It is said that education is the most powerful tool with which one can change the world. In a country like India which has around 400 million children this saying...
” It Starts with People and it Ends with People”
This is the core philosophy behind Haiyya’s work, says Aprajita Pandey, Executive Director at Haiyya. The organization was founded in 2013 by a group of passionate, young women with an aim to strengthen the governance and democracy by building an aware and active citizenry. Haiyya uses the framework of community mobilization to drive change through grassroots campaigning and leadership development
Aprajita who has worked for Digital Green and Special cell for Women and Children, Mumbai prior to Haiyya, won the Commonwealth Youth Worker award for Asia region in 2014 for her work in creating and leading Women’s Voting Rights campaign and organizing community movements to take action around various civic issues like sanitation and women safety. Aprajita is a post graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and in her free time she loves to travel, write and hone her cooking skills.
How was Haiyya started? What was the idea behind it?
Deepti Doshi and I founded Haiyya in 2013 soon after the Nirbhaya incident happened. We launched with seven fellows and campaigned for public safety harnessing the collective anger of Bandra neighborhood in Mumbai. At Haiyya we firmly believe that societal change can only take place as a community. We enable the citizens to lead because in our experience it is on-the-ground organizing and mobilization that empowers people to act, lead and campaign for the issues that matter to them. I was deeply inspired by Professor Marshall Ganz, a public policy professor at Harvard Kennedy School and a trainer and organizer for political and non-profit grassroots campaigns, credited for developing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 & 2012. I then registered as a section 8 non-profit company in 2013 as a Founding Director.
What are the problems that Haiyya is trying to solve?
Our goal is to organize people, the ordinary citizens of this country to come forward and create
campaigns around civic and governance issues that matter to them. Even though India is a democracy and we choose our leaders, but most of us feel that our power ends right there. We have no voice in governing our society and only a few “chosen” individuals and institutions have power and influence. Then of course there are several other inhibitions which prevent us from acting out- We may be too busy to participate, we may lack information. We may think that no one else feels the way we do or we worry about what other people will say if we act and this is where WE step in- to mobilize and encourage people to create and design their own movements and campaigns around civic issues.
We provide training, information and toolkits to build citizen leadership teams and empower them to take ownership of their campaigns and create change within their community on a range of issues like sanitation, women safety, voting rights, women empowerment etc. We help the campaign leaders by helping them define a target and an end goal. We help them by researching data, creating strategies and by building relationships with the supporters.
Tell us about some of your campaigns? How was the public response?
We have offices in Mumbai and Delhi and we have helped organize several local level campaigns on pressing civic and social issues over the years in both the cities. We also run a Fellowship program to train change-makers in the organizing framework. One of very first campaigns in Delhi was the RISE-UP movement where we enabled around 40 young leaders and 150 community volunteers to empower and educate around 6000 women about their voting rights. We did this in collaboration with Tata Tea’s Jaago Re Power of 49 campaign with the special focus to educate women who make up 49% of India’s population about their voting rights. We worked across 5 constituencies and had volunteers and campaigners going door to door, educating the women about their voting rights and how their votes can make a difference.
In Mumbai we worked with a an organization called Free a Billion with the mission to create a network of dedicated grassroots citizen leaders who could build pressure groups to create an accountable and efficient BMC(Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation) in Mumbai. We trained 20 campaign leaders and more than 100 volunteers who mobilized thousands of people during this campaign.
We recently tied up up with TEDxDelhi to train and coach 3 TEDxDelhi Fellows on launching their campaigns on Urban Pollution. We have worked with many other reputed organizations by running our training programs called Haiyya Camps with their staff and community leadership teams.
Tell us something about your upcoming campaign Health over Stigma?
Health over Stigma is about ensuring that women have access to sexual health services without any fear and intimidation. Women especially young, unmarried women, feel threatened when they have to visit gynaecologists for basic sexual health issues because they feel that they will be judged and looked down upon. This is simply unacceptable and it strips us of our dignity and freedom for our sexual choices. The idea is to create a network of women from all walks of life who are passionate about this cause and want to organize their collective power to denounce the stigma and improve access to sexual and reproductive services.
We recently did our first meetup for this campaign where we invited around 25 young, progressive women to share their ideas and their stories and help us build strategies to scale up the movement.
What have been the major challenges so far?
With Haiyya we went through a whole phase of learning and experimentation and faced our fair share of challenges which, I now realize, only helped us refine our programs and work methodology. The purpose of starting the organization as I have stated before is that we want to create opportunities for people to create their own campaigns . We wanted to find our niche and opportunities that enable us to not only organize and create such campaigns but also help us address and mobilize the communities who can take the onus of such campaigns. One of the challenges for us is that so far we have primarily worked with only a certain section of people which is urban, educated and middle class section of youth in the age of 18-28. We want to diversify now and are looking for opportunities which would enable us to reach out to the youth that comes from low-income background and tap into their leadership potential.
Then fundraising has always been a tough challenge for me personally. Haiyya is a process oriented organization, we create opportunities for people to campaign and voice out their opinions for issues that they care about, we train these people to become active campaigners and then we transfer the onus to them. In all these kind of campaigns the end result is never guaranteed, many times the results are positive but sometimes they are not. Most of the donors and grant making organizations want to see quick resultsso sometimes it is difficult for them to understand our work. Because organizing takes time than doing one-off mobilization events.
On the personal front my family initially had a hard time understanding why their engineer daughter pursued a masters from TISS and then started working in social development sector full time. Things started changing for the better when Haiyaa’s work started getting recognition from media, and as our campaigns started registering success. My family came to realize that the work I had set out to do was important and now they are very supportive of me, but this acceptance came gradually. So persistence is the key!
What keeps you motivated and going on difficult days?
I have always believed in the philosophy that each one of us is born with a purpose and I believe that with Haiyya I have found my purpose. Our vision is to create a network of citizen leaders who are aware, informed and know how to take action and approach the government to solve the civic issues and this is something which is really close to my heart. I love my work and I envision Haiyya playing a huge role in futurestate and national elections, mobilizing people, disseminating information and encouraging masses to vote responsibly. Our team has been a huge backbone of support for me. Each of us share Haiyya’s values personally and believe in the work we are doing here and its potential to make a positive and long-lasting impact.