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9 Lessons I Learnt As A Young Social Entrepreneur

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I was 25 when I decided to quit my job in Mumbai while I was at the brink of a promotion. I turned down some great job offers that I would have otherwise died for. I moved back to my home-state Haryana to join my ex-colleague, and together we established our social start-up in January 2018.

My journey so far has been every bit exciting, challenging and rewarding as I had imagined it to be. We met some great people, formed a core team and on our way, also met brilliant organisations who offered incubations, advice and mentoring.

But it has also been overwhelming and draining at times, often to the point of almost burning out. No matter where we all come from, all of us young social entrepreneurs have pretty much similar expectations.

If I were to share my learnings with a friend who was planning their journey as a social entrepreneur, I would probably start with these nine –

Finding Your Ground Will Take Time

My transition from a wallflower to being assertive took its own sweet time, and I often worried that I wasn’t meant to be an entrepreneur. Until I accepted, it was okay to grow slow. The journey of finding yourself requires time. You feel it all — the thrill, the hustle, the imposter syndrome, the intimidation, the burnout — all in no particular order.

The successes won’t always seem enough. The first few years will include crazy late nights, working Sundays and great meltdowns. Please don’t be harsh and beat yourself over it. Don’t lose your personal relationships. Be thoughtful about your health and savings.

When you’re just starting, your roadmap seems obscured, and you are in a hurry to find the missing parts. This is also a phase where we tend to go nuts over getting all the opportunities that are out there. Don’t get me wrong; these opportunities are great. But they aren’t always enough to anchor your actions and growth.

Take time to choose the right opportunities to have a competitive advantage in terms of your natural abilities or interests and grow. There will never be a dearth of opportunities. Avoid the trap of “staying busy” and find your own productivity pattern.

Limit The Self-Romanticisation

At the beginning of your journey, you strongly feel the need to self-reflect and have heart-baring conversations. And they are, of course, crucial for you to create a comfortable and inclusive mind-space. But to what extent? Too much of it can be like having too much chocolate. Spending hours and hours of time talking about yourself, your struggles, or your strengths can be blinding.

Your perception of self can unnecessarily stretch while your sight for others will narrow. Most of the times, your reality is built out of your thoughts. Find people who are honest with their feedback, kind to your journey and keep you positive. Avoid people who add to your self-doubt or do not really make an effort to understand your purpose. Whatever you give your thinking a foothold for, it will take you with it.

It Is Okay To Take A Backseat

One of the crucial reasons we often decide to start our own work is also because we want the freedom to run things as we wish. Then comes the dilemma of staying relevant within their organisation, which every founder faces at some point.

The stubbornness to be “seen” can often push you into a sea of doubt, poor decision-making and eventually emotional recklessness. It makes you want to become the person people want to see which may or may not always be healthy for them or you. Refrain that temptation.

Make sure your voice of reason and belief is strong enough to help you sail. We often think of our start-ups as our babies. It becomes all the more important to know when to let go of the control and take a backseat.

Leadership Must Inspire

It has been rightfully said, extraordinary results don’t come from “me” but from “we”. Do regular check-ins with the people you work with. Take time to nurture people and help develop them into becoming leaders. Stay away from dead-end conversations.

Your title, knowledge, charisma can be the tools to attract people, but at the end of the day, if your actions and words do not inspire others to do better for themselves or towards your shared goal, you are more likely encouraging a follower-ship. Put yourself to good use for yourself and your organisation. Find things to create, innovate or design for other people to use and learn from.

Aim Long-Term

I have lost the count of the times I have hidden behind the “we’re just a start-up. It’s fine” excuse when things were not progressing as well as we had planned. It’s like I am waiting for some alarm to go off. Reality is different. You need to maintain action no matter what and aim for long-term focussed working.

Hydrate your mind and get your creative juices flowing. But always know the difference between “an idea that feels great to you” and “an idea that works great for your organisation“. Knowing what not to do can be just as powerful as knowing what to do.

You Will Be Disliked And That’s Okay

Being a leader is about making choices and decisions. And not all of them are a valley of flowers. We are often expected to make choices based on conjectures. If anxiety or over-analysing is your natural response to things, as it often is in my case, the challenge of making quick or split-second decisions can be maddening. On some days, you need to be harsh. And the people around you won’t like you. Overcome that guilt.

Practice Values

Develop a clear understanding of who you are, what you value and where you will or won’t compromise. And do it more than you speak about it. Values can keep you both grounded and teachable, regardless of how much you already know. How you approach life indeed says a lot about you. Turn your thoughts towards appreciation and never underestimate the importance of transparency and humility.

Your journey will be a string of your choices. No matter the circumstance, remind yourself that you have a choice. Whether to control or to collaborate, to stay aloof or to engage, to take or to give — the choices you make will impact your body of work, the course of your organisation.

Success Doesn’t Always Lay In Numbers

We tend to believe that social enterprises and non-profits have the power to change the world all at once. It is what drives most of us in taking that leap of faith. But remind yourselves that it won’t be that easy. Change is slow. Ideas, people and results take their own time.

We all like instant success stories, high visibility and impressive metrics. Sure, it’s important. But success also has a lot to do with the lives you’ve touched, the good you put out and however small, making that positive difference. That is the ultimate purpose of what we do.

The Show Must Go On…

True to my nature, every time an initiative took an unseen turn, or a person left the team, or we didn’t crack funding, I’d lose my sleep and calm over it. I’d even make a list of things gone wrong and find someone to blame. Eventually, you have to get out of bed and find a way to go on.

In the end, even with all the knowledge in the world, there isn’t really a foolproof formula to make things work all the time. People will move on. Ideas will lose the spark. But what will never change about your journey is the uncertainty. It’s part of the job. Appreciate the quality time spent together working. And remember, as long as you stay true to who you are and mean well, you will always be more than just good enough.


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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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