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I enjoyed the Summit and met new friends! Thank you for giving us this opportunity. It was so fun to participate and now I feel more confident.

–Shadhika Scholar

Virtual Leaders for Change Summit

By Kendra Nicolai, Program Officer

November 22, 2020

The 2020 Leaders for Change Summit was one to remember! This year rather than an in-person, 4-day event in India, due to the pandemic we had to pivot to a virtual platform. Our team creatively planned three days of leadership activities for our Shadhika Scholars all via WhatsApp, a free texting platform where all participants could message, voice chat, as well as send and receive videos. Despite not having the Summit as originally planned this year, we couldn’t have asked for a more energizing three days of connection with the amazing young women leaders of Shadhika. 

While much of the Summit content must remain confidential for the privacy of our Shadhika Scholars, we hope you enjoy the curated highlights below from this year’s Summit.

Technology

Shifting the fully planned in-person event to a shorter, streamlined, fully online platform was difficult, especially with the access to technology being a large barrier for many of our scholars.  We were nervous about participation. However, despite eliminating an in-person event, the young women still brought energy and excitement to our 3-day virtual summit on WhatsApp with 90% of the girls participating throughout the week! We chose WhatsApp as the platform because this is what the scholars are most familiar with, and can readily access. We were intentionally trying to meet the scholars where they were – with their technology comfort, WhatsApp was our choice.

Here, Kendra – Shadhikas Program Officer behind the Summit, and Executive Director My Lo Cook discuss plans for the Summit on Facebook Live:

Connection

We held three days of workshops, fun challenges and a place for scholars to connect.  One of the biggest goals of the summit is to provide a space for the scholars to come together and build a support network and to build peer relationships. We were able to establish this through videos, voice chats, calls and texts.  On day 1, scholars were encouraged to send a selfie video introducing themselves.  From this moment, they all connected easily, responding to each others videos, asking questions and relating to things they each said.  It was encouraging to see them open up to the possibility of this type of connection and lean into the ways they can engage. Additionally, while we had a wonderful line-up of Indian leaders and speakers to join us in-person, we needed to pivot on such a short timeline for this year’s virtual activities. Instead, we focused on providing intentional opportunities for the Scholars to connect with our Shadhika staff through videos and small group activities. Here, Upasana Saha, Shadhika Program Officer based in India introduces herself to the Scholars. She also led the Year 3 Scholars through their peer group activities during the summit.

Creativity

As part of the planning for the 2020 Leaders for Change Summit in Kolkata, we had planned to have a DJ come and host a dance party with the scholars as we knew they love to dance.  So, we improvised, asking them to send a video of their favorite dance move and we received so many beautiful dances.  These young women surely know how to dance. The responses from each scholar when they submitted their videos were priceless and those who did not know how to dance felt the courage to send a video and were met with praises and encouragement.

Another creative challenge was to submit a line of poetry for the prompt “Women are…” to help collaboratively create a poem together. This is the Shadhika Scholars poem from the Summit:

To view the poem full screen, right click and select “Open image in new tab”.

Peer Groups

Besides hosting a large group with fun daily challenges, we put scholars into additional groups based on their year in college and conducted focused sessions within those groups.  First year scholars learned about time management, budgeting, negotiation and how to manage online classes. Scholars were given worksheets and discussion questions to chat with each other alongside video calls in smaller groups. Second year scholars worked on their community leadership projects – planning an improvised and revised version of what was conducted in 2019.  This group discussed the importance of leadership, learned how to plan activities for a project and spent time convening together – talking about challenges that they are facing in their communities and how a project can help address these challenges. Third year scholars and graduates attended sessions on how to find jobs, write a resume and best practices for interviewing. This group listened to different speakers, watched videos on good and bad interview tips and started writing their first resume. The week ended with a large session on self-care and self-confidence, something all scholars found beneficial.  

Graduation & Awards Ceremony

We ended the week with a Graduation and Awards Ceremony for all scholars live on Zoom.  We had over 80 participants join for this ceremony which highlighted 2020 graduates and special achievement awards. Our partners spoke about graduates and their successes over the years of their scholarship and highlighted their leadership within their NGO and in the community.  The event was inspiring and exciting for the scholars to meet face to face.  Alumnae, Donors, Board, NGO staff, Shadhika Staff and scholars all joined alongside younger girls at their NGO.  In one little square of the zoom call there was classroom full of younger girls from Baale Mane, watching their older sisters – hoping that one day they will complete their graduation.

We knew that we could not just eliminate the summit in 2020.  We may not have been able to meet in person but the importance of this event is so critical for the scholars that we quickly pivoted and found a way to bring them together.  We appreciated the participation and engagement that these scholars brought last week. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive and many shared that their summit experience felt meaningful and empowering.

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