Mumbai to Melbourne: A Story in Three Acts

Joining us today on the blog is MIDPA’s very own Vice-President, Aakansha Kedia. Aakansha takes a very unique and creative approach to explain her journey and the steps that led her to pursue a Master in International Development Practice at Monash University. Join her while she delights us with a voice over of her story in three acts.


*AAKANSHA (Voice Over)*

Emilie Wapnick once used a term that immediately resonated with me: multipotentialite. While there exists a group of people who are born to specialize, I believe that I belong to a tribe where members do not have just the one interest. It was art and theatre at school, communication and design soon after. Among all of this ran a common thread: the belief in creating a positive impact in society by adding value to every form of dialogue.

After I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Media, I was ecstatic at being able to work for one of India’s largest media houses. I was involved in several departments and got the chance to work with some of the biggest brands. However, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to be involved in something that was bigger than the organization and bigger than myself.


This was when I was assigned to work on Operation Black Dot. Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 35, making our youth a formidable force to enable good governance. Sadly, two-thirds of educated Young Indians living in urban cities do not engage with politics due to its general perception as being ‘boring’, ‘complicated’ and ‘dirty’. The objective of the campaign was to bring about a positive mindset shift and encourage the target audience to vote in the General Elections. What began as just another advertising gimmick evolved into a movement that enabled students to cast their votes for the first time.




Jumping onto the other side of the cliff, I was entrusted to spearhead the company’s first flagship initiative, The Green Batti Project. ‘The company’ being a for-profit social enterprise called Social Quotient, where I acted as Executive Director. Symbolic with the green colour of a traffic light, the programme’s name signifies to ‘move forward’. It was a mentoring program that paired young professionals with children from under-resourced communities. Through an exchange of life skills and soft skills, we wanted to empower the children to break through prevalent socio-economic barriers. From recruiting quality young professionals as mentors to establishing a strong foundation of partnership with Teach For India, to branding and event management, I had embarked on an exhilarating ride.


Although I had reached the stage where I was designing the mentoring curriculum and delivering training sessions for new mentors, it was accompanied with a turmoil of emotions. I was proud to have achieved so much in so little time and happy to notice the general success of the project. But who was I to run this project? Was I worthy of this position? Did I have the necessary skills? Was I being true to the needs of the mentees? Is there scope for trial-and-error? This was the moment when I took a breather, stepped back, and decided to pursue a Master’s course. For the first time in 24 years, I understood what people meant when they said: ‘I think this is my calling’. If this was mine, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to start afresh, away from India, out of my comfort zone.




For me, the MIDP course at Monash is a perfect blend for the specialists and the multipotentialites. As a student with no prior academic background in development studies, this has been one of my best experiences. Soon into this new world of mine, a hashtag emerged, #MagicalMelbourne. I am filled with gratitude each time I am in a conversation with students pursuing this course, the sheer diversity – of ethnicities, gender, age, experiences, ideas & beliefs- of the cohort is a wonder on its own. In this past one and a half year, I have had so many reel-to-real moments. From the teaching pedagogy, to student life on campus and beyond, it felt like I was finally experiencing things I would watch in movies and TV shows or conversations with cousins and friends around the world.


What this course has absolutely managed to achieve for me is instill a love for learning and a drive to collect new experiences. I started to admire the depth of knowledge that was expected from the students. Writing this blogpost in my third Semester, I have now started to observe a pattern in my assignments. Most of them have an underpinning of psychological wellbeing & mental health. How did this happen? Does this mean anything? I still don’t know. I went from struggling to write a 250 word reading diary, to being enrolled in a year long Research Thesis unit. Have I made the right decision? Does this mean I want to be a researcher and not a development practitioner? I don’t know. Will I go back to India and work for a social enterprise or an NGO? Will my career be in public health and development? Will I be able to ‘make a difference’? The truth is, I don’t know.

*AAKANSHA (thinking to herself)*

So why study a Master of International Development Practice? Simple. Because this rollercoaster of emotions will push me to be the best version of myself.



Vice President (2017)

Participatory methods: Copenhagen to Calcutta


In the 1980s Robert Chambers introduced a participatory approach to development: an approach that gets the development practitioner involved and engaged with the community and the individuals that are being ‘developed’. This approach also acknowledges that within the local community there is knowledge that can be valuable but that knowledge can be difficult to express. Therefore it is important that this knowledge becomes accessible in some way, such as from participatory methods.


Anthropological Participation

The participatory approach is also thought to be a way to allow projects to be owned by the locals. But how do these participatory methods actually work? How do you actually make people participate in a way that will encourage them to share the tacit knowledge they possess?

As part of my bachelor thesis, I worked with a Danish NGO taking part in a project about street food vendors (SFVs) in Calcutta, India. The final product of the project was a trainer manual for SFV workshops, which would teach SFVs about hygiene, sanitation, savings and their rights.


The Truth but the Whole Truth?

