This is two part article, the second one is due in the Spring of 2020.
“He got my message, because I had mixed salt in his coffee.”
I and the hall full of people laughed aloud when my friend spoke about her story of escaping a forced marriage. By her action and that small act she stood up for her rights and that of other girls. She had spoilt the bitter coffee called patriarchy and she would be doing so one cup at a time. This story was one of the many stories I heard last month which questioned my beliefs, made me cry and laugh in Sweden.
Prologue: The Acceptance
I was typing hard on my grey laptop when a notification popped up on my chipped mobile screen - “SI LEADER LAB 2019 - Acceptance of offer”. Out of happiness, I didn’t read the rest of the email to even know the dates but forwarded it to my partner. My partner didn’t call me but in his inimitable organised way he sent a calendar notification to me: Event - ‘Mayuri goes to Sweden’ from 6th to 19th October.
So what is the SI Leader lab? The Swedish Institute (SI) is a government agency that promotes interest and trust in Sweden around the world. The SI Leader Lab aims to strengthen the capacity of gender advocates in the MENA and the South Asia regions so that they can drive change that contributes to gender equality and peaceful and inclusive societies (Objective 5 and 16, Agenda 2030). The SI Leader Lab is divided into four modules: two online and two onsite trainings in Sweden.
Chapter 1: Hello Basegroup!
On our first meeting of the first module we were asked to introduce ourselves to our small basegroup by sharing the 2-3 things that are most important to us in our life. Sounds easy, right? But we were supposed to do it creatively through drawings and symbols. No LinkedIn style intros!
I have always scored a C in my drawing class, so I still remember the awkwardness with which I shared my drawing with my other basegroup fellows from 6 different countries. But they didn’t make me feel nervous and I felt so much at home with faces and voices millions of miles away from me. I ended up feeling close to each of them in those 15 minutes. With our basegroup facilitator checking in regularly and the lovely folks at SI and Hyper Island always ready to answer my questions, I felt at ease to dive into the second chapter of this story.
Chapter 2: Reflections at Sånga-Säby
“So, which tea is better - Ceylon Tea or Indian tea?”
This was the first question I had to answer in Sweden. I am sure my co-fellow from Sri Lanka answered well enough as the glass doors between us and the ‘official’ Swedish soil finally opened.
After a 40 kilometre drive from the airport we reached Sånga-Säby, a 100% climate-neutral venue powered by solar energy and geothermal energy. The pristine Lake Maralen around this hotel set the tone for what was to come in the next three days. Amid a melee of different experiences, learnings and conversations with changemakers and activists from 16 countries, I found myself enjoying the beauty of our reflection sessions. So, what does a reflection session feel like? A good reflection session is like going to the toilet after a long four hour drive on a winter night. You let go of all the unrecognised and uncomfortable emotions and you feel at peace. Trust me, this is the best description I could give coming from the Water & Sanitation sector. Kudos, to our basegroup facilitator for introducng me to this beautiful experience.
We ended the chapter at Sånga-Säby with a session on the Human Rights framework. It felt awkwardly nice to share my case story of ‘Bathroom Justice’which was about public toilet rights of women vs transpersons. Going through the Human Rights session with an expert refreshed university lessons and gave me another way to look at human rights dilemmas. In our group work I got to know of dilemmas from Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nepal. I was in awe of the courage my group members showed while sharing their stories and I felt personally affected by those too.
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?– Rabbi Hillel"
Chapter 3: Organising, storytelling and campaigning in Upside Down
We truly live in an unfair world. The climate crisis and rise of populist movements depress me and I dread reading more news of melting ice sheets and cities sinking. Thus, the only way I find peace is through raising my voice and supporting campaigns which address my fears.
As an active citizen, I’ve been using social media for various causes starting from my initiative ‘Loo Watch’ to make public toilets in Kolkata better through citizen audits to my current campaign “Dignity in Floods’. What I did not know then was to use proper tools or a structure to tell stories and run campaigns. I am thankful to the leader lab for getting experts for two different labs - Public Narrative and Campaign Co-Creation - who have given me the tools to fight for my causes in a better way. Special mention goes to Mais and Ben from Leading Change for designing a structured session about different narratives - Story of Self, Story of Us and Story of Now. Thank you for empowering me to tell my story better. If you want to know more about the power of public narratives, check out Dr Marshall Ganz and his work on Organizing.
Organizing is a practice of leadership whereby we define leadership as “enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty” – Marshall Ganz
Our second lab on Campaign Co-creation took us out to the streets of Stockholm for a 'sensing' exercise. In this lab we learnt about how to use the power design thinking and Human Centered Design from Tracy and Michael of Mobilisation Lab.
In our working group with fellows from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Morocco and Pakistan we used those tools to design a project to involve men in period conversations, in short bring the MEN in MENstruation. I'm glad to see some of my group members following through and working on this project after going back home.
Chapter 4: Bye Stockholm, Next stop Malmo
As I packed my bags with memories and frozen-dried lingonberries, I realised how excited I was about the rest of the journeywith my co-fellows. I must give Hyper Island credit for coming up with innovative ways to deliver the curriculum and being the backbone of support for us along with the SI team. In short the second module of the Leader Lab was like the Swedish liquorice candy that I have come to love after the initial shock. I can't wait to meet my co-fellows again next Spring. Till then, I will be following their journeys of 'mixing salt in the coffee' through their work.
The applications for the SI Lab are now open, go apply if you are curious to experience this journey. https://si.se/en/apply/leadership-programmes/leaderlab/