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Looking Back On ‘The Future Of Governance’ Virtual Forum

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The Future of Governance virtual forum is an attempt to spark dialogue on the challenges and prospects of civil society-government collaboration in India. Curated by us and co-hosted with Arthan, the forum spans two days (7-8th October) and features over 27 speakers. Leaders in public policy, non-profit, philanthropy and politics, will deliberate in 5 panel discussions. Three masterclasses will cover the conceptual underpinnings of citizen-government engagement.

A glimpse of the sessions held:

Fireside Chat

In the Fireside Chat, Yamini Aiyar, Centre for Policy Research and Anurag Behar, Azim Premji Foundation explored how the core pillars of society view the state. They also reflected on their individual experiences of working with the state. Mr. Behar laid out some tensions between the state and the civil society while Ms. Aiyar discussed how frontline workers, who interact with the state every day, perceive their relationship with the state.

“People matter, and we need to identify individuals who are driven to be change agents in the system,” Mr. Behar said.

Launch of Understanding State Capabilities, a course on understanding the nuts and bolts of government functioning

Following the discussion, Mr. Behar and Ms. Aiyar launched the online version of the ‘Understanding State Capabilities’ programme. The course is designed by us and draws learnings from our research studies. Sign up for the course from here.

As Avani Kapur from Accountability Initiative and Ms. Aiyar noted, it is expected that this course will impart a nuanced understanding of the functioning of the state.

Panel 1: The importance of understanding the nuts and bolts of government functioning

The first panel of the day featured Luis Miranda from the Indian School of Public Policy (ISPP), Nikhil Dey from Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and Poornima Dore from Tata Trusts. The panel was moderated by Ms. Kapur, and touched upon the basics of governance and government functioning, the role of champions and changemakers, participatory democracy, digital governance, among other aspects. Key insights included the criticality of decision-making at the government level, the need for open dialogues, and information asymmetries in the digital age.

Panel 2: Building  knowledge, skills and attitudes for effective government engagement

The second panel saw Chakshu Roy from PRS Legislative Research, Anuradha Joshi from the Institute of Development Studies, and Srikanth Viswanathan from Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, as speakers. The panel was moderated by Rajika Seth, Accountability Initiative.

The panel explored the importance of efficient and strategic citizen engagement and the specific capacities that can drive this. Issues like civic education in schools, aspirations and pressures of government stakeholders, building coalitions among civic groups, and getting governments to make fiscal commitments, were also discussed.

Panel 3: Deep Dive: How can grassroots field workers engage with local administration effectively?

Dotted by anecdotes from the field, this panel was an insightful discussion among Dr. Rukmini Banerji from Pratham, Ashif Shaikh from Jan Sahas, Biraj Patnaik from the National Foundation of India and Mirai Chatterjee from SEWA. Acknowledging the crucial work done by different last mile frontline workers, including those associated with the government such as Anganwadi Workers, the panel dived into experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also deliberated on empowering grassroots field workers with the right tools and information to effectively engage with government authorities.

Masterclass 1: Union, State, District, Block and Villages: Disentangling decentralised governance in India

The first masterclass of the forum was led by Ms. Seth and Sanjana Malhotra from the Accountability Initiative. The session began with Ms. Seth discussing the three Fs of political decentralisation – functions, funds and functionaries.

The masterclass aimed to help participants disentangle the practical implications of decentralisation in India. Through leveraging the ground experience of Accountability Initiative’s work, the masterclass decoded what decentralisation entails and how it unfolds on the ground to drive social accountability.

Masterclass 2: Only wicked minds solve wicked problems: Systems thinking for the 21st century

In this masterclass, Rajesh Kasturirangan, Socratus shared Socratus’ work on using cognitive models to re-evaluate our understanding of governance, update it for the 21st century, and move towards what governance ‘ought to be’ rather than what it ‘is’.

Complex governance challenges have long been known as ‘wicked problems’. Rajesh shared ways in which cognitive models and frames can be used to assemble a ‘wicked mind’ to tackle such challenges.

Keynote Address

On Day 2, the forum opened with keynotes from Meenakshi Gopinath, Centre for Policy Research and Atishi, Member of Legislative Assembly, Delhi. They talked about how it is imperative to learn about democracy and politics to understand citizen-state engagement. Atishi shared valuable insights on electoral politics, the motivation of political parties and the role of civil society organisations in driving change.

Panel 4: Grantmaking as an enabler of citizen-state engagement

In this panel, we were joined by Sandhya Venkateswaran from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bharath Visweswariah from the Omidyar Network, and Zulfiquar Haider from Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, in an exciting discussion on grantmaking enabling civil society organisations and citizen engagement. The session was moderated by Ms. Kapur.

The discussion touched upon facets such as the importance of community platforms in magnifying citizens’ voice, emerging developments in CSR funding, building capacity through grants, sustainable collaboration and technology.

Masterclass 3: The truth lies where the money hides: Identifying fiscal roadblocks in India’s welfare programmes

In the third masterclass, researchers Meghna Paul and Ritwik Shukla from Accountability Initiative took participants through the intricacies of public finance and fund flows.

By way of case studies on MGNREGS and the National Health Mission, they brought roadblocks in public finance processes into focus, and how these impact the quality of public services.

Panel 5: A Delicate Thread: Government perception of citizen participation

In this panel, we were joined by Gaurav Gogoi, Member of Parliament, Uma Mahadevan, Government of Karnataka, Rai Mahimapat Ray, Government of Jharkhand, and Anjali Yadav, Government of Jharkhand. The session was moderated by our Advisor and former IAS officer TR Raghunandan.

The panel offered insights on how the government perceives citizen engagement and explored the need to listen to diverse perspectives, use of social media to disseminate information, a partnership between district administration and local academia. The session also explored deliberative democracy processes like Gram Sabhas.

The two-day long Future of Governance virtual forum ended with summarising remarks by Ms. Kapur who also introduced the PULSE platform for development. This was followed by a stand-up act by Mr. Raghunandan, which took the attendees deeper into the world of bureaucrats and bureaucratic functioning.
We look forward to more such dialogues with you on Responsive Governance. In case of any feedback/suggestion on this one, do write to us at socialmedia@accountabilityindia.org.
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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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