Creating change makers: This coalition aims to build young and responsible citizens
Across the world, hierarchy and patriarchy often restrict the youth from becoming stakeholders in their development or to be leaders for social change. As a result, the high potential of this demographic to empower society is often lost.
Non-governmental organisation ComMutiny has been working to improve this situation through its community of practice comprising 100 youth-focused organisations. They have three core strategies: aggregating, accelerating, and amplifying youth spaces.
“We are seeking a societal change of norms and the shifting of power across all spaces that will allow young people to genuinely participate and share leadership,” says Kanika Sinha, Convenor of ComMutiny and core member of vartaLeap “The aim is to enable them to access their privileges and rights that will lead to a better society.”
At a broader level to empower youth in leadership roles, ComMutiny and Ashoka Innovators collaborated to initiate the setting up a coalition of cross-sectoral institutions and individuals called the vartaLeap Coalition in 2019. In Hindi, “varta” means dialogue.
The coalition aims to co-create a context for youth-centric development and promote the narrative that young people have agency and opportunity. Also, it seeks to engage with their personal and social transformation, contribute to nation-building and global solidarities for a peaceful and sustainable society.
Along with 66 other organisations, vartaLeap took up the missions of making “Every Youth a Jagrik and Every Space Nurturing Jagriks”. “Jagrik” is a word the team has coined to imply a self-awakened, aware, and active citizen or change maker.
There are 176 cross-sectoral members in the vartaLeap Coalition, of whom 47 percent are female. Members come from a total of 21 states and Union territories. They work in multiple locations across states.
“The core principles of VartaLeap Coalition enable members to identify and co-create widely adaptable projects, experiences, and programmes on youth leadership,” says Kanika. “It enables an ecosystem of connected actors to develop a common language, along with interoperable processes and programmes that can then be linked for higher impact through the FLOWING protocol.”
The FLOWING protocol is explained below:
F: Feelings of youth must be honoured
L: Leading together with adults
O: Ownership of self to society
W: Willingness to take risks
I: Inclusion for all
N: Now is as important as the future
G: Grounded in learning through action and reflection
Coalition members work in different Strategic Working Groups to develop collaborative programmes, policy and narrative-building initiatives through vartaLabs.
The groups include vartaKarta that aids in making a larger coalition;Building that looks after member onboarding and engagement; Narratives that is involved in media engagement; Youth Champions comprising youth involved in key strategic activities; and Facilitariat, the executive group responsible for operational actions in the coalition.
This team has nurtured five vartaLabs since 2019. These are SamjhoToh-The Samvidhan LIVE Dialogues, a five-week leadership programme for youngsters; Youth Duties and Rights, an initiative to invest in young people so that they become force multipliers; Togetherness Table, a game that involves fun activities followed by reflection; Gender Jagrik, an initiative to impact gender norms, which is at a pilot stage; and Jagrik Quotient, which aims to provide simple scoring and weightage in terms of life capacities of a Jagrik with the self, relationships, and society.
Making a meaningful impact
Through innovations, the vartaLeap Coalition team has worked with more than 70 members (organisations/individuals), who in turn have directly engaged over 2,500 people in the last year.
“Digital campaigns have become a big part of our activities in the last year,” says Kanika. “Six digital events and a series of cross-sectoral workshops, sessions, and activities led to an online footprint of 12 lakh plus in just the last eight months.”
Scale with Soul is another ComMutiny phraseology that reflects the structure of the ecosystem. Each member and stakeholder joins the processes to listen, learn, dialogue, debate and collaborate, innovate, and incubate.
“The coalition has innovated and piloted Togetherness Table, SamjhoToh-The Samvidhan LIVE Dialogues, Gender Jagrik and the Youth Duties and Rights Framework,” says Ashraf Patel, founding member and part of the board of ComMutiny. “These innovations don’t just impact young people and those who engage with the youth, but the process of co-creation in vartaLabs also influence individuals and the organisations they represent.”
She says the youth need more such sessions where they can discuss issues and solutions.
“A space is now available for the youth to speak, talk, and discuss about their lives, dreams, and ambitions,” 24-year-old member Neha Unhale of the Synergy Foundation says about the Youth Duties and Rights campaign.
Biraj Patnaik, Executive Director of the National Foundation for India and advisory member to vartaLeap, says SamjhoToh aims to reach out to young people with differing ideological perspectives and bring them together for dialogue and to understand each other.
“People come with different perspectives and this initiative aims to create an environment where we are not talking at people, but enabling youth to talk to each other and create a space for everyone to see a different perspective from what they closely hold,” says Patnaik.
As an incubating partner, ComMutiny has supported the vartaLeap Facilitariat since inception by backing team members officially and in their voluntary capacity.
This apart, vartaLeap has been trying to raise resources for innovations, developing, piloting, and scaling them. For this, it has received about Rs 20 lakh – Rs 10 lakh to scale SamjhoToh and the rest from institutional donors to pilot Gender Jagrik in five different communities.
“The implementation of the coalition’s plans got stalled once the lockdown started, but we were able to adapt to the digital world,” Ashraf says adding, “The pandemic aggravated the exclusions that young people face. Hence, looking at strategies to rebuild communities in the aftermath was important."
“The impetus to engage and reach more people who can engage with the youth became even stronger and our digital spaces had to be adapted to mirror physical experience as much as possible.”
Ashraf says the aim now is to scale existing innovations by inspiring more members and partners to execute them in their own communities. They can also raise funds for the coalition.
Members of the coalition are conceptualising and designing more youth-centric innovations. They are also digitising existing innovations and a tech platform that brings all of the coalition’s work together, making it simpler for youth practitioners.
“Strengthening the coalition by inviting diverse new members will collectively shift youth engagement policies, programmes, and practices,” she adds.
Edited by Lena Saha