Action Learning Share-out & Mastermind
Saturday, February 23rd, 2019
9am – 12pm
360 14th St, Oakland, CA 94612
9:15a Light Refreshments
9:30a Welcome & Introductions to projects and fellows
9:40-10:30a Fellows Mastermind Session 1
12:30-1:30p Optional Tasty Lunch!
Fellows Profile: Shalini Krishnan
WAITING FOR JASMAN
Dutifully following the age old Indian tradition of following the beaten track to a marketable degree Shalini did embark on an engineering track for her undergrad and design for her post-graduate studies. And all the while she questioned her purpose in life. Design conditioned her to analyze the world around her and the technical aspect of her work seemed remote from the emotional and human realm that she was trying to get closer to. She did not feel like she was in the driver’s seat of her life and that though doing well professionally she felt a weight on her spirit. And then she got an opportunity to do a yearlong social impact fellowship with SBI, ‘Youth for India’.
While researching and contextualizing herself with the village & school community in a remote village in the state of Orrisa, India she noticed an inherent talent in the children. The students, of whom 90% belonged to local tribal villages had immense aesthetic sense and near perfect artisanship to create using their hands. After couple of months of pilot sessions, an idea finally took tangible shape when she met Jasman, a 4th grader who created a highly detailed mobile phone prototype for himself – simply out of waste cardboard and plastic wires. Jasman became the symbol of the vision that Shalini held for the children and that was the pivotal moment when she took the decision to establish Kalpanadham – Adobe of Imagination, a physical space for the students of these villages.
Through this fellowship Shalini was able to bridge the gap between education and life purpose, a blind spot that suddenly came into focus and she was able put her education and experience in service of this project to empower this young tribal generation so that they are able to contribute to their communities in more progressive ways. Kalpanadham was set up to achieve this by adopting methods from alternative education practices, art, community building and design thinking for both educators and students. In this direction, she launched the pilot in mid-2015, in a rural school housing 500 students, with an initial crowdsourced seed funding and Shalini felt she had found her purpose!
Overcoming the language barrier and using sign language sometimes with hilarious results Shalini bonded with the kids in the village and they flocked to Kalpanadham to create magic with their hands and imagination. Shalini reveled in creating space where children learned to problem-solve and come up with ingenious ways of using material at hand to create things of incredible beauty. To able to serve children who in the lot allotted to them by birth and situation would never have had the opportunity to be in such an experiential situation gave her immense joy, her project was a physical reality and gave voice to the creative imagination of the tribal children. As opposed to the many needs that needed to be worked on like lack of sanitation or potable water, which was glaringly obvious Shalini felt she was giving life to an invisible need which when served would have long lasting impact. Using their imagination and inquisitiveness via the medium of performing and visual arts children could be trained to become the future problem solvers and solution providers instead of waiting for external intervention.As part of establishing Kalpanadham, Shalini had worked on building a network of artists who got connected and interested in Kalpanadham to be volunteer contributors. The school principal took the initiative to take responsibility of Kalpanadham. Post fellowship, Shalini made a choice to migrate to US with her husband; she managed Kalpanadham remotely for a year with the help of the team she set up on location. The project is still ongoing though not as robust as Shalini would like it to be yet there were also unexpected offshoots of success with Gram Vikas, a local nonprofit opening similar center, in all their three schools run for tribal children.
As Shalini faced the travails of settling into a new country she felt her remote grip loosening on Kalpanadham and the image of Jasman who was inspirational to her starting this work fading rapidly. Being chosen to be part of the BK Foundation’s Action Learning Fellowship revived and rekindled her determination to keep the project going regardless of geographical locations as children like Jasman are everywhere! Currently Shalini is elbow deep in the messiness of transition and is crystal clear that chaos comes before change and clarity. She is focused on transplanting the project, making it more mobile and useful to children regardless of where they reside and learn, be in in gated communities, schools or localities of newly arrived immigrants from all over the world.