The most important aspect of this project was that the trainers felt that the manual was made by them and fitted their needs. As part of this, several interviews, workshops and focus groups were held. We used different ethnographic methods but experienced a great challenge with it. The idea for an anthropologist is to ‘blend in’ and study the natural and unaffected behavior of people. The problem we experienced was that people seemed to act differently when we came, we did not blend in very well and our appearance impacted the social environment.


We chose semi-structured interviews as part of our research. SFVs were willing to participate but many of the interviews were done while they worked, or by our interpreter, all of the interviews were done on the street in action. Some of the interviews took part while a boss was in the background. All these factors had to be carefully considered when using the material, as much of it could be biased. We found that simple questions where most giving, while also asking question that were easy to relate to and would make the SFVs answer in a narrative form. An example could be ‘Can you tell us about a situation where xx happened?’, ‘How did it make you feel?’.


Design games

Besides these two classic ethnographic methods, we used creative and participatory methods. In our workshops we used several design games to encourage the trainers participation.


The main idea of a design game is to get the participants to talk, it is not important if they do things right or wrong. It is just an intermediary to make participants think, talk, be critical and try to be explicit about the tacit knowledge that is part of their community and problems. In terms of culture, design games are very revealing: we discovered that the way ‘we’ think symbols and icons obviously mean something, is completely different to what it may can mean in another culture. Design games often have a very different outcome than what was planned. For example, what we found valuable was when the participants did something ‘wrong’ or unexpected, this helped us understand some of the values and preconceived ideas we brought into the field. So this was also a way to reflect on the work we were doing.

The key to design games, especially when used in development areas, is to make them simple. Avoid too much text, too many rules and too many steps. It is usually a good idea to leave space for new ideas, e.g. by having ‘blank’ papers that encourage participants to contribute with their own ideas. Furthermore we experienced that it is valuable to ask many questions such as ‘Why do you think xx is a good idea?’, ‘What do you need in xx situation?’, ‘Why do you think xx is important?’


I am an advocate for participatory methods, but there are many challenges with them in practice. It can be very difficult to make some kind of design game that will make participants talk about a chosen subject, without forcing the answers that one has preconceived they might have. Language and culture is also a challenge. What I learned from this experience is that it is important to facilitate and explain but not take control and force actions. Furthermore I find that asking questions is one of the most rewarding methods to get an understanding of a person’s situation. And lastly, learn from and reflect upon unexpected situations – differences is a key to understanding culture.

Teach Series: Social Enterprise

While working at one of India’s largest advertising agencies, I realized two things. One was the importance of branding and being able to communicate your story. The other, that I was a misfit in this industry.

Thank you to everyone who came along and participated in our second Teach Series seminar this Wednesday. Our student speaker was the Association’s new Communication’s Officer, Aakansha, discussing the amalgamation of marketing with international development.

It was excellent to have so many present but for those unlucky enough to miss it, Aakansha has summarised her presentation and captured highlights from the discussion that came from it.

Also included are some relevant links for further exploration of the topic.

Being born and raised in a city like Mumbai, where you have the richest man of the country and Asia’s largest slum share the same land, you are often left baffled and helpless. Waking up to news about which corporation donated more money towards a social impact project to escalating numbers of children forced to drop out of school at a young age, there was pressing need to ‘re-define the act of charity’.

“Brands are recognizing that they need to have purpose beyond making money”

“Take Walmart, for example: they built their multi-billion-dollar business on being the cheapest retailer in their sector. Yet several years ago they changed their tagline from ‘Always low prices’ to ‘Save Money. Live Better.’ What does that tell us? It tells us that globally the mood is changing and low prices are no longer enough. Consumers increasingly want to know about the impact of their money, on themselves and others,” says Elaine Cohen, Founder of Beyond Business.

I would like to cite two examples that gave me the opportunity to merge my interest in communications and intent to make a positive impact in society.


Advertising Agency: DDB Mudra Group
Client: Clean & Clear by Johnson & Johnson
Need: To engage with their target audience in a sustained manner and use their insights to build the brand’s upcoming advertising campaigns.
Resulting idea: Select college students to don the role of ‘campus brand ambassadors’ and work collaboratively to enable students to vote in the General Elections 2013 in India by making ‘politics clean and clear’.
Project: Operation Black Dot

“Clean & Clear as a leading youth brand wants to enable them and give them the confidence to choose the next leadership of the country by making voting easy through Operation Black Dot”, says Ganesh Bangalore, General Marketing Manager, Johnson & Johnson.

Read more here.


Social Enterprise: Social Quotient
Project: The Green Batti Project, a mentoring program that paired young professionals with children from under resourced communities in India to enable an exchange of life skills and soft skills. Impact areas: Problem solving, lateral thinking, goal setting and financial literacy.
Need: To monetise the intent and work as a for-profit
Resulting idea: “Enable consumer brands to leverage social causes as a marketing and brand engagement platform and use business and technology driven approaches to problem solving”, says Samyak Chakrabarty (Co-Founder, Social Quotient).

In this case, we got a banking partner on board to fund the project as there was a brand fit with financial literacy being one of the project’s core impact areas. There was an incremental benefit for the brand. Apart from the positive PR, they received sustained audience attention, leading to high brand recall.

