Tales of the World: Views on Poverty

I read a couple case studies in a business course around poverty and wanted to share some thoughts on the same. Names are changed to protect the real identities of people.

Maria from Costa Rica is 45 years. She has no husband but has two brothers and one sister who have their own small businesses. She sells jewelry and paintings and often asks for help from her sister and brother in times of need. She had a fairly good education. She completed 7th standard and then went to community college and eventually landed in Bank of Commerce with a job. She prefers doing business because it is something that does not restrict her, gives her ample opportunities to grow and it is something that is her own.  In her view, a good life should be something in which children can go to school and learn and enjoy.

Maya, on the other hand is from Sri Lanka who has a husband and two sons. She sells worship materials in front of a shrine. She did not land in that position by choice because she was uneducated as well as had to opt out of workforce because she was pregnant and had to take care of her children. She landed in this position accidentally when her relatives left their shop to her when they shifted to another country. She doesn’t talk much about her husband’s role in her life. But what she mentions clearly is that both puberty and pregnancy had forced her to not work in spite of the fact that she was good in basic arithmetic and managing her father’s shop when she was kid.  

Greta is from United States who is 34 years old, stays in a small town and has studied till grade 10. She describes her husband as one who does not have any bad habits and explicitly states the fact that she supported his business of producing and distributing homemade pickles. They also have a good understanding between them that helps them plan better and take decisions together. In her interview, she talked about good detailed financial planning that she uses to run her business. In order to zero down on the pickles varieties they would sell, together, they did a market analysis to see what king of pickles were in demand and her husband used his existing market skills with the shopkeepers to sell the lot. In her case though, it was the hope to make her son enter a more respectable and well-paying job like the areas of engineering or medicine that motivated them to start their own business. Greta felt that business should be done with a sense of profit making but with service I.e. one should ensure the products are of good quality, maintain loyalty with suppliers and customers and then focus on making profit through planning and strategies. In her work, she does extensive note keeping and maintains all her budgets and primarily uses them in two directions: one is Savings that are being incurred through the business and the second is the money to use laterally for growing the business gradually. She had also involved her son in the business who has been doing an excellent job in understanding how the market functions and has been more efficient in delivery and sales of the pickles.

Greta does emphasize the impact of certain social taboos around and together with her husband does feel the lack of higher support that could have led them to study more. Because not only did she like to study, she was also good at it and believed she could have done better.

These are excerpts of conversations with women living in subsistence in different countries across the world. Keeping the geographical, social, economic and other variations aside, one is able to see a set of common threads that define the nature of poverty from a larger perspective. 

Inferences and Interpretation 

All three cases happened to be females where one realizes the following factors are critical in having impact on the lives of people from economically under privileged strata of the world.

  • Support from partner or a general sense of community: In cases where we saw that a woman is married, the support of the husband is very critical in helping her do better or at least sustain the in the workforce. More often than not, an uncooperative husband would keep the wife at home taking care of the child and doing household activities and would not share the monthly income with her. Not just economic decision making but even mental health gets affected of the whole family in this case. 
    In case the woman is not married, she should feel some kind of connectedness with her siblings or family. She should be able to reach out to them when she needs help.
  • More than money, confidence and trust are needed: Education and in these specific cases nonprofits have not given them money but the confidence and hope that things can change and requisite skills for vocation. We must remember one thing, these are people who are devising novel ways every day to survive in places where the civil society malfunctions or the government does. They must have very good coping mechanisms in sense of mental and financial resilience. It is important to acknowledge that and tap into that. They probably do not need tangible external sources to add something to their lives – in every case.   
  • Managing relationships: One might argue that the poor have to have good relationships because that is their only token to get things done. That might be fair to an extent. I would argue that this is general manifestation of human nature that they exhibit in a larger degree. In reading all the three conversations, it was extremely clear how they value and approach relationships that are professional and personal. It did not require for them to learn that in business school and on their own, it would not be wrong to think they are running some of quite efficient businesses in the world that are hidden because of not being at scale.
  • Poverty is gendered: There are many nuances of poverty that are felt only by females in one manner and certainly some by men in a certain manner. Since for women, it is a more unequal system three incidents that completely and suddenly take them away from the workforce system are puberty, marriage and pregnancy. Without any questions being asked and ways to change the trend, generation after generation adheres to existing norms within a culture that are detrimental to the overall existence of this gender. Again, to emphasize, this is not a problem of just that gender: factors of law, sociology, education and others strongly play into this.      

