Diversity, Gender equity and collaborative leadership

By Sunil Gangavane, Facilitator & Research Consultant, India, 2016-17 Diploma Course

The TFT diploma course has impacted me deeply and has transformed me inside out. It not only built my perspective to understand our existing social realities more clearly but also supported me with tools to intervene in it more meaningfully. The TFT course is like slow medicine, it starts showing results once we start working on the ground, most of initial results are intangible but are very powerful as they led solid foundation for your further work. I was surprised to see myself blossoming every year and it kept reflecting in my work.

My favourite poet Maya Angelou describes diversity as tapestry; she says all the threads of tapestry are equal in its value irrespective of their colour. It’s a cloth where different colours waive together to make one beautiful piece of fabric. I was lucky to experience the richness of this diversity while being at TFT. The course offered me four months of immersive learning experience with 30 dynamic grassroots leaders across 12 different countries. Four months of immersion was the most challenging but most enriching time of all time. Staying and cooking together, sharing experiences, food, culture and learning space strengthened our boundary-less friendship and also overall appreciation for human diversity. This common space experiences helped me loosen my assumptions, biases and broadened my outlook. I am more open and accepting person now. The experience of living and learning with people influenced me and it opened many doors. This openness and exposure helped me as a facilitator and youth worker deeply; now I am more mindful of youth diversity and their multi-layered intersections of identities. This helps one not only to understand their life stories in their context but also helps in co-designing learning spaces more effectively. In my work in India, I have been working with adolescents and young individuals who are diverse in terms of class, caste, religion, language and sexual orientations. It’s high time to uphold and celebrate our differences by being together!

Freire taught me to listen, understand, analyse, act, reflect and repeat. TFT introduced me to this great man to me, he wrote ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ for the oppressed. He showed the ‘How’ of transformation with critical yet creative methods of involving people in the collective reflective learning practices. His respect and confidence in people’s abilities to reclaim their rights made my faith in people’s movement much stronger. It offered me fresh perspective to re-look at my work where I was using participatory action research as a tool for community empowerment. Freire’s teaching offered me a critical lens to understand the hidden potentials of the tools I was using and helped me to reframe the activities to create larger impact. Building critical consciousness through research was already an agenda of the program (and it was successful too). It became more meaningful by combining it with teachings of Freire. It synched so well. In a nutshell, I adopted TFT theory and methodology which I sensed was relevant to my work, my context and to my people. I took it with
its core and without diluting it, created another beautiful process. Eventually, I designed various courses and trainings which were made available to a larger marginalized community of people through many educational institutions, NGO’s and community small organisationss in the city and in rural villages.

The TFT exposure provided me nuanced understanding of gender dynamics in a more holistic manner, highlighting its intersectionality. Interacting with feminist leaders from the globe and knowing their wok, their stories inspired me. It made me realize the depth of the problem and innovative ways of solutions. Our classroom reading, debates and critical dialogues highlighted the high need to engage boys and men in gender work. I learned that patriarchal structures are equally dangerous for boys/men and they are also victims of the same structure. After further reading and interacting with experts from the field, I decided to design interventions with adolescent boys. With many trials and errors, I managed to fulfil the task. Very recently I facilitated 3 workshops with group of adolescent boys from rural villages and they were very successful. I was pleased to witness the liberation journey of 30+ young boys who felt relieved by throwing their burden and embracing a sense of responsible boyhood. This whole experienced has regenerated hope and energy in me and I am committing myself to much more of this work. I strongly believe as a society we need to teach our men to be sensitive and take active part in dismantling patriarchy.

From the TFT course, more than skills and tools, I have taken the approach – the approach that people have all the potentials, resources and capabilities to bring a positive shift in their life. We just have to support them and be part of their journey. Believe me, doing this is very powerful. Working with people and seeing them grow to achieve their full potentials was a remarkable process. I was part of team and got a chance to nurture talented young minds. Motivating people to grow by allowing them to handle full responsibilities was key to their growth, recognizing their strengths and building on it by using ‘appreciative inquiry’ (an Organisational Development interventional tool), was very useful. Further, the U-theory which emphasized purposeful leadership helped me to be a better leader. It’s a long process which has just begun but I am confident that this will not stop here.

I will remain grateful to TFT, to the space, to the people and to the process which we co-created. TFT has cultivated many leaders over the years and they are making significant contribution across the globe, may this revolution be on, always. At the end, I am quoting a poem which was taught me by tribal girls in one of the training session, it says –
‘Darkness has risen, let’s light the lamp, let’s seed some hope, let’s light the lamp!’