In 2018, when a group of Indian women recognized that government officals were not doing enough to locate victims of the Kerala floods, they mobilized. The women scoured social media looking for messages from stranded people, verified their locations and coordinated with rescue operations. More than 6,000 people were saved.
Namita, who was a part of these efforts says: “When our campaign was over, we sat back, opened a spreadsheet and tallied the number of people we had reached out to… it was amazing to be a part of this setup, where we all feed off each other’s energy, inspire each other, motivate and help each other in succeeding.”
This group of inspiring women didn’t come together by chance. Over the last two years, the Change.org Foundation’s She Creates Change programme has brought together more than 120 Indian women to build their advocacy skills, amplify their campaigns and connect as a community of leaders for social change. Women in this community have led over 80 campaigns that have had national or state impact across India.
Early on, we realized that a community of women that encourages diverse types of leadership was much more likely to grow, self-sustain and generate more impact across the country.
As the She Creates Change community grew, different leadership roles emerged:
- Champions – Women who run strong national campaigns that mobilize thousands of people. They act as spokespeople to the media and government, amplifying issues that affect women’s lives. Champions like Srilekha, who is running a nationally recognized campaign to secure menstrual hygiene services for young girls in the Jharkhand region, offer the groups inspiration and motivation.
- Connectors – These women don’t lead a single specific campaign, but rather organize to build structures and systems that support the growth of the entire community. For example, Namita encourages women to start their own campaigns and, connects them to others who might be able to help. She has an eye to all of the campaigns in action and can thererfore make strategic links.
- Experts – They provide expert guidance on key strategic skills or issues that help push a campaign forward. From developing compelling social media campaigns sto engaging with supportive financial institutions, Experts have the diverse skills it takes to win a campaign. For example, lawyer Sagina provides legal advice to campaigns looking to change government policy.
- Buddies – Campaigning for social change is difficult, emotional and takes a long time. Women who are Buddies provide the logistical and emotional support to others who are the public or strategic face of a campaign. Like Pranaadhika who shared her police contacts and experience to help women who needed police support on cyber abuse. Buddies celebrate women’s successes and stand by them during setbacks, rallying support and encouragement.
It’s tempting to think that every women should be a social change ‘Champion’. But that ignores the wider community of leaders it takes to create sustained impact. Through She Creates Change, we train and support all women to start campaigning and be leaders on the issues they care about. But by recognizing different types of leadership roles, we build a stronger, more diverse and vibrant community whose members are influencing policy changes, speaking to government leaders and engaging with the media across India.
For an NGO looking to build women’s leadership and political participation, we have found community support to be an integral component. But that community will only sustain itself and grow if members take on different leadership roles. Developing these different roles is key to creating a sustainable group that exists and takes action independently of an NGO’s continuous intervention.
At the start of 2017, only 23% of Change.org India’s monthly users were women. Our research showed that lack of support, isolation and fear of backlash were some of the biggest barriers preventing women from leading their own campaigns for social change. Based on that, we developed She Creates Change, a comprehensive community-building program that supports women to become leaders, spokespeople and advocates for change.
Today, instead of focusing on creating only champions, the She Creates Change community is a space where champions, experts, buddies, and connectors all contribute to learning, campaigns, support and the long-term sustainability of their growing movement for change.
For more information on the She Creates Change program, visit https://changefoundation.org/tag/she-creates-change/ or @changeorgfound on Twitter.