Quite organically this word has come to capture much of what I have observed and experienced throughout the month of October, living and working in Delhi.
Perhaps this phrase is better since these experiences were not just about joining together for a particular mission. Some of these exchanges were simply acknowledging and sharing our common humanity.
Earlier in October I had the opportunity to prepare some presentations and participate in some partnership meetings for the Changelooms: Learning and Leadership Journey (CL-LLJ) program and the unManifesto campaign. CL-LLJ is a yearlong fellowship that trains and supports young social entrepreneurs. unManifesto is a national coalition amongst leading NGO to support youth in ongoing proactive political involvement, including the development of a manifesto to be presented to political leaders. In both of these meetings I was impressed with the relationships that preceded these partnerships.
So, what do these partnership meetings look like? Well, sometimes, it all starts in a conference room. Then, the tables and chairs are removed. Mats cover the floors and then seating cushions are placed. It becomes a very intentional relational space, a community of partners that includes many grassroots leaders from across the country. One-on-one conversations occur, small groups cluster – organically. Both personal relationships and formal organizations are being nurtured in these exchanges before the formal introductions and the presentation begin. Our team’s presentation is not followed by just an open Q & A session, but also contains a very inclusive roundtable, where everyone in attendance is asked to respond to some form of the question, “At this time, how will you engage in this common vision?” It may read as a qualitative exercise, but in a very organic and relational way, numbers are attached to the self-reports. One partner (organization) has committed to develop 5 youth facilitators in the coming year, while another partner plans to provide 8-10 recommendations for the next cohort of CL-LLJ Fellows. Discussions are held, as individuals need clarification on the roles, and individuals are assured, as needed, that they needn’t take a decision immediately.
This entire process, this meeting, reflects an excellent intersection of macro- and micro-level social justice practice.
Most recently I have been immersed in these ideas of partnership, respect and exchange via the CL-LLJ Development Center – 2 (DC-2) which is a four-day training and exploration for the CL-LLJ Fellows. The anchors (and co-anchors) of the 2013-2014 CL-LLJ Fellows gather to engage both self-awareness exercises and organizational development processes. Having read their applications and profiles in weeks past, I was already excited by their work; but the addition of meeting each of these youth in person added many more dimensions, and much more excitement.
Their passion, fueled by personal experiences, is a common thread in this diverse cohort of youth leaders. There is Yamini of Safe City Pledge, a Blank Noise initiative in New Delhi, who lights up a space with her resilient patience, reflective honesty, and creative presence. There is Sandeep of Bharat Calling, who is gifted in timely amusements and intelligent commentary. There is MiMi of InSIDE NorthEast who exudes a strength and determination that – without saying so explicitly – are likely garnered from her faith and her family. And, there are many more…and, through the session-packed days they – we – develop deeper bonds, both as colleagues and as friends.
I probably spoke one too many times about how inspired I was by the “Changeloomers”, because – more than once – I was asked if, or when, I would start my own initiative in the United States. I chuckle in response, re-steer the conversation, but I am challenged by this direct question…
The day prior to the DC-2, the CL-LLJ Fellows (in partnership with Pravah and CYC) held an advocacy event: “Jamaavda: A Gender Mela”, where youth interests groups working on Gender Based Violence showcased their work & all attendees participated in a learning workshop and panel discussion. From the panel of Sanjay Srivastava (Professor of Sociology at Delhi University), Satish Kumar Singh (Centre for Health and Social Justice), and Pramada Menon (CREA), came deliberations such as (a) the prevalence of male-headed rural NGOs working on gender issues, but regard GBV as a task of the “women’s organizations” (b) the need to look at institutions and nut just individuals being involved in this work, as well as (c) how do we move from competition to collaboration, the normalizing of collaborative leadership between like-minded organizations.
Again, in this space, I was learning about the high necessity of respectful exchanges and partnerships. In these various gathering and meetings, sometimes the process has not been so linear, and sometimes the intensity of the communal decision-making and discussion frustrates my sense of independence and time. However, I cannot help but to appreciate each of these assemblies, as it reminds me of the African Proverb:
“If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.”