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By Monica Chauhan, a student of 2nd batch of PGP in Development Management at ISDM.

Indian School Of Development Management (ISDM) is a family. A big one that too, with individuals so distinct from each other, that for an outsider it might seem impossible to imagine them working together.

So what makes us work together? Or rather, how do we do it?

Let me try and explain.

This course, that is designed for creating self-aware individuals to go out and help build a better world, focuses majorly on Personal Mastery in Development Leadership (PMDL), Radical Transformative Leadership (RTL) and Problem Based Learning (PBL). Both the courses in PMDL and RTL emphasise on the practice of introspection, before starting to deal with people around oneself, and our PBL groups are the space for practising that, through various tasks assigned to us over the course. We are also encouraged to reflect back on our experiences every day in writing, to know where we stand. On a personal note, it is through these reflections that I can easily see the world changing for me, one bit at a time, on an everyday basis.

The idea here is to be able to work with, or even talk with, different minded people to co-create a world we all dream of. Why so much emphasis on working together, you ask? I had the same question in the beginning; why should I really work with people whose ideas don’t align with mine, especially when I have the option to leave, right? The various lectures we have had during term 1, all by well-established practitioners in their particular fields have brought to my notice the root cause of problems in our society today. None of us, and I’m sorry to speak for you on that, but literally, none of us is really open to talking to people from other professions when it comes to working together. We all have this superiority complex ingrained in us though our rat race-favouring education system. If you are still not convinced, please tell me how often have you really seen a social scientist and an economist talk to each other to create some magic out of their actions? Also, when I say ‘talking’, please don’t confuse it with cliche’ formality meetings. What I mean here is, talking to truly understand each other through efficient communication that involves rigorous processes of advocacy with inquiry, negotiation, conflict resolution, even deep listening, in order to understand where a certain person (including yourself) is coming from and why does (s)he have a particular stand.

This concept however, can only work when one realises the greatness that lies in each one of us, and that is what RTL has made me do. It has taught me, again with contradictions over a month, that every single person around me is capable of great things. Major emphasis here is on a person realising his/her humanistic values, which were always a part of the person right from birth. It has taught me how everything I wish to accomplish ultimately boils down to my own sets of experiences (which are so unique for each one of us), to the kind of persons we individually are. For instance, I was struggling with the importance each section has in term 1, be it gender, tribal affairs, environment, health; everything seemed equally important and fascinating. What I have come to realise now is that everything boils down to education for me; for starting right goes a long way for the larger picture I have in mind. Our RTL triad calls form an important part of this journey to keep us reflecting back regularly on our day to day experiences, while helping each other out.

Although it is very important to note here that we are nowhere close to 100% efficient at this, but we are trying. We have breakdowns and arguments, just like any other space with strong opinionated individuals, but what we do differently is come back together to rise above them. As one of our founders mentioned in a recent conversation, it is the ability to have a heated argument at 4 pm and still be able to go out for drinks later that same night that makes all the difference.

Our knowledge pieces are covered by highly consuming lectures which are more of a peer learning and activity based environment, making us realise how the answer many a times, lies within ourselves. In these, as a classroom we were exposed to various lenses, tools to be practised in the sector. So far we have had people talking about the importance of emotions in this field, role of government and limits to decentralisation, along with citizens’ role in the same, role of education, environment, law and development, participatory methods to be practised with the community, role of business in development, economist point of view, civil society organisations, forms of organisations, six thinking hats and these are just a few at the top of my head.

If you thought this was it, you will be glad to know we have no exams here! ISDM as an institute believes in the greatness of each and every individual in this world and the fact that they are capable of being responsible and accountable for themselves, which is exactly how it treats its students. Every term end we have group portfolios followed by individual portfolios and the process in both is given equal importance alongside the result.

This however, is much more difficult than doing away with traditional exams, as it needs you to not be vulnerable and be honest, to be responsible enough to assess yourself to a great extent. The assessor in front is just a guide to help you think through. Not to forget, everyone from the founders to the faculty to the bricoleurs here are extremely humble and approachable people, always ready to help. All one has to do is reach out. We even have a counsellor on board to assess us constantly through our ups and downs in this journey. H.O.T. (Honest-open-two way) conversations are where the cohort is given the power to voice its concerns and expectations from this programme; at times we even get to the point of negotiating rules for ourselves. To be very honest, I have never had an atmosphere this conducive to my growth as an individual and I so wish I did. ISDM for me, in a way, stands for correcting everything wrong with the education system today.

Considering how much all of the above processes is a part of us each day, I feel it is crucial to mention what it has done to our bonding as a cohort. I did always feel connected to the cohort for the fact that we all wanted to do something meaningful to bring about change in this world, that way we were striving for a common goal. This connection however, was very superficial, the kind that can be broken by a thing as simple as distance. It is safe to say now that ISDM has been successful in creating a space wherein people are happy enough to make goodbyes difficult. We have only been here for three months, but the depth with which we know each other makes us feel like we have been this way forever. The fact that we are living together in a co-ed hostel adds to this sense of family we share. As for myself, I leave pieces of my heart in every place I can call home on this planet, and ISDM surely has a major chunk of it for now!!

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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.

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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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