Aprajita Pandey, 31-years, social entrepreneur is the Founding Director at Haiyya, an organization that envisions to transform the leadership fabric of India by organizing ordinary citizens to come forward and create campaigns and movements on the issues that matter to them.
In a span of 4 years, Haiyya has come up on a global map. She asserts her aim is to strengthen democracy and governance through innovative and participatory civic engagement model that builds youth leadership.
She lead the Women’s voting rights campaign for Delhi State Assembly Elections 2013, launched various campaigns across Delhi and Mumbai on issues of women safety, sanitation, youth education and inspired more than 300 Individuals as Haiyya Fellows.
Many reputed grassroots organizations both national and international have used Haiyya's community organizing framework in the past 3 years to strengthen their existing work.
Commonwealth Secretariat recognized her as the Regional winner of Commonwealth Youth Worker Award for Asia region in 2014.
Born and brought up in a small town called Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, her parents have been the biggest source of motivation.
From a young age she realised, “I had the burden or rather the responsibility to become the symbol of pride and success for my family after all the struggles that we had confronted. In 10 years of my childhood, I saw a wonderful gender role reversal where my mother was the breadwinner and my father was the main caretaker and nurturer for us.
Despite all these challenges, my parents worked hard to give us all possible opportunities and privilege to succeed in our lives. But the experience of those 10 years that gave birth to myriad of questions about society, criminal justice system and inequality never got addressed throughout my education till I joined Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2010.”
After her schooling in Chhattisgarh and then B.Tech in Biotechnology from Vellore Institute of Technology, still the idea of sitting inside a laboratory didn’t make any sense to her. She started reading and writing on social/political issues, shifted her stream and went on to graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences where she pursued her Masters in Social Work and specialization in Gender Studies.
After that at Digital Green working with farmers in Bihar the idea of community activism and leadership got triggered within her. She also worked with Special cell for Women and Children, Mumbai and became the co-founder of Campaign Academy India where she led the training design and framework for a yearlong campaigning and mentorship program. For early and mid stage non-profit start-ups she also is a strategic consulting.
Reading and learning about Professor Marshall Ganz who was a key person to design Obama’s electoral campaign in 2008 & 2012, she incorporated Professor Ganz’s value based organizing framework to build a powerful, motivated and active youth fabric and then Haiyya was born in 2013.
Haiyya was started with a simple message of giving power back to the people and really unlocking the ‘prophetic imagination’ of the youth.
Faith in this world and its people drive her. Faith, that even if things get worse, there will be always be a group of people who will care, come forward, stand by each other and change things.
“I believe that one of the biggest challenges that I have faced being a social sector student, a professional and then an entrepreneur is to embrace the idea of simplicity when we deal with humans.
Whether they are our friends, family members, community members, funders or clients. We get stuck in the nexus of jargons, complex language and highly intellectual narratives and arguments that don’t make any sense.
It creates more distance with the people who we want to work with or live with. I have constantly questioned myself and challenged myself to not get stuck in a vacuum where I can only engage and talk to ‘my kind of people’. The idea is to bring people on-board, inspire them and persuade them to join us and not wage a war against them who can possibly be our allies.”
Like any other industry social sector is no different when it comes to women having a voice, taking up executive or business role or leading meetings. She at times she was told that she is not authoritative or aggressive enough and that made her wonder, what traits of leadership they are talking about?
She says, “A leadership or voice that has masculine traits in it, because we are so stuck to the idea of a stereotypical masculine leadership idea. People can be humble, have mild voice, not shake the dais and still talk substance.”
However she feels blessed to have amazing leaders across genders, who have inspired, supported and mentored her. There is a relatively higher space to call out sexism in this sector than in other.
For her the biggest learning has been in this path, is to stay away from anything and everything that has a slight potential to turn her into a ungrateful or negative person.
She advises her peers who want to make a foray in this sector, “Firstly, embody what you aspire to see in this world and around you. Everything else falls in place with time- a good project, good team, financial support, path-breaking ideas etc.
Secondly, When you are thinking of giving up, take one more shot with your core team/peers. There is absolutely nothing you can do alone.
Thirdly, patience is really important. Few things will happen in time and speed you want. Few things will always take time. Make that waiting time worthwhile. Time is the biggest resource we have.”
Currently her focus is to scale efforts about diverse issues.
Presently there are two campaigns running across Delhi NCR- one on access to safe sexual and reproductive health services and the other on air pollution.
The field strategy works in a way that common citizens and youth can take a lead on it. The framework is adaptable and applicable for each and every organization that is working on the ground to build stronger community power.
Haiyya is looking out to work with a bigger pool of organizations this year and introduce community organizing in their work.
Additionally they are also working towards launching a program that will create an army of trainers and coaches who are well equipped and skilled in community organizing tools and techniques. This will help them rapidly scale to different geographies and issues.