Engaging With Young People and Influencers: Our Learnings

Yashi Jain

“I think, not to feel guilty about privilege, but to recognize it in a way that how do you really use it to be able to benefit those who don’t have the same access to power.” – Neera Nundy 1

Neera Nundy, Dasra’s co-founder, which works on building the field of adolescent health and wellbeing through the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC), strongly believes in using one’s power and voice to benefit those with less privilege and creating spaces for them to come forth and share their stories. With that ethos,  the 10to19 Collaborative, since it’s inception in 2017 has always strived to bring various stakeholders and young people, we hope to empower, at the same table to engage, learn and share.  

We started our Ab Meri Baari campaign, in 2019 to bring about normative change through communications and advocacy, not only to increase efficacy and agency of adolescents but to also influence the mindset of stakeholders in the ecosystem — government, media, public, parents, teachers, peers, etc. One of our learnings from our first year of intervention and campaign activities was that adolescent health, well-being and their various concerns, especially their SRHR needs, were not a priority for many stakeholders, and the media and public ecosystem was not conducive to having these conversations.  

When the pandemic hit us early last year, on the one hand, it impacted on ground interventions, and created an unprecedented digital divide2. However, on the other hand, it led to organizations deploying technology-based programming to bring young people and digital influencers, content creators, government officials from around the country on the same platform to discuss their concerns about the virus and how it has impacted the lives of young people. Discourses and dialogues that were difficult in the pre-pandemic era became accessible and important during the pandemic. It also gave young people, who had access to network and mobile phones ,an opportunity to become digital advocates for their respective communities.  

DAC recognized two immediate needs: 

1) Building the capacities of our youth champions to use digital platforms not only for their daily consumption but also effectively to advocate for their needs to decision-makers 

2) Engaging with influencers and decision makers through online platforms on adolescent needs and getting them to advocate for the cause. For the past year and a half, we have continued to focus on these two pathways. We have run a campaign to train young people on digital advocacy skills, and are currently training 60 young people from Jharkhand to be local mobile journalists. You can watch some of their work here.  

Mr Amrut Bang, Program Director at Nirman, during one of our Dasra Philanthropy week (DPW) sessions, around importance of leveraging India’s youth dividend, succinctly summed up why we need to get influencers and young people to engage more meaningfully on a regular basis “Young people are hungry for warm and authentic conversations where they can be empathetically understood but also critically challenged.” 3

Our Learnings

  • There is an urgent need to enable participation among young people: We need to stop infantilizing young people and truly believe that they know their needs best. We need to play the role of enablers and provide access to platforms and people they can raise their concerns with. This includes, thinking critically about what we mean by “meaningful participation” and how we must steer away from being tokenistic and ensuring they are truly able to exercise their agency. For instance, during our digital advocacy campaign last year, young people took over Dasra’s Facebook Page to organize webinars, live sessions with frontline workers, post stories and engage in conversations that they cared about. This led to gain in confidence among young people to be able to lead their narratives and on a national platform and also made us rethink our interventions in defining agendas for them.  
  • There are influencers who care: Online platforms have seen a surge in channels where professionals are raising their voice about various topics, with dedicated channels talking about SRHR, mental health for young people etc. They are steered by professionals distilling valuable information and creating a space for conversations. As NGOs, we must engage with them to make use of their platforms to gain more traction for the causes we are advocating for. This not only enables more eye-balls and conversations but also adds legitimacy-  
        • For example, we engaged with Esha Bahal, who is a law student advocating for young people’s rights online. She did a Youth Charcha with Dr Zoya Rizvi, Deputy Commissioner, National Health Mission, MoHFW, where they talked about the importance of youth participation and partnership in systems strengthening. The video saw a good uptake by audiences who would not generally engage in such conversations, hence engaging with unconventional but promising actors in the field currently can be really productive for the cause.  
  • Engagement can enable shared responsibility towards changing the narrative: We launched the #AMBAdvocates series early this year where we identified and got on board 3-4 digital influencers, such as – Navya NandaLeeza MangaldasDr Swati Jagdish and a few advocates from the state government level to be torch-bearers of the cause. This enabled more pro-active engagement and need for creation of knowledge, awareness and space to have these conversations from the other end. Instead of us always leading the agenda, we saw pro-active engagement from advocates to give voice to the cause and influence the larger narrative. Hence, there is an immense power in sharing the agenda and the responsibility for the cause that only enables more mouthpieces to influence the narrative.  
  • Engagement with influencers can inspire confidence and courage amongst your community: Last year on International Girl Child’s Day we were able to get PV Sindhu, the Indian professional badminton player and Padma Shri awardee, to tweet about the need for empowering our adolescent girls with education, access to services and improving their overall well-being for them to be successful women of the future. A single tweet from an influential figure like PV herself, did wonders not only to nudge decision makers but also to inspire confidence and courage among millions of girls in the country.  
  • Creating safe spaces can allow for empathetic discussions and critical thinking from both ends: In our latest Ab Meri Baari podcast episode, when you listen to Navya Nanda and Saba Rehmani talk about Menstrual hygiene management, discussing everything from taboos and myths surrounding MHM, to sharing their first period stories to talking about how they can work together to bring about change in their everyday lives- one feels a sense of empathy and regard, there is just a space for healthy debate and discussions for a better future. Similar spaces were created in our other AMB podcast episodes- a platform headed by young people. Similar to point 1, it is important to create more and more safe spaces.  
  • These conversations push decision makers to be more responsive: Finally, no number of conversations are meaningful enough if they do not result in tangible change in mindset, policy or action overtime. Our various efforts over the year led to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Jharkhand sharing a video message committing to invest more in young people of Jharkhand. This is a big win to have the highest influencer make such a commitment during a pandemic, teaching us that consistent advocacy and conversations have the power to, reach our ultimate goal: nudge decision-makers to make more empathetic systems and policies.  

All in all, we do believe using your power & privilege to enable others is a powerful tool and we truly believe in using our collective voice to bring about change. Supreme Court Lawyer Poulomi Pavini Shukla’s message during the same DPW session, sums it well

“Systems are built on inertia and to change them is difficult, but it’s not impossible. All it needs is a little patience a lot of persistence and basically making enough noise.” 4 

(Please note: All of our initiatives and activities listed in this blog post would not have been possible without the efforts by our partners, we would like to thank them and say that our biggest learning has also been to enable more meaningful partnerships for our common goals