion and development of the educational space and encourage more people to join it. Perhaps, we can all spend 1-2 hours a week to educate needy people, help them to reach their goals, potential, and also help them find their purpose.

One of Zuckerberg’s brightest students had no hope of joining a college as he was undocumented. On his birthday, when Zuckerberg asked him about what he wanted as a present, the boy started talking about the struggles he and his classmates faced in their daily life. At last, he said, “You know, I’d really like a book on social justice.” Despite all that was not going well for him, this little boy had the audacity to think of others!

If a high school student, who doesn’t know what the future holds for him, can do his part to help the world move forward, then we owe it to the world to do our part too.

The authors are class 11 humanities students of DPS Athwajan. They are also members of the Knowledge Farm CG initiative.

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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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