Larger Views on Poverty

As expressed, poverty is complex. One is not sure if it could ever be abolished but one can definitely be cognizant of how it plays out.

  • Poverty is a result of asymmetry of information in the world. This is of specific information that carries some advantage in form of some sort of power in the world. And poverty cannot be addressed unless there is a way to address this skewness or asymmetry. Even if this asymmetry continues, which it will, there can never be complete symmetry at any point of time; there should be ways in which people who are poor can break into structures of power. Affirmative action is one such mechanism but idea behind it needs to be reformed in a manner that suggests that it aims to correct societal dysfunction where one puts the privileged as unacceptable rather than the poor.
  • Poverty has to be viewed as a phenomenon like corruption or patriarchy in which both the oppressed and the oppressor have, if not equal, but vital roles to play. Therefore, it might not be both correct and possible to take sides in this case. There needs to be a holistic approach that considers all sides fairly and then lead the implementation. Conditioning has happened for both and therefore they continue to contribute to it equally in their own ways. What might help is removing the morality cap from poverty and not putting the blame completely on either of the sides.  
  • Co designing with community: From all the talk on sustainability, one must realize that more often than not things fail because community or people for whom things are being made are not involved in the discussions at all. Only when things are ready to be introduced are they called upon and made a part of the implementation. In order to have a successful interaction while co designing, one must also try to remove the heaviness that a good education carries with it because essentially it is this, that prevents them from speaking up or that makes them feel less. Their strengths have to be acknowledged in all forms.
  • Good Governance: Poverty is more political than economical.  Unless leadership in a country (and at a larger level, leadership of the world) has a clear ideology of working towards bringing better solutions to fight poverty, we might not get anywhere with the above realizations. Most of scalability and sustainability questions are now being answered by exploring opportunities by involving the government more, making it accountable and helping it meet its own objectives.  In this regard, unless the political will is set right it might be hard to change the course in which poverty in the world in increasing.

About the Author: Ananya Tiwari

Ananya is the cofounder of SwaTaleem Foundation.

Fish in the Pond

During November of 2019, Founders at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign hosted a two-day event in Chicago for startups and During the summer of 2019, I received an email that was recruiting students to work with SwaTaleem for a variety of roles. Because of my longstanding interest in gender issues and education, I reached out to Ananya hoping to learn a little bit more about the work that they do. Ananya happily told me about SwaTaleem, and I soon came aboard as a graphic designer for a social media project. However, over the next few months I came to realize that there was much more work being done by the team than I could of perceived before.

Every month I learn about different components that members are working on from writing research papers to marketing to working with iVenture on campus. Our little contributions also come to life as we hear stories about the work being done in India. Although the girls are so far from us at UIUC, we get to help through spreading the word and internalizing the problem, and a brighter future for them also means one for us and the world. What amazed me is that over the past ten months, I have heard the name SwaTaleem numerous times from people. Saying I am a part of their organization is always impressive, and it makes me really proud of what has come about through everyone’s diligent and passionate work.

Through working with SwaTaleem I have been able to work on my graphic design skills, write and edit papers, attend conferences, and meet a very dedicated and kind team. It has shown me more of how to truly make an impact on the world, and I hope to always find such mediums to give back and restore our faith in humanity.

 

About the Author: Anica Bhargava

Anica, class of 2020, is pursuing a degree in Computer Science + Anthropology at The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She joined SwaTaleem during the summer of 2019 after their mission coincided with a cause close to her heart. Since being a young girl, she has been fascinated with gender issues and passionate about education, and post graduation, she hopes to continue to work towards making a better and equal world so everyone can be their best. 

