As we sat planning for Women’s Day this year, Roshni (StratComm Co-Founder and very good friend) turned around and said maybe we should write about women who have influenced us. Women supporting women.
Hmm! Why not?
Personally, many women have influenced who I am and what I do. The journey in the development sector started in the College of Social Work where teachers and peers shaped one’s world view. Over the past two decades women in the community, frontline workers, field level staff, NGO and agency staff at local, state, national and global level and everyone in between were part of the journey. But, two of them have had a special influence in my life and have shaped me as a professional.
Michele– the dynamite, the perfectionist, the planner, the risk taker and more! Michele came into my life in the early stages of my career. From outside the country, she made this country her own and it is through her journey that I learnt the most.
‘Know your community’ and ‘solutions lie within’ were her two basic teachings for me. Go to the field, speak with the community members, and then speak with some more, and get them to think about solutions, she said. I still remember my travels with her and the discussions that followed – what did I see, and what did I really see, what did I learn, what do I think about it, what do I plan to do about it? She taught me how to question and how to seek answers. She was also the one who nudged me into the space I would soon be most comfortable in – communication for development. I always believe that Michele and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Avahan project are my bedrock on which I have built my knowledge, attitude and practice.
After 4 years of travelling together we went on to seek different paths but remain connected even today.
As I started the next phase of my journey, as luck would have it, another dynamic woman entered my life. Sonalini– the thinker, the strategist, the networker, the creative head and more! The next 7 years that I spent with her is when I learnt all that I could about social and behaviour change communication. At the peak of her career she started off on her own and I joined her soon after.
‘Never compromise’, ‘always do your best’ and ‘buy-in is sustainable’ were the three most important things she imbibed in me. Whatever the project – big or small – make sure you give it your 100% and then a little more, she said. Your ‘clients’ and your ‘vendors’ are your ‘partners’ – listen to them, be clear with them, stay open to feedback, revisit your plan and change course if required, and most importantly ensure that everyone is on the same page before moving to the next stage. We travelled the length and breadth of this country working with small and big organisations, local and global organisations, with government systems, on varied issues, and still for every project that we worked on the enthusiasm was the same as the first one – it never waned.
My association with Sonalini gave me the strength and vision to think big, to take risks, and to persevere.
So, on Women’ Day this year I thank these two women who travelled with me and shaped me.
When over two years ago Roshni and I decided to start StratComm it was a culmination of years of association – as peers, as friends, and as colleagues. They say your business partner should complement what you bring to the table, and that’s exactly what Roshni and I have – different personalities, different skill sets, different world views; but one aim. Every day as we work together, with over 20 core and extended team members (of whom two-thirds are women!), and many more women as partners, I see and experience how transformative and strength giving ‘women supporting women’ can be!
Michele Andina is the former Project Director, Mukta Project, Pathfinder International
Sonalini Mirchandani is the Chief Executive Officer, The Communication Hub