Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And when it's done...

...comes relief, and time to reflect on the campaign itself.

First, the sense of achievement

It's hard to imagine that such a small team as we are, many of us new to Chennai, starting with an expense account of ZERO, we had the courage (or chutzpah) to actually want to attempt a 16 day campaign. To set up partnerships aroun
d town. To experiment with formats. To reach out to a range of audiences. We said that we would do it, and I am not sure how (actually I am, but that be
longs in another blog), but somehow we managed to do most of what we wanted.

Then, the credits. In-house, to start with.

While she has not blogged here, the sutradhar of the campaign was Nirupama Sarathy, the Campaign Coordinator. Working on multiple iterations of the programme in close consultation with the rest of the Prajnya team, articulating what we wanted from each partner, initiating contact and working out many of the partnerships, reminding us of details we kept forgetting, training and supervising our dis
appearing interns and finally, designing posters, were only
 some of the things she handled. Prajnya needed someone with Nirupama's passion and commitment to be able to run this campaign. Everyone chipped in, but we really needed an anchor for the campaign and she serendipitously showed up to become that. 

Another person whose contribution to the Campaign goes well beyond the call of duty is Subhashini Selvanathan. Prajnya's administrator was also the campaign's logistics, accounting and materials manager, keeping track of details and keeping us on track as we planned, re-planned and planned all over again... and again. Subhashini clocked a lot of extra miles and hours in the service of this cause. Her enthusiasm and quiet support brought Prajnya a new set of supporters: her family, including her five year old daughter, seen in this photograph handing out pamphlets on the day of the Solidarity March and Rally against Domestic Violence. 

Dr. Uma Vangal handled media relations once the campaign began. She was also responsible for all the media and film related events, doing double duty at the Gender Violence and Cinema Workshop as Prasad Faculty and Prajnya Fellow.

Nandhini Shanmugham wrote many drafts of many things, including the pamphlet we prepared for distribution at Nalli outlets and the factboxes that appeared in the New Indian Express. 

Anupama Srinivasan has been the custodian of this blog, uploading each day's photographs and posting from time to time. 

Anupama Sekhar showed that distance is irrelevant if the will is present. She conceptualized and put together the Poetry Reading event, sitting in Bangalore and reaching out to poets in Chennai and Ranipet.

Seba, a friend of Nirupama's, joined us all the way from Orissa for the second part of the campaign, smilingly helping with every event and making posters for the rally. 

Narasimhan Varadhan energetically tried to get us to make lists and time-tables but we were just not up to his speed! His commitment was total and real; juggling management entrance exams, research assistance for our Bangalore-based researcher and campaign tasks, he delivered, and if there were to be a delay, he told us well ahead of time. 

We recruited five interns (and this is one unhappy story we have related to the campaign so we will not dwell on it here), but four dropped out without so much as an email or sms to us. The one that remained was Krithika S. who made dozens of follow-up calls for us, and assisted at the two CII-partnered events.

F.O.P: A New Title.

Two individuals became our 'go-to' people time after time during this campaign. 

K. Hariharan, the Director of the Prasad Academy, readily and enthusiastically agreed to partner with us for the Film Workshop, and also to serve as judge at the English Oratorical Contest. When his office at Prasad was flooded and precious materials destroyed, his support still did not waver and he spontaneously offered us a backup venue for our rain-date. 

We did not know Sudha Ramalingam when we were planning the campaign and this was a good thing for her. Between us and our partners, she was invited to and agreed to attend three events, serving as a moderator for POINTBLANK. But that is not where our story ends. She is so generous that when Chennai Live called her at the last minute to speak on the show they did on gender violence, she spoke to them even as she rushed to court. 

Both these individuals showed their support for this cause and for Prajnya by their actions. We voted that they attach the letters 'F.O.P.' to their names: Friend of Prajnya. 

Another person who stood before an extremely select audience and made them feel no less important than a packed football stadium, who told us that this was perfectly natural and perfectly fine even as we were trying to hide our own feelings about the preponderance of people present in spirit rather than in the flesh... Sheila Rani Chunkath would also make us very proud if she ever choose to use this newly-minted title. 

Beyond Prajnya and the F.O.P. old and new

Small teams can try their hand at a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day, our skill-base is limited. Half-way into the campaign, I tried the 'ask and you shall receive' mantra and found it works.

Deepak Harichandan designed the campaign logo for us.

Meera Zachariah helped us rework our fund-raising appeal. We were able to raise a sizeable number of donations from individuals as a result.

Gynelle Alves designed flyers for us at short notice, and indulgently put up with all our questions about formats and fonts.

Efex Colour Screens helped us re-create images and texts in different formats. Muthulakshmi, one of their designers, devoted a great deal of time to fine-tuning and finalizing our materials. 