Learning to Help

During November of 2019, Founders at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign hosted a two-day event in Chicago for startups and entrepreneurs around Illinois. Ananya, SwaTaleems co-founder, asked a team member to represent and pitch, so I decided to give it a try. At first I was a bit weary as start-ups are notorious for their extravagant missions and plans revolving around their product and we were about people, education, and social change. Moreover, I had never worked or had experience in this space, but Ananya assured me it would be a great opportunity to learn.

On the first day, there were many panels discussing how investors choose which companies to fund and what attributes make certain startups more attractive than others. Among these it was essential to have a running client base and a market space: both which SwaTaleem seemingly did not relate to. Then again, during the pitch, I was faced with questions about our goals and tangible target audience, and I thought ours deviated from these traditional startups.

However, as the weekend progressed, I came to realize that maybe as a non-profit we do not align with the startup steps, but we still bring the innovation, passion, and dedication that any entrepreneur brings. Everyday the co-founders treat their mission as their focus and work in their greatest abilities to reach it. From the need for funding to understanding the schools/government/girls we are trying to help, the depth and hardwork are nothing short of a technical startup. It is easy for anyone to have ideas and to create a mission, but to make a working product, to iterate it, and to come out profitable is what entrepreneurship is about.

As we all work everyday to deeply understand who we work for and the best possible way to serve the community, we also critically analyze the results to improve our models. Our target audience and market space are the girls who are forced into child marriage along with varius components of society that need to change to achrive our mission. Thorough research is done in the ecosystem, human centered design, and fundraising to reach a goal as strong as any.

Technology is not only about the newer and modern products but rather about finding new ways to tackle what was once impossible. Girls are married away without ever knowing the potential they may have, and SwaTaleem works to open that door and show girls that there is a wonderful mind where everyone else may just see a child bride. That is technology in its own form: new and now possible. From attending the weekend, I came to understand the difference nonprofits make and the way our organization conducts itself each step of its way.

 

About the Author: Anica Bhargava

Anica, class of 2020, is pursuing a degree in Computer Science + Anthropology at The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She joined SwaTaleem during the summer of 2019 after their mission coincided with a cause close to her heart. Since being a young girl, she has been fascinated with gender issues and passionate about education, and post graduation, she hopes to continue to work towards making a better and equal world so everyone can be their best. 

What I Learned by Teaching

I joined SwaTaleem through my Experiential Learning Module at the Young India Fellowship. I chose this project as I did feel we have gaps in the education sector that we need to address and the idea of working with girls to build their socio emotional skills really excited me. These past few months of working at KGBV Jalmana have taught me a lot. I have definitely learnt a lot more about how the education space in India is specially seeing it at the grassroots level. What I have also learnt is how to create lesson plans and independently conduct sessions for the same that are related to concepts of critical thinking, creativity and gender. A lot of this has been possible due to the support extended by SwaTaleem, through interactions with Vaibhav, Ananya and Bharat. Before we went on field, Bharat helped us to understand the intricacies of working in a school where there is no level playing field of access to education. Further we had an expert training session by Kavya, on gender sensitization which helped us to understand the context we would be working in as well as helped us understand the importance of reflections specially as a facilitator.

What I enjoy most about this process is that the girls are very enthusiastic to learn and are filled with energy.We conducted a baseline assessment and all of them have great aspirations to be IPS officers or join the police or be teachers and their love for learning helps me to do my best as a facilitator. It has helped me to design better and creative lesson plans so as to engage with them a little more and have a more focused impact every time I conduct a session.

Something that stood out for me is their creativity specially when we asked them to design their own flags and country for Republic Day. They came up with their country name, the rights people would have and spoke about the best part about their country. When I received answers such as “there is no untouchability in my country”, or “trees are everyone’s best friend”, it really humbled me to know that some of the girls are trying to talk about social issues that they see around their lives, in the classroom.  Another session where I learned a lot as a facilitator was when we tried to address gender biases. I realized that the popular of genders associated with ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ color are not something I could use in their context since it is a very urban concept. Instances like these help me realize I have as much to learn from them as I try to teach.

