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5 Ways To Collaborate In The Development Sector For Sustainable Social Change

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

A lot of recent development sector conferences have focused on collaboration as an important theme and sometimes the central pivot around which the conference has been designed – collaboration for sustainable impact, collaboration for big bets, collaboration for scale, etc.

There is almost no one I have met or heard who doesn’t believe in the potentially large-scale impact of partnerships and alliances but they also believe that more often than not, it seems like a mirage, an unfulfilled promise or unleveraged potential. What kind of collaborations will help take the sector to the next level in terms of bringing about sustainable and scalable social change and what’s needed from a process perspective to make this happen? While there are no clear answers to this question, there are many different models for collaboration doing the rounds.

1. Technical collaborations: This is based on a specific technical shortcoming faced by an organisation which it is looking to fulfil through a partnership or alliance. For example, organisation A is not good at fundraising and ties up with organisation B which specialises in that. There is a very clear quid-pro-quo involved here and as long as there is a mutual need, such partnerships survive on a strong footing.

2. Relationship-based collaborations: This is based on the need to understand and connect with specific stakeholder segments. For example, organisation A has the funding and desire to work on improving education in a district and teams up with organisation B who has the expertise of working with the government along with the relevant relationships. Alternatively, this expertise could be with regards to working with the community, with high net-worth individuals, or with corporates, etc. With relationship building being more of a softer skill (versus say fundraising or storytelling), these partnerships take a longer time to come about and are driven a lot by the equation between the respective leaders of these organisations.

3. Sector-specific collaborations: This is based on the need to bring organisations working in a particular sub sector (For example, primary education, primary health, livelihoods, environment, trafficking, etc.) together to articulate the actual problems facing the sector, ideate on a basket of solutions (with or without consensus around them) and then work together to implement solutions and advocate with the government. This helps bring together much-needed expertise onto a common platform and provides the opportunity to look at issues from a variety of different perspectives, learn from each other’s experiences and make an effort to influence the external ecosystem through a united voice.

4. Geographic collaborations: This is based on the need to bring organisations working in a specific geographical area (For example, district, state, region, etc.) together to develop a more holistic, systems thinking driven, cross sectoral view of development for that geography and evolve silo-less solutions to the issues being faced there. This idea is supported by the belief that understanding local context and issues is most important in the development space where standardised, cookie-cutter kind of approaches to developmental problems don’t really work.

5. Ecosystem collaborations: This is based on the need to bring organisations across the ecosystem (For example, funders, government, implementation NGOs, social consulting organisations/programme managers, community representatives, etc.) together to make sure that discussions cover all viewpoints and a lot of decisions regarding the idea of development and how to go about it can at least be touched upon in the room. Imagine the power of an intervention which has political buy-in, is supported by the government machinery, has a funder backing it (at least initially, till the government takes over), has been evolved ground up using participatory approaches and has really good professional talent programme managing and implementing it.

Moving from 1 to 5 clearly increases the complexity of bringing together stakeholders and managing collaboration in terms of multiple parameters – number of stakeholders, multiple viewpoints, multiple agendas and egos, moving from a transactional relationship which is largely bilateral to a strategic relationship where the focus is more on the final beneficiary/participant pool, challenges in decision making, keeping everyone interested and motivated over time, etc. However, the benefits and possibilities of actually bringing about sustainable social change on a large enough scale also increase with this move. Sector specific, geographic and ecosystem level collaborations have the power to break down silos within the sector and actually make it a more serious contributor in transforming and improving lives.

Making a move towards institutionalising collaborations of this nature and scale would require individuals/teams/organisations with the skills and perseverance to influence and incentivise sector leaders to come to the table, the ability to facilitate discussions through a systems thinking view of social issues and to make meaning in a collaborative fashion designing sustainable solutions for scale (rather than at scale). It would need a breakdown of hierarchies, egos and specially organisational boundaries so that people are able to unite towards a common goal and purpose that goes beyond just their organisations.

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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.

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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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