Life is full of events that tends to change our life’s direction and open our eyes beyond what we can think. As for me it was not one defining event but series of them that led me to work in the development sector.
I remember the tipping point was the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012. Amidst those rallies for justice in Delhi, I started to question the current state of our society and more importantly about my work and what its contributing to the society? I was tired of being a passive commentator now. I wanted to do something that brought in more value to my life and contributed to our society in any way possible. At this point I had no clue that this could be a life changing career choice.
In Assam with some adolescent girls.
With the pursuit of finding my calling, I moved to social sector. I knew it would come with a huge opportunity cost – especially in terms of compensation. However, I was willing to take the risk and listen to my instinct. In 2013, I ventured into the education sector with Pratham Education foundation, one of India’s largest NGO. I was working in the skill development project that gave training and job placements to rural youth in hospitality sector and I started with managing placements for North India region.
During my travel in Madhya Pradesh.
I still vividly remember my first batch of placement where students were from Rewa & Panna- small areas of Madhya Pradesh. All of them were looking forward for their jobs in the city and the life that was going to unfold for them. I was proud and satisfied of the fact that I was responsible of giving jobs to so many of them. It was going great until a month later, when all the students dropped out of their jobs. The hostile urban cities shocked these youths. They thought it was better to be jobless in their own home towns than be working in the city. This incident changed how I looked at development sector and problems in our society and thus began my journey in the social sector.
This experience made one thing clear that micro entrepreneurship is the way to work and bring about any change. Once that was established I moved to leading women’s entrepreneurship program within Pratham Institute that provided financial support to women to start their own micro businesses in beauty and wellness sector. During this tenure, I got an opportunity to work with women from 12 different states of India. From courageous girls from naxal area in Chhattisgarh to fiercely independent women of Northeast, I worked with all!
With the beauty and wellness team at Dhamatri, Chhattisgarh.
On one such visit to Chhattisgarh, I met up with some young girls who were aspiring beautician. My topic of discussion with them was health and I thought of speaking about menstrual health. The word period made everyone awkward and giggle. In that batch of 30 women and girls, no one could explain why we get periods, not even the married ones! I knew there’s taboo around this topic but so much lack of knowledge was shocking.
Then for next 6 months, I was on a mission to teach women and girls attached to my project about periods and why it happens to us. These sessions became a safe space for women to share their stories. Stories of first period to stories of sexual abuse by their own family members. Though this project I got a deeper understanding of women’s plight and that we needed more structured solution to it and support system that helps young girls and women fight legal fights rather than a charity based approach.
This lead me to start something of my own on reproductive health awareness for adolescent and women. During the same time, I met with few more people who had the same vision and we started our work in Bangalore with a mission of developing and facilitate transformative personal health and wellness education for adolescents and women. In next 6 months, we interacted with 2000+ adolescent and women, we had some astonishing findings. Almost 80% of adolescents did not even know the names of their private parts, talking about sexual abuse or reporting it was a faraway dream. Almost 40% of the boys didn’t think they could be at a risk of sexual abuse. Our project grew from just working with adolescents to mothers of these adolescents.
We started talking about sexual health and STDs with women. But our passion for this project were inversely proportional to funds in our banks. We had hard time finding donors who understood the need for this. And because of lack of financial support, a lot of the pilots didn’t get a chance to fly off and we were forced to stop operations. That 1 years as an entrepreneur showed me the multiple facets of human life and the massive opportunity which lies ahead of us to make our women and girls be more aware of personal health and hygiene.
With the girls of beauty training program in Karnataka.
Currently, I am working with Godrej’s CSR initiative in their Good and Green team which works along with women in all states of India. This initiative focuses on improving earning potential of women by providing them vocational skills in beauty and wellness sector along with life skills that brings in discourse of gender and empowerment and creates safe spaces for women to come and talk about their issues. With the current opportunity, I can apply my field knowledge at much larger, more impactful place and have a career too unlike how social sector is perceived.
Development sector today not only provides opportunity to work on pressing problems of the world but also gives learning opportunities across a range of organizational functions. Having said so working in the development sector has its own challenges like low monetary perks initially, traveling and staying in small towns and villages for long (I love it!) and witnessing change happening at a relatively slow pace, continuously faced by the challenges of the Indian ecosystem. It takes significant amount of patience, focus and determination to witness any change. But once you see that what you do can make a difference, you realise the infinite power one has to bring about any change in the society.
Deepali is currently a Program Manager working in the Employability Programs of Godrej Consumer Products Limited under the company's CSR initiative called Good and Green. She worked as a Project Consultant with Unnati Foundation for Outreach Development and Pratham Education Fountation for Women's Vocational Training and Entrepreneurship Program.