We were able to attract valuable talent, build a robust software to track the mentor-mentee pairing and design a model that could be replicated in other cities of India.

Read more here.

Although my association with Social Quotient as a founding director came to an end when I decided to move to Melbourne, the ideology of “It takes more than just good hearted people to change the world” still lingers in my heart. #ChooseCheesy


Looking Forward for India

The development sector in India has largely been traditional and struggles to come up with transformative solutions to age old issues. Matters related to efficiency and enterprises are left to the market and private sector and for many NGOs, markets remain to be a bugbear.

It will be exciting to learn and observe if social entrepreneurship succeeds in creating a mindset shift that blends markets with mission. With the IT boom, there was an interest in reaching the ‘bottom’. IT platforms gave rise to forecast applications for farmers and a variety of information services in remote rural areas. We shall see what the future holds.

“Poor don’t need poor solutions; but different and smaller solutions”


Further Explorations

The Association live streamed my seminar on the newly launched MIDPA Facebook page while I attempted to give my talk between fire alarms, that is now available for all to view here.
For the curious souls and keen learners of this topic, I have shared a few links that caught my attention that you could refer to as well.

Sanitation issue? Time to get creative

Simplifying Social Impact: Engagement Is the Route to Business Benefits

Can marketing change the world?

Social Traders, Australia


Final Remarks
Thank you again for your excellent participation! Please do share below if you know of any other apps, websites, articles or brands that can help everyone be inspired redefine charity.

Vice President (2017)

Be the change you want to see?


On the 16th of December 2012, a girl was gang raped and brutally assaulted by six men on a moving bus. The brutal incident took place late at night when the girl was returning from a film show along with her male friend. The girl was assaulted, her male friend beaten ruthlessly, and they were thrown out of the bus afterwards. They were admitted to Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi where the girl battled for her life for days. She succumbed to her injuries and passed away on the 29th of December 2012. (source: The Hindu)

As the news of the assault spread, there was an outburst of long held anger amongst people for the lack of security of women in the city. People in large numbers came out to protest on the roads of New Delhi.

Born and raised in Delhi, I love this city but I am also well aware of this deep rooted, ever-present threat the city poses to the security of women. In fact, not just this city, but each and every part of India. Yes, this is the country I grew up in, however I have had my moments of anger and rage in past over such incidents but as the details of this assault unravelled I was shaken up to the core. Like many others I started looking for immediate solutions to the problem of violence against women. I became part of a growing mentality which demanded lynching of men and cutting them in pieces. To give voice to my growing disappointment with the situation I along with a thousand others marched to protest at Raisina Hill against the heinous crime that has been committed and to demand security for women.

It was the first time I had witnessed a protest of this magnitude where people gathered in such a large number to demand justice. The energy and the emotion which brought people together at Raisina hill was worth seeing. People gathered from various parts of Delhi and from National Capital Region demanding various things. There were some who demanded the death penalty for the accused, several others demanding stricter laws for rape, and many demanded greater security and freedom for women on Delhi roads. They wanted freedom from eyes of men continuously singling out women, freedom from violence the women faced within the four walls of their own home, freedom from everyday teasing and harassment. There were many who came to the protest just to be a part of the growing resentment with no demands or agenda, and there were those who thought disrupting the public and damaging property would somehow lead to a solution. For this particular group, this protest became a tool to voice their buried demands which were not latent anymore. People were tear gassed, water cannoned, and Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (which empowers a magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than five people in an area) was slapped against the protestors. People were raising their collective voices and I wish the government would have heard them peacefully at that point. Though I do I also agree that the unruly protesters and the anti-social elements in the crowd made the protest take an ugly form.


It was heartening to see the mass support for the girl and the anger against what had happened. But as I looked around at the men during the protests I developed serious doubts about the protest bringing real results. It made me realize that bringing another law or another short term action will not end this in any way. Laws against rape have been there for many decades but they have not been able to arrest the rising level of violence against women. These protests I felt would lead to more piecemeal institutional mechanisms and fail to address the problem which is so deeply rooted in society.

The protesters criticised the government authorities for their negligence and inaction in the area of security of women and they expected immediate action. This is what everyone was seeking. But we were asking the patriarchal institutions to solve a societal problem for us. We were asking them to change the mindset of the society. We were pointing to those institutions as if rape was just a criminal offence but it wasn’t. It is our problem and we constitute the problem.

This protest raised various questions in my mind regarding women and their position in our society, and it lead me to look for answers outside of the protest. The questions and their answers related to changing the values young boys are taught in our society. These values related to preference for a male child, and the values instilled in the majority of men who were a part of the protests. I questioned if they would be going home and continue to abuse their wives at home for perceived wrongs or slights, or simply because they can. Most importantly I realised that these protests were still propagating among the majority the value of protecting the honour of the society which resides in the women and not the women. By many the victim’s body still remained the sight of honour and people were enraged to protect this honour. As I took the journey back home and as I go on as a student studying gender relations, I wish to be a part of a change where we confront our society for shaming women and revisiting various values in order to build up a society where women can live fearlessly with respect.

MIDP student

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