Shalini defines community by how people deal with problems, grief and joy together. She sees herself as an initiator and if she can inspire the younger generation look for solutions rather than be dampened by problems she feels she would be at peace. From just claiming that children like Jasman are the future she would have given them the voice to speak up and stand up for themselves. She would have given them the opportunity to be seen and heard by their parents, peers and community.
About the Project KALPANADHAM: Create a space for creative exploration, using the medium of art and design, in collaboration with local volunteers, contributors and experts. To design and deliver contextually relevant, high quality, hands on workshop sessions for children, especially belonging to underserved communities. Thereby empower them find their voice and develop life skills and qualities like imagination, problem-solving, collaboration and empathy to enable
them to become agents of transformation in their communities.
Fellows Profile: Cheri-Leigh Erasmus
BEING AND DOING
The Three Cs of life according to popular quotes is Choices, Chances and Changes, they say if you don’t make a choice and take a chance your life will not change. Cheri’s version is Curiosity, Culture and Community! If you are not curious about the culture of a community there is no way you are stepping into it to make any lasting or sustainable changes. Always very curious as a child she channeled this innate curiosity as she grew into exploring the importance of looking inwards towards one’s and other’s cultures and to use that seamless understanding as a bridge to building self-sustaining communities across the world. This core belief coupled with her strength of being able to forge lasting relationship along with her international development skills now helps her in the role of Programs and Learning Manager at the Accountability Lab, a nonprofit aimed at building a new generation of active citizens and responsible leaders around the world, Cheri works with groups of young accountapreneurs and leaders to hold governments accountable to communities in the countries of Nepal, Pakistan, Liberia, Nigeria, Mali, and now South Africa.
Born in South Africa, Cheri comes to her current work of empowering gender equity bearing the intense imprint of experiencing violence first hand. She vividly describes the fear-laden atmosphere that girls grow up in South Africa; simple actions like walking to school, or to work can be physically dangerous resulting in psychological and emotional trauma for the rest of their lives. While this challenge is not unique to South Africa, her commitment to her home country makes the desire to address this issue there more pressing. Gender-Based Violence is prevalent and a reality, and yet a highly stigmatized topic. Having lived in and understanding the cultural nuances of the underlying causes of gender-based violence, the thought that keeps Cheri awake at nights is that there is no one cut and dry way to tackle the many underlying causes ranging from toxic masculinity and generational trauma. The trauma of violence has
been normalized by stigma and familial secrecy. The one question Cheri asks constantly is how will we break this continuity of violence and trauma? And though the task seems immense she also knows that not to try is failure in itself and that even the tiniest sliver of light can shred this false veil of normalcy and find solutions by openly involving, educating and empowering communities.
Accountability is a word close to her heart and coincidentally Accountability Lab is her place of work! She started the first part of her current project in Liberia where they used citizen feedback to hold government officials accountable and influence policy. Using the data gathering tools developed there Cheri and her colleagues seek to venture into South African communities to replicate this success. Cheri thrives at Accountability Lab, working with like-minded people to enable positive social and economic change by empowering change-makers in their respective communities to be accountable and hold others accountable. Recently she was part of a core team redrafting the theory of change for their organization and happily notes that Gender Equity was a mission that was woven into every aspect of policy and decision-making and implemented at all program levels. She thrives in the fact that the organization she is involved in pretty much shares her vision so much so they hire people based on being a great cultural fit. As a leader Cheri would like to look back at her work and see that her vision of self-sustaining communities is a reality. Dependence on external interventions, organizations and people is at a minimalistic level and individuals in all communities see themselves as leaders and catalysts for change.
About the project: Cheri seeks to increase and systematize learning at the Accountability Lab in order to successfully adapt programs from one context to another. On a practical level, she seeks use citizen-led data collection to gain a greater understanding of the issues that lead to gender-based violence in communities, and ultimately catalyze collective action to ensure that more survivors have access to critical services.
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