The award-winning program, founded by students, alumni, faculty, and staff had great plans for 2020. However, with the reality of the COVID pandemic, we had to pivot.
As we planned for 2020 with our alums and partners, we came to a consensus that we wanted to celebrate ten years of our relationships with change agents in India. We agreed the best way to do so was to maintain a “community of practice” oriented towards social change. We coalesced around the goal of returning to Bangalore to work with our long-time partners as we have done in the past.
Working with the GEO office and GSE alums, we advertised the opportunity to students. Nine students were selected from competitive pool. The students: Maggie, Mahi, Mekdes, Nasua, Natsumi, Srushti, Teresa, Tristan, and Zach, working with Moledina, began the spring semester in a seminar studying poverty, livelihoods, and inclusive educational practices in India. As the reality of the pandemic set-in, we realized that we would not be able to travel to Bangalore.
As we spoke to our partners in India, we realized that COVID had made our work more urgent. The Indian lock-down had made more apparent the social divisions that we have been trying to address with our work. Educational opportunity was being denied to vulnerable groups such as migrant children, people that live in urban slums, as well as rural areas. Small scale farmer’s and villages that practice community-based entrepreneurship could not find a market for their goods. Caste-and-gender based discrimination were just as rampant and India was still struggling to be inclusive towards disabled people. We had to act!
Working with the GEO and Provost’s office, GSE was able to pivot to online. This is because the core of GSE’s praxis is students research teams that embed with our partners and work on change projects. This work could be done remotely. Sure, we were going to miss the immersion opportunity – the opportunity to be in fellowship with our partners around lunches, cultural events – the stuff of life that bonds us, and helps us collectively participate in our common humanity. With the knowledge that we would miss this dimension, this courageous band of students agreed to work on the project remotely. We could “stay in place” and still work in solidarity.
What have our projects been? We returned to work with EnAble India on two projects. The first EnAble project designs a process that would allow it to be part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Global Compact. The second project is to create a Network for Inclusive Technologies and Solutions in India. We began this commemorative year working with Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), an international coalition of rights-based organizations. RRI’s goal is to secure land and resource rights for 2.5 billion Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This pivot to RRI came about because our co-Founder, Laura Valencia ’12, has made consistent efforts to give students more exposure to subaltern social movements. The RRI project uses a case study method to determine the factors that have contributed to livelihood success for community-based forestry following the passing of the Forest Rights Act in India.
Stay tuned for more students posts.