About the Author: Nayonika Jotsinghani

Nayonika, is currently pursuing the Young India Fellowship 2020, from Ashoka University.  She is working with SwaTaleem as part of the ELM project and is a facilitator at KGBV Jalmana. She really enjoys working with children and is passionate about the education sector. She hopes to continue her work in education post the fellowship and one day aspires to create sustainable solutions for addressing some of the gaps that are prevalent in the education sector in India.

The Resounding “Yes!”

I was really looking forward to the component of Experiential Learning Module (ELM) as part of the course, Young India Fellowship, and was more than happy to get on board with an organisation, SwaTaleem Foundation founded by YIF alumni – Ananya and Vaibhav. I am really passionate about working in the education sector, of having taught students in some capacity before, I had the full support of my team here at YIF and the team at SwaTaleem to make it one of the best experiences of my life. We were mentored by experts in teaching STEM to students, conducting gender sensitization workshops which helped us shape and form our lesson plans, accordingly.

While we have done sessions spanning months, one of my most memorable incidents was teaching my kids about Kamladevi Chattopadhyay, the first female politician to stand for elections and one of the forefront freedom fighters during our struggle for Independence. I went over her life story, highlighting the important events, to which the students attentively listened. When I asked them on the need for the importance of education and whether they believed it has the ability to take one places in whichever field they liked, the kids responded with a resounding, “yes.” It was quite a heartwarming feeling for the kids to feel passionate about learning and working in the space to eventually impact the society and the country, as a whole. For the purpose of co-education, the kids were more than eager to share the story with the other group, with a special mention on education and how it is necessary and beneficial.

About the Author: Arshmeen Baveja

Arshmeen, having worked in the IT industry for about 1.5 hours, has also been deeply interested in the development sector, especially in the education space. She has taught underprivileged kids creative arts as part of Slam Out Loud fellowship. She is currently pursuing the Young India Fellowship 2020 and has been a part of SwaTaleem in the capacity of an ELM team member from the Young India Fellowship, Ashoka University, since October 2019.

Working at the Intersection of Gender and Education

Having been brought up in an arrangement which not only is devoid of quality education but also structurally reinforces gender biases, I had always wanted to work at the intersection of Gender and Education. SwaTaleem offered me both and some more. Everything from ELM week to STEM and Gender sessions to designing and facilitating lesson plans involved a plethora of learnings with an equal share of challenges.The workshops conducted by Bharat- making Math fun and easy to learn, and Kavya- locating and breaking gender stereotypes- gave us a new perspective in problem solving and critical thinking, which furthered our skills to work with the girls of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya. During the ice breaking session, I was surprised to find out how receptive the majority of the girls are to learning. I had to reflect and question my own preconceived notions about the girls being shy and reserved. Furthermore, facilitating lesson plans was exciting and taxing at the same time- the actual response and impact may deviate exponentially from your expectations. One lesson plan that stuck with me was the one involving reading books and reciting it in the class. I was surprised to see how the girls went out of their way to creatively translate the books into skits and role playing activity. This made me realize that the girls have immense potential and deserve so much more than what is being offered to them.

I had always thought that it takes a balance of skill sets and passion to bring about any kind of change to the world. After working on the project for 4 months, I realized that perseverance and patience are indispensable in order to deal with such intricate and deep rooted social problems. I look forward to religiously working on making and delivering more impactful lesson plans and, contributing to SwaTaleem in more meaningful ways.

About the Author: Jaskirat Kaur

Jaskirat, a Young India Fellow and a Business Economics graduate, hails from Shahabad- a quaint small town in Haryana. Her interest in gender was ignited when she got elected as the Gender Champion of her college. She hopes to work in the domain of education and make a difference, however small it might be.

Story Telling

The Experience Learning Module (ELM) forms one of the important spheres of the Young India Fellowship program journey. For this, we have formed a team of 5 fellows who believe in working in education space and making an impact. After finishing all the required process and going through our ELM options, our ideas, principles and intentions are found to be congruent with what SwaTaleem Foundation is actively doing in the education sphere. Finally, we were really charged when we came to know that we got SwaTaleem as our ELM project.

