Can't we just get along!
Women working together in any field and certainly in social development often raises the question, "are they getting along? or "can't they just get along!" Before I begin, for the purpose of this post, let me define what social development means. It is the multidimensional, dynamic process that leads to sustainable improvements in communities. Through structured methods developed within varied contexts, social development seeks to reduce poverty and inequality, promote citizenship for all and strengthens democracy. As a career it offers considerable perks - a good remuneration in most cases and on the brighter, lighter side of things being able to travel, network, observe human conditions improving as a result of interventions are all exciting.
Women fill every position on the rungs of a project that caters to a substantial community and supported by an important donor. From those collecting data in the field, analyzing and creating digital content, leading teams and projects, training, providing aid in challenging humanitarian conditions, networking, communicating, developing policy and writing for varied audiences. Most of us in the sector do a bit of everything or will have done a few of these at one point in our careers.The career ladder is as high as you can take it. Leadership roles occupied by women are few as in other fields but there are quite a few examples to prove "you can do it!"
In my own work having worked with organizations I have found it rewarding to work independently on social development projects that are meaningful. The advantage here has been that I have been able to select the projects I want to work on. And most important, the people I want to work with. Dr. Shivani Bharadwaj and I connected way back in 2006 when we collaborated on a field study on slums in Delhi. She lives in India and has a background in social work. She has been the CEO of Consult for Women and Land Rights. Her in-depth research on gender and resource rights are critical in understanding urban governance and the role on women in India. She has a wide network of nonprofits, consultants and specialists and she continues to make great headway in making transformative changes in the lives of the most vulnerable populations. With her infinite support I was able to put together a paper on women and slums in India and we used the data in developing recommendations to policy makers. It was presented in many domestic and international forums. It is through Shivani that I connected with Sunita Kotnala. Based in Australia, Sunita has been involved in social services delivery in the Asia Pacific region advancing gender and safety issues and also has had a major role in monitoring the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She has been on advisory boards of high level forums on gender and international development.
Working on google documents, the three of us - Shivani, Sunita and I were able to develop a policy for gender and access to resources. In a particular instance, Shivani was approached for the paper on recommendations on engaging poor women in urban India; Sunita and I came on board. We Skyped, chatted on google and whatever other ways we could find to brainstorm. Three different people on three different continents and countries - India, USA and Australia - but we figured out a process. Shivani would send in the draft paper via google documents and end her day; I would pick it up and work on it and then Sunita's day would begin - we had some hours of overlap when we could work together before I called it a day. In the morning I would find edits, new paras and ideas that both Sunita and Shivani would have added to the document and I would do my bit. We worked like a well oiled machine! We discussed language, what would make our client - Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recognize the contributions we were making. We discussed the strength of our recommendations. Were they unique? Were they doable? These were important considerations. Our combined experiences and our veritable partnership paid off. We had the acceptance of our audience, client and a publication that a researcher, practitioner, policy maker, academic may find it useful as a reference. The State of the Urban Poor report is only one of the several assignments that we took on as a team.
Sunita and I have written several pieces on smart cities and the role of women. We hope to participate in conferences and present papers in the near future.
We do get along! We may be different as individuals but we have our focus as social development professionals. Yes, this may be a bit different in that we are not in an office situation but we are surely in a very professional space. Each of the products that we work on and present is sharing a bit of ourselves and we are serious about our contributions that are backed by years of experience in the field and in organizations. We are competitive because we have our eyes on the prize and as a group we are competent and strong. We create knowledge hubs, mainstream gender in our policy recommendations and build capacities. And we recognize and draw upon each other's strengths. I think we just get along because we want to!