Pradyuman Maheshwari introduced us to Doris Rao of Zzebra Public Relations, who coming in on the eve of the campaign, quickly strategized and organized what we needed to do this year to reach out to the media. 

Mangai who was also partnered with us to run the Theatre Workshop, took time to translate the English text for the Nalli flyer into Tamil. This was done a three-way phone conversation!

Four people at The New Indian Express deserve mention here. Aditya Sinha, Editor-in-Chief, agreed to partner with us as soon as we asked. His support for the cause and campaign did not waver, allowing us space even when the terror attacks were underway in Mumbai and Chennai was drowning in rainwater. Gopalkrishna Rao was our contact person on a day to day basis, answering questions and emails and juggling the imperatives of the newsroom with the commitment TNIE had made to Prajnya. Deepak, we have already mentioned, but not stated that he is TNIE's designer. And finally, Babu Jayakumar, who was responsible for campaign-related reportage. 

Geeta Ramaseshan, Dhanalakshmi Ayyer, Jayalakshmi Shreedhar, Indu Balachandran and Jaya Menon: thank you for brainstorming with us, for opening up your phone books to us and for being our advocates and ambassadors around town.

Those who donated money to the campaign helped us more than they could imagine. When the pool of resources is small, every pie counts for a great deal. Your generosity made it possible for us to be independent when it was needed and to show some generosity ourselves.

Partners and Resource Persons

It goes without saying that the campaign was only possible because Prajnya worked with so many partners, all more established in this community than ourselves. Thank you all!

Resource people are the backbone of a campaign. Thank you to each one of you and we hope that we will work with you again. Be assured that all of you will hear from us soon... maybe sooner than you want!

Closing thoughts

I still cannot believe we pulled this off. All of us, even as we were getting really exhausted towards the end of the campaign, were already talking about what we would do next year. Next year, we would keep this. Next year, we would lose that. The campaign gives us confidence that, yes, like Obama's America, we too can!

Of course, there were problems: rain mostly, but also money problems, time problems, people problems. 

Of course, things were not always perfect. The ribbon plants' branches were fragile. The pens on the message boards sometimes got switched and did not work. Speakers digressed. Participants did not show up. Somethings worked better on paper than on the ground. Sometimes, we already knew going into an event that we should have done it differently. 

Our post-campaign review spent a lot of time listing out the problems and oversights in detail, lest we forget. 

One month away from the campaign, as I write this, I see it more positively. At the end of the 2008 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, we have got people talking about the issue a little bit more. We know that next year we are better placed to network across the various fora and audiences to which we reached out. A larger community and greater confidence in our ability to raise resources means that we actually can plan better for next year. 

And there will be a next year. And a year after that. And after that. Until such a campaign is no longer needed. 

So watch this space. This blog closes now and will be reopened in September 2009. 

Swarna Rajagopalan
Managing Trustee, The Prajnya Trust
Director, Prajnya Initiatives for Peace, Justice and Security


  1. Ah! Swarna, you've said it all and very well too. But trust you not to mention a word about your involvement in the campaign! The in-house credits should rightfully begin with Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee of The Prajnya Trust, who shared this vision for a gender just society and also gave me the opportunity and platform to realise my dream.

    When both of us decided to work together on the 16 Days Campaign, having hardly just met, it was just trust, (or you could even call it a gamble), that got us working together. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Swarna for trusting me with the Campaign and giving me a free hand to conceptualise and design the Campaign the way I wanted. Even when I drew up a very ambitious plan involving 16 different events in varying formats, focussing on different aspects of gender violence and catering to a wide range of audiences, she did not discourage me and quietly gave me the confidence that we can pull it off. ("You make the plan, we will together make it happen!") And pull it off, we did, thanks to all our partners, volunteers and all the others who pitched in in small and big ways (mentioned already). I must add here that our 'campaign team' was extremely small (at times no more than one and a half persons), fairly inexperienced in Chennai and with a sum total of zero rupees to begin with in the campaign a/c, and through all the highs and lows over nearly 5 months, it was Swarna who was my primary and sole back-up person and who kept me going.

    Besides believing in me and supporting me in negotiating certain partnerships by teaching me her 'kadakkara' mantra, she took charge of drafting and sending MoUs based on the partnership discussion summaries we gave her; patiently redrafted and printed out version after version of the campaign schedule and notices; was the primary mobiliser of voluntary help and donations - largely from relatives and friends; sender of shocker emails urging us to pull up our socks, and perfect meeting organiser and host, to mention a few.

    Above all, she is the one who brought this team of committed volunteers from varied backgrounds together under Prajnya. And she is also the one who initiated this blog and gently goaded all of us to blog! Well, now that I have recorded my presence here, I hope my identity will move beyond 'the-one-who-did-not-blog'!

    Cheers! Nirupama Sarathy

  2. You are too kind, Nirupama, but thank you!