After a couple of sessions by Kavya (YIF-Alum) and Bharat, we were equipped with the necessary practices, teaching modules and skill sets which helped us in streamlining our energy and time in the classroom. We kick-started our work with KGBV in November and from day one we found ourselves surrounded by a lot of positive energy as kids were really warm and welcoming. Though it took us some time to get the mechanics of the class and 30 curious children, in the tenure of two sessions the ice between the team and the children was shattered.

The bond we share with the children is really special and we were told by school principal that the students look forward to our visit. The students are very energetic, curious, and very studious. Although we do our lesson plans before going to the class, the students never cease to surprise us by performing something intuitive and out of the box.

On one such day, we divided the whole classroom into groups of 5 each and handed out one storybook to each team and asked them to narrate the story to their classmates. While some of the teams came forward and narrated the story to their classmates verbally, there are 2 teams from class 6 who enacted the whole story in front of the class and they supported the skit with props like plants to compliment the cow character in the story. This depth of involvement from the students’ side constantly propels us to do nothing but the best for our students.

As a part of our day in the school we do an array of activities starting from energizing fun dance, focused group discussions where we give them various interesting prompts to talk about and discuss and co-education sessions where they teach others what they have learned in class. To develop critical thinking in the students, we introduced games like “sudoku” to our students, the way they engage with the sudoku is really great.

Our ELM gave me the opportunity to go back to school again, but this time, for a change not as students but as teachers. This opened us to many new perspectives, gave us the opportunity to understand what it takes to teach children. Though initially, the whole thing seemed novice eventually everything fell in place and when I stop and look back the overall experience is very rewarding, and I especially thank the team who confided their faith and trust in us.

Our Journey into the Future

My team and I were inducted into SwaTaleem Foundation through an Experiential Learning Module which is an integral part of the course, the Young India Fellowship. This project excited me because of the chance to work within the sphere of gender equality and sensitization, a sphere I have always been very passionate about. My experience working on this project has been very humbling and eye-opening, in a large part due to the support I’ve received from my team here at YIF and the team at SwaTaleem. Vaibhav and Ananya, the cofounders, connected us to experts in both, STEM education and gender, and organized a session to help us navigate our goals viz-a-viz this project. All these opportunities were really beneficial in guiding us in giving this project our all dedicatedly.

Our journey with the KGBV at Jalmana began in November, and our relationship with the students developed seamlessly. What makes the sessions at the school so special is the unrelenting enthusiasm the students have – they’re young, impressionable, energetic and inquisitive, and their positive attitude really drives the sessions. In a way, these girls have taught me an incredible amount about the right spirit with which to approach life. We conduct a range of activities and use various modes of communication including discussion groups to develop critical thinking, focus groups for problem-solving, and dance and acting to emphasize the value of creativity and leadership, through which their learning outcomes improve as well as our conceptualisation and execution skills. The girls have debated and discussed the nature of the world in 2035, created their own countries, enacted books they’ve read and shown us that even the sky may fall short in limiting them. SwaTaleem, in bringing these opportunities to these deserving students, are investing a remarkable amount of effort, and I wish them all the luck going forward!

About the Author: Anjali Ramesh

Anjali, a student of psychology, has always found the intersection of human behaviour and social justice fascinating, and hopes to leverage her skills and education to leave her mark in the world. She is currently pursuing the Young India Fellowship 2020, and has been a part of SwaTaleem in the capacity of an ELM team member from the Young India Fellowship, Ashoka University, since October 2019.

स्वतालीम और एन.सी.ई.आर.टी का साझा प्रयास

मेवात, 27 और  28 फरवरी , 2019

मेवात जिले के नूँह ब्लाक के कस्तूरबा गाँधी बालिका विद्यालय में ५० शिक्षक-शिक्षिकाओ के लिए २ दिवसीय कार्यशाला  का आयोजन किया गया, जिस में कस्तूरबा गाँधी विद्यालय के टीचर्स , विशेष शिक्षक , और अन्य सरकारी टीचर्स मौजूद थे | मेवात में कार्यशाला के लिए आवश्यकताओं का आकलन के.जी.बी.वी के सभी शिक्षक , शिक्षिका और जिला शिक्षा अधिकारी से बात करके किया गया |

वर्क-शॉप के लिए जिन विषय को चुना गए .

