Lessons from a Humble Pin

Sangeeta Menon was a participant in the inaugural leadership program by ILSS and writes about her learnings from the program.

There was a moment — of clarity, truth or, perhaps, epiphany? — during the nine-day ILSS programme that I recently attended at the hugely inspiring Ashoka University.

On a cold wintry day, as I accompanied my cohort around the processing centre of Goonj in Delhi, I stopped and gaped, and then gaped some more, as we were shown one of the many sundry items (clothes, toys, utensils, books, even antiques!) that the organisation collects routinely to make social change possible: there, neatly piled on a table were hundreds of used staple pins, gleaming under the dull light with a sense of purpose and promise as they awaited their turn to be sold as scrap in exchange for cash that would be put to good use at Goonj!

The encounter with those humble staple pins drove home some important truths for me, and at the right time, too. For one, even these seemingly worthless pins that we routinely toss away without a second thought, had some value. Two, when the problems you are trying to solve are so humungous, there is no discounting the potential of any resource, big, small or tiny, to play a role.

The timing of my tryst with the staple pins couldn’t have been better. Having crossed over from the corporate sector to the social sector — I co-founded India Development Review last year — I have had moments of severe self-doubt, where I asked myself if I had made the right decision, if I had the skills and the knowledge required to make a dent in our country’s development goals, if I would be of any use to the social sector. All it took was a small pile of used staple pins to show me that EVERYONE has a role to play in solving India’s development challenges.

My nine days at ILSS were full of similar moments that reaffirmed my belief that India’s development is everyone’s job to take care of. As we listened to one stalwart speaker after another — AK Shiva Kumar, Harsh Mander, Kamla Bhasin, Urvashi Butalia, Amita Baviskar, Shridhar Venkat and Nachiket Mor, among others — one thing became increasingly clear to the cohort of 20 attending the inaugural ILSS programme: the deep social inequities and the appalling injustices that people in our country suffer demand that we all step up and do our bit.

At the end of long days spent discussing and debating the state of India’s development (or lack of it), the 20 of us would huddle around our dinner tables, sometimes reflective, at other times disturbed, never comfortable. We would trudge back each evening to our respective rooms in the students’ hostel, our minds in a whirl and our hearts troubled, asking ourselves — and each other — how we could challenge and change status quo. And we already had a sense of what the answer might be.

Looking away is not an option anymore.

Sangeeta is Co-Founder of India Development Review (IDR) and has over 20 years of experience in journalism and communication, including in editing & writing, loyalty communication, direct marketing, digital marketing and internal communication. She has worked with the Tata group, Etihad Airways, Business India & The Economic Times. She holds an M.Phil in English from SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. Sangeeta wants to grow IDR into a reliable, reputed and valuable resource for the Indian development sector, ensuring that underserved topics & communities get the attention they deserve.

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