I Can Lead: National Leadership Program for Women with Disabilities
Our flagship program “I can lead” is a National Leadership program for women with disabilities- the first of its kind in India. Launched on July 11 2019, the year long program focusses on self development and professional growth of young women with disabilities.
A group of six women with disabilities between the ages of 20 and 35 years, I Can Lead Fellows, have been selected from across the country. These fellows will receive holistic mentoring and support as continuous contact and engagement throughout the year. The program offers a total of 20 days of learning and development opportunities- 80% of which will be online and 20% will be in person.
Our unique multi -layered support is in the form of four pillars:
- Individualised Mentoring: The program has put in special effort in pairing the Fellow with a Mentor (women with and without disabilities who are leaders in their fields) best suited for their futures - this helps in focussed effort to realise their dreams.
- Group Trainings: These will be conducted by the Rising Flame Mentor on specific curriculum designed for the program on self development in the first 2 quarters and professional growth in the next two quarters.
- Rising Flame Counsellor: Transformation and change is not an easy journey for anyone; with a disability it could be even more challenging. Therefore, each fellow will receive counselling and therapeutic support from a Rising Flame counsellor to ensure their mental well-being.
- Peer Learning: The fellows will also have a Rising Flame buddy to assist them in navigating the course with ease and create a friendly peer learning environment.
The fellows include students, corporate employees and development professionals. The mentors include Stuti Kacker- former Chairperson of National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, Meenu Bhambhani- CSR head of Mphasis, Amba Salelkar- lawyer from Equals CPSJ, Smitha Sadasivan- disability rights activist, Deepa Palaniappan- disability consultant and policy researcher, and Rising Flame’s founder and executive director Nidhi Goyal. The counsellor is a trained trauma therapist from Bangalore, Aakriti Joanna from Kaha Mind.
Six fellows, six mentors, one counsellor and the Rising Flame team- all coming from diverse backgrounds, diverse disabilities and diverse identities, with a single unified goal to lead, grow, change.
There are very few women with disability that have support systems that can invest in them, that can help them grow and this is exactly what we want to do so that these women can lead from the front and they believe in lead -grow - change and say I can lead too
I have no doubt that this program will produce leaders who are feminists, who are democratic and who believe in collective leadership. Who will be leaders and who will nurture others also.
We all know that women with special abilities do face a lot of challenges in the world but with Rising Flame and their I Can Lead program, many will come up and have a better chance to work in society, they will have better chances to prove themselves and contribute in the new India.
Here are excerpts from each fellow on what leadership means to them:
This work was made possible through partnerships with disability rights organisations, activists and allies who are committed to achieving the same vision as us at Rising Flame.
Quarter 1- Offline Training
Three months of our leadership programme have flown by. The first quarter focussed on the self and asked important questions about the strengths and weaknesses, about the possible goals we set in our lives and finally about how we can focus on making our vision real.
The first quarter had a mix of modules and Skype trainings that led up to the two and a half day training with the Fellows in Delhi in September 2019. The focus of the training was to bring to a close all the conversations about the self that were part of the first quarter. Hence the last day of the training focussed on communication.
Multiple trainers were invited which included Rising Flame team members, mentors from our leadership programme, activists, communications trainers etc. Activists such as Smita Sadasivan and Meenu Bhambani shared their journeys and give us a brief history of the disability rights movement. Their insights were important as both Smitha and Meenu also happen to be mentors on our program.
Communications coach Dr. Sanjeev Kumar's session took us through the basics of communicating well, fine tuning the communication for the desired audience and understanding how to make a point appealing to another person.
On the final day Harpriti Reddy from National Association for the Deaf joined us to share her journey. We spoke to her about her negotiations with accessibility and consent as a deaf woman in her everyday life. She addressed the problems deaf women face and highlighted what she discusses in her workshops with deaf women.
The training was a starting point for us and for the fellows and provided us with an insight into the different topics yet to be discussed in the remaining three quarters.
The next quarter of the leadership project focused on developing a holistic understanding of gender and sexuality within the context of disability among the fellows. Through our online trainings and our modules, the fellows explored love, desire and sexuality. They also participated in our campaign Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar to share their narratives on relationships, love and more. Monthly online trainings were conducted with experts in the field such as Smita Vanniyar, Bishakha Datta, Meenakshi Shedde and others and facilitated trainings to strengthen the fellows’ understanding of relationships and violence as well as how caregiving and care receiving looks like for women with disabilities.
For the next quarter, the fellows were given modules around communications and leadership in crisis. These modules helped them explore their own strengths and learn from the case studies. Their skills were also built through a wikipedia editathon where we built the page of sarpanch, Sudha Patel, a disabled woman.
Finally, each fellow was assigned a project in which they were asked to unpack the representation of disability in a Bollywood film. The assignment sought to help the fellows understand the impact media has on social change as well as the use to amplify narratives of social change.
We then gathered for two days with theatre artist and trainer Hansa, to look at the year gone by, reflect on the changes and the transformations, learn from each other through art and reflection.