What happens outside a She Creates Change Learning Lab is often just as powerful as what happens inside it. Since launching our flagship programme five years ago, our alumni have paved their own powerful paths in empowering more women from some of the most far-flung communities in their regions.
Pranay Manjari is one of the most active She Creates Change alumni in India. She organized her first Cascade Lab – the term we use for alumni-led Learning Labs – in 2019 as an in-person event, which later grew into a community of women changemakers from Odisha, an Eastern State of India known for its rich culture, heritage, and tribal communities. The second alumni-led Learning Lab in Odisha was held entirely online from December 10 to 12, 2021. Last week she delivered a third roll-out, this time in person, bringing together 41 students in the National Institute of Social Work and Social Science (NISWASS), Bhubaneswar. Most of the participants came from underrepresented and marginalized communities.
The autonomy and ownership displayed by Pranay in organizing these alumni-led Learning Labs is a testament to the cascade effect of She Creates Change changemakers stepping into organizer and facilitator roles. Our team talked to her about her experience:
[As told to Meenakshi Gandotra and Arzoo Shakir, Change.org Foundation. Edited for clarity.]
Change.org Foundation: What motivated you to initiate an independent She Creates Change lab in Odisha, and how would you describe your journey from a changemaker to a facilitator of many more changemakers?
Pranay Manjari: I joined the She Creates Change cohort and slowly and gradually realized the power of community. I understood the kind of issues and problems that were being solved by the changemakers, and also how to raise my voice. There are many issues that can’t be solved overnight, but you can make an impact, and make people aware. Like the petition started by Priyanka, which was sent to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to bring change in passports for children with single moms. It has a high level of complexity but focuses on a really long-term impact. Or Pranaadhika’s campaign that is seeking one million signatures against child abuse. I realized that strength comes from the power of this community.
I wanted to bring that to Odisha, once I realised that a similar women changemaker community culture was missing. There are changemakers who are working at the community and grassroots levels who couldn’t come to the Learning Lab that happened in Bangalore because of the language difference. For those who can’t speak or understand English or Hindi, it can be very difficult. I tried to bring in Bideshini, Meghna, and other people from Odisha. I tried to help them fill out applications, but it wasn’t really very helpful because they needed extra support during the lab, and their engagement was actually low.
So I thought I could create Learning Labs in regional Indian languages for women who are already making change and who needed help in terms of fundraising or for their individual platforms. They should not be deprived of this kind of support just because they don’t know English and Hindi.
If you reflect on your individual journey with She Creates Change, how has it been?
I was selected as a changemaker as part of the She Creates Change programme because of my work on construction sites with children. I remember one of the questions in the application form, ‘How to create a structure where children of migrant construction workers will have continued education?’ Because their parents migrate, they end up dropping out of school. During the She Creates Change Learning Lab, I could develop a structure to tell this story.
My campaign is asking and creating awareness about how married daughters in India can’t even meet their parents, so forget about even supporting them financially, emotionally. Actually, my journey as an activist started at She Creates Change. Before that, I was working on education and labor rights. The program taught me about gender inequality. Of course, being a woman is sufficient to know that, but being present in those inequities became deep. Many alumni from the cohort joined me irrespective of whether they had the same problem or not. That’s something that motivated me, and I’m grateful for this program.
So I’m creating more and more Learning Labs, like this one in Odisha, and more spaces for communities where women are supporting other women and breaking the myth that ‘women are the worst enemies of other women’. I always say that people should know about She Creates Change to see the solidarity and sisterhood that can create wonders in this space of bringing justice and equity for everyone.
In your three independently organized She Creates Change labs, there were a lot of changemakers coming from marginalized communities. What have you specifically kept in mind to be able to recruit these changemakers and make the lab relevant for them?
I don’t think I can answer this in one or two minutes. This is a difficult question. I think the intention, as I said before, was very clear: how can we accommodate women who are not privileged like us? Well, at least in language and technology. It doesn’t mean that they don’t know the subject. It doesn’t mean that they are not creating change. In India, more than 60% of people live in rural areas, so my intention has always been from day one to see how diverse and inclusive we can make this group, and how intersectionality will be a major factor for the She Creates Change community. It is important to have people who know language, who know technology to influence changemakers, but then I think the time has come that we also start including people from the grassroots level.
In the lab in Odisha, we have 21 women out of 39 who come from Scheduled Tribes [an indigenous people in India that are officially regarded as socially disadvantaged] and from the Sundergarh district. Actually, this is one of the richest districts in terms of minerals, but when it comes to the right to food and education, the indicators are not good.
So having these women participating as changemakers at this point of time is definitely a big thing. There are many who are actually first-generation learners as students in their entire villages or locality. There are changemakers who don’t have electricity or a proper road in their villages. These kinds of women have struggled and did everything to come, so to have them in our lab is an honor for everyone who is interacting and reading their content.
Now, as part of She Creates Change, they can bring up all issues related to tribal rights, which is the most marginalized and neglected community in India. They are bringing their own diversity of knowledge and skills, and the things they know that are happening in those places.
[Interviewed by Meenakshi Gandotra and Arzoo Shakir; written by Lucas Pretti; and edited by Mary Imbong and Taruni Kumar. Images credit: Pranay Manjari Samal and Bhagyabati Subudhi.]