By Neha Buch, Director – Streaming, Pravah, member vartaLeap
“If someone is giving away size 10 shoes would you take them? What if I don’t wear size 10 shoes? What if I prefer sandals? …Then why are the programmes for young people like these size 10 shoes… just because you have them you want us to take them, why not ask and understand what we really need and want?” – Kareena, 15 years
According to the International Monetary Fund reports- World Economic Outlook: A Long and Difficult Ascent, Oct 2020 and Fiscal Monitor: Policies for the Recovery, Oct 2020- 90 million people globally will slip into “extreme poverty” (surviving on 1.9$ a day) due to the pandemic. India would account for 40 million of those 90 million. An Oxfam India report had shared how almost 2 people every second are pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs (in the pre pandemic time frame); the situation has just worsened since COVID 19.The Global Hunger Index 2020 report ranked India at 94 (of the 107 that it mapped for 2020 report). Far below Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This however reflects the pre-pandemic situation. A survey in the initial lockdown period by the Indian Psychiatry Society, revealed that 1 out of every 5 Indian is suffering from mental disorders and makes a case for expanding the mental health services. All of these are just indicative of the widespread economic, social, psychological and systemic inequalities that India is faced with.
The pandemic has shown us the need for socially conscious youth leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset. Young social entrepreneurs chose to understand their contextual systemic inequities, reached out to people to understand what was truly needed and found innovative ways of reaching out and responding to the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. The need however, will far outlive the COVID-19. The work to ensure that there is truly justice, liberty equality and fraternity for all we need to have a social entrepreneur in every village or better still every person needs to become a social entrepreneur, supported by a community that believes in them and aids to their efforts towards lasting impact.
When Kareen spoke about the size 10 shoes, she really hit the nail on the head. She essentially asked a room full of leaders, whether they were truly taking decisions which were effective and would create sustainable change? Were they really listening, including diverse perspectives, truly understanding the issues young people faced at work or were they simply tweaking the problem to their solution?
At Pravah, we have spent over 26 years working with adolescents, teachers, youth, social entrepreneurs and established organisations on agency building, leadership and social entrepreneurship. And our work has consistently reminded us that the essence of having agency of one’s life really lies in our ability to take decisions. However, as a society, we often take away the right of a young person to decide matters related to their own lives including relationships and sexual preferences, career choices, domestic issues, etc. as well as all crucial decisions that affect the whole family. This is reflected in all spaces they occupy – the Corporates, Political parties, Media, Governments, CSOs, Educational institutions and institutions/ firms in all sectors where the seats in their highest strategic and decision-making bodies for youth are almost negligible. All this while the expectation of them is to be responsible, empathetic and inclusive leaders such that they channelise their energies towards not only developing their own families, communities but building the nation as a whole!
The story of the size 10 shoes again. Isn’t it? In order for Kareen to wear a shoe, walk…even run eventually; the shoe needs to fit Kareen, she needs to want it and the decision as to be made with her! The gap between what is asked of young people and what we offer to them as a country needs to be bridged if we want them to heed the ‘nation building’ call. We need to ensure that they have the right context to thrive. A context that is co-created with them!
Towards this end, we poured our experience into the collective experience of 130+ cross sectoral member of the vartaLeap coalition (Pravah is a member, the coalition has been incubated by ComMutiny – The Youth Collective and Ashoka Innovators for the Public) and together crowd created a combination of Youth Duties and Rights through a collaborative process harnessing the collective experience of 1500 years plus in the youth development – The #GenNationBuilding: Youth Duties and Rights Draft Declaration (YRD). The phrase – ‘GenNation Building’ aims to mainstream the idea of building the generation of young people to ensure that we are able to build the nation, while this articulation presents the top three Youth Duties and Rights to the wider world for argumentation, addition, adoption, amplification and action.
‘Right to decision-making’ is foregrounded in the declaration as one of the most imperative rights for all young people.The duty associated with this right is that young people take leadership in every space and sphere they occupy.The indicative practices recommended under YDR make a case for reservation of a certain percentage of youth below 35 in all decision-making spaces where the policies are inclusive and keep in mind the unique needs and wants of this demography. These recommendations are critical because decision making is not learnt in classrooms but through experiences and practice. In order for young people to take charge of community issues, challenge the status quo and inspire others to do the same under the constitutional framework, their capacities need to be built.
What is notable amidst this is the lack of enough inclusive livelihood choices that that youth feel passionate about, that sustains them while they continue to add value to their communities. It is here that it becomes most crucial to invest in them as individuals while generating more entrepreneurial opportunities that transcend barriers of identities.
An example of one such initiative harnessing the entrepreneurial potential of youth is the Changelooms Learning and Leadership Journey led by Pravah and supported by ComMutiny. It focuses on strengthening deeper self-awareness, empathy and ability of young social entrepreneurs to build & maintain relationships across borders, learnability, ability to interpret and co-create diverse, inclusive and authentic narratives, and systems thinking among others. We build processes and use tools and methodologies to reflect on decision making in order to learn from them and take better ones.
Progressive decision making, requires that we are aware of our biases, and consciously reach out to include multiple viewing points and perspectives specially across borders of ideology, identities, experiences, backgrounds among others.Listening deeply, creating inclusive collaborative spaces, constantly learning, and importantly taking responsibility for the consequences (including our failures) of our decisions are all part of being able to take effective decisions. What may look like a split-second magic requires consistent hard work and a lifelong process which can be developed through learning and leadership journeys like these. We as a society need to come together collectively and urgently invest in such journeys and create spaces where young leaders are able to become effective decision makers of flourishing communities in an India that is able to truly realise it’s potential as a country.
After all, sandals or shoes…the point is for youth leaders to walk, run, dance in them as they shoulder the responsibility of nation building in a nation where development is innovative, progressive and inclusive because decisions are co-led by, for and with them!