My Rendezvous with Saajha and ILSS

I first met the Saajha team during a field visit that was organized to give the 20 participants of the inaugural batch of India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) an immersive grassroots experience.

ILSS is a great initiative aimed at bringing deep insights and a better understanding of the social sector to those who are looking at making a meaningful transition from the corporate world to the development sector. After a whole lot of pre-work, the energetic and young team of ILSS had identified a few NGOs or non-profits for the ILSS cohort to visit and spend a few hours in smaller groups. Since I had expressed a keen interest in understanding more about the education space, I was in the group that visited Saajha. Saajha works towards enhancing parental and community engagement in Government schools, thereby improving learning outcomes of children.

As one of the co-founders, Saransh Vaswani, told us, the idea of Saajha took shape with the realization of the absence of parental involvement in a child’s education and overall development, especially among children studying in Government schools. For several reasons such as the parents not being educated enough, not having the time or simply assuming that they are not capable of contributing in any manner; their low level of participation in their child’s education remains one of the core issues in the education ecosystem. It is important to note that absence of intent was not one of the reasons. Today, Saajha is about four years old and has already engaged with more than 20,000 parents in 1100 schools across geographies.

We met some of the mothers who were from lower income and conservative families and who shared their stories of how after becoming members of School Management Committees (SMCs) with the help of Saajha, they feel more empowered and have gained the confidence and determination to work together towards bringing improvements in the education system and shifting cultural mindsets.

After completing the ILSS program, I have met the Saajhedaars(collaborators) on a few other occasions. We have had interesting conversations on articulation and communication, and issues such as assumptions, fear of judgement, power equations, etc. coming in the way. One of the team members shared a very simple but apt example – a huge majority of the parents believed that they cannot read even a single word, but when compelled to do so, they are actually able to finish reading a book. The manifestation of good intent in increased participation by all stakeholders is essential for any change to take place.

Since the day I went for the ILSS program and since my first interaction with Saajha about 5 weeks back, I have met several inspirational leaders, spent a lot of time reflecting, reading and listening, quit my cushy corporate job, and reached out to several people and organizations, including Saajha, to figure out how can I be more involved with them.

What fascinates me the most is — what is that common value at both ILSS and Saajha that inspired me, inspired the other 19 people from the ILSS cohort and inspired the parents whose kids go to government schools? It is the single common objective of making people realize their true potential. We might not acknowledge it, but many of us are pessimistic about the impact that we can make or the difference that we can bring as individuals. “Will I be able to do that?”; “Am I good enough?”; “Do I have it in me?” are all questions that we commonly ask ourselves. There is also another kind of us who keep asking — “What is in it for me?”; “Why should I care?”. For me all these questions and apprehensions got addressed to a large extent at ILSS and during my interaction with Saajha. Both the experiences have left me overwhelmed by the amount of work that is already being done and the amount that still needs to be done to make this earth a better place.

As one of the speakers at ILSS told us, all humans have the innate capacity for compassion, we all have the equity impulse – we just need a nudge in the right direction. For the parents who are gradually becoming more involved with their kids or for all of us who attended the ILSS program, that nudge came in the form of Saajha and ILSS respectively. There is a benevolent force behind all of us…I discovered it in the past few weeks, it’s time you discover yours.

As Karl Marx said — “(it has to do with) replacing the domination of circumstances and chance over individuals by the domination of individuals over chance and circumstances”.

Disha has over 15 years of experience in different facets of communications including media relations, public affairs, marketing communications, internal communications and stakeholder engagement. She has worked with leading organizations like Pernod Ricard, Philips, IBM, and Ogilvy & Mather. She holds a PG Diploma in Advertising & Public Relations and a Bachelors of Commerce from Delhi University. She wants to work towards the goal of improving the quality of education in India. She believes that communications, when used strategically, can help social organizations influence people and change lives for the better.

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