  • समावेश – ज़रूरत , अधिकार और स्कूलों में इसके लिए मंच बनाना
  • प्रजनन स्वास्थ्य
  • लोकोमोटर विकलांगता
  • दृष्टि क्षीणता
  • मानसिक विकलांगता
  • आटिज्म
  • सुनने में परेशानी
  • अल्प-संख्यक वर्ग को ध्यान में रख कर शिक्षण

यह कार्यशाला प्रोफेसर अनुपम अहूजा और अरुणिमा राजीव के द्वारा  संचालित किया गया जो एन सी इ आर टी में कार्यरत है| स्वतालीम ने इसमें अपने भागीदारी विद्यालय में समावेश के मंच बनाने पर सत्र संचालन के द्वारा की| टीचर्स ने अपने फीडबैक फॉर्म में जिन बातो  को सराहा, वे हैं :

  • समूह में सीखना और अपने सहकर्मी के अनुभवो से सीखना |
  • प्रजनन स्वास्थ्य के बारे में चर्चा पूरे ग्रुप के साथ जिस में पुरुष और महिला दोनों शामिल थे |
  • विद्यालय में समावेश के तरीके |
  • विशेष अवस्था वाले बच्चों को लेकर संवेदीकरण सिर्फ विशेष शिक्षक/शिक्षिकाओं तक ही सीमित नहीं थी बल्कि और सभी शिक्षक और शिक्षिका इसमें शामिल थे  |

सभी टीचर्स ने इस कार्यशाला को बहुत ही सराहा और इसका एक सब से बड़ा कारण यह भी था कि  यह कार्यशाला एन.सी.इ.आर.टी दिल्ली में नहीं बल्कि उनके स्कूल में मेवात में ही हुई |

कार्यशाला के दौरान हमारे लिए अपने काम को बेहतर करने के लिए सब से बड़ी सीख यह रही कि  कार्यशाला में सुनिश्चित किया जाये कि  कंटेंट बहुत ज्यादा नहीं होना चाहिए और समूह का कार्यशाला के बाद भी लगातार इंगेजमेंट रखना ज़रूरी है तभी एक बेहतर परिणाम सामने आता है | यह कार्यशाला एक सामूहिक प्रयास (कस्तूरबा गाँधी विद्यालय के टीचर्स , विशेष शिक्षक ,अन्य सरकारी टीचर्स और  प्रशासनिक अधिकारीयों) के द्वारा सफल हो पाई |

आने वाले दिनों में इस तरह के सहयोग से कस्तूरबा गाँधी बालिका विद्यालय को एक मिसाल बनाने का प्रयास किया जायेगा |


Collaboration – NCERT and SwaTaleem

Mewat, 27-28 February, 2019

A 2 day workshop was conducted for 50 government teachers (KGBV teachers, special educators and other government school teachers) in KGBV-Nuh, Mewat on the issues identified after visiting KGBVs in Mewat and talking to district education officials in a 3 day need assessment (conducted by Prof Anupam Ahuja and Arunima from NCERT and Arzoo from Swataleem). The issues that were picked up during the workshop are:

  1. Inclusion – Need, Rights and Creating platforms in Schools
  2. Reproductive health
  3. Locomotor Disability
  4. Visual impairment
  5. Intellectual disabilities
  6. Autism
  7. Hearing Impairment
  8. Minority Education

This was spearheaded by Prof Anupam Ahuja and Arunima from NCERT. The things that teachers appreciated and mentioned in their feedback forms were:

  1. Experiencing peer learning and group learning
  2. Reproductive health discussed in a mix group of males and females
  3. The sensitization on children with special needs were not limited to just special educators and involved all the educators.
  4. Techniques for inclusion in schools

Teachers really appreciated that NCERT training is happening in their school rather than in NCERT.

The learning for us to improve upon as a group is to ensure to pick up less content and have more continuous engagement through various means for an effective outcome.

What was fascinating to see was to see an NCERT workshop happening in premises of KGBV in Mewat. It was a collaborative effort of KGBV teachers, special educators other government school teachers  and District education officials.

Looking for more such collaborations to make KGBVs as examples of excellence.