Meet Shivangi Singh, she is a Social Entrepreneur and currently working for her project called ‘Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives’. Her focus is on providing gender sensitivity and education as per the international standards from academic institutes to NGOs.
We at womendigest got a chance to connect with Shivangi, it is really an inspirational journey. I am sure many of us will get inspired by the work of Shivangi.
Tell us about your startup? And about the team.
Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives is a non-profit social enterprise with only one full-time member i.e. me and four volunteers. My volunteers are high schoolers with a passion for positive social impact. I am fortunate to have a young and highly motivated team who see UN SDG #5 as an achievable and most natural way of being.
Drishtikona started in August 2018 in the aftermath of India’s Me Too movement when I recognized the dire need for Gender Education in India. People weren’t sensitized to gender issues in spite of being educated and employed. The idea is to conduct education workshops covering gender issues and mental health awareness. So far I have been able to impact over 5000 people directly through my workshops.
When was the eureka moment when you decided to have your startup?
The idea for a Gender Education and Sensitization startup came from the need I recognized in and around me in the Indian society after Me Too movement. I saw highly educated and well-employed people make jarringly sexist remarks and shame the movement. I noticed policymakers claim the movement to be a total flake and indulge in victim-blaming. I realize that these people need gender education. One would assume that doctors and engineers (which India proudly produces in large numbers) would be aware of social issues but the reality is completely different and rather grim. In my family of doctors, engineers and lawyers I have observed patriarchal norms go unchallenged and even reinforced. This was the moment when I asked myself what I can do to change the scenario. Hence, Drishtikona was born.
Where is your startup located? What are your plans for expansion?
We are based out of a small town in India called Lucknow in the most populated state of the world’s most populated country. I have conducted workshops across 5 states in India. I plan to conduct workshops regularly across the country and if possible, internationally. My plan is to inculcate gender education in the core curriculum in schools and colleges across the world, just like usual subjects. Of course, the pedagogy might change place-to-place but the basic ideas and issues must remain the same as Gender Equality is not limited to one country and sadly, no country in the world has been able to achieve gender equality so far. UN SDGs were aimed to be achieved by 2030 and there is still a long way to go towards achieving those. My focus is on working towards achieving UN SDG 5 through UN SDG 4.
Who are your competitors and how do you see yourself as a competition?
I believe in the idea of collaborating and not competing. I don’t have any competitors nor do I see myself as competition to anyone. In my book, anyone working towards any social cause is my friend. I see all NGOs/Non-Profits/Social Enterprises as working towards the same cause ultimately. We all wish to see a positive change in the world around us. It’s encouraging to see incredible change-makers from across the globe come together and collaborate for a good cause. This has been achieved by several conferences, symposiums and workshops for change-makers along with certain communities. One such community which I am proud and happy to be a part of is the Global Shapers community by the World Economic Forum. I joined the community with the sole purpose of collaborating with like-minded individuals as we try to improve the world we inhabit.
What keeps you excited about this startup?
The sheer potential of creating change in people’s mindsets and perspectives is what keeps me excited about my work. I have had several stories of individual change and impact. I have had men in their 50s cry after and during my workshops as they recount horrors of patriarchal conditioning in their lives. I have had girls as young as 15 talks about their encounters with sexual harassment and ensuing victim-blaming. We are all living the horrid realities of patriarchal conditioning. The work that I am doing involves very real and raw emotions. The fact that I can enable people to open up, share and eventually heal is what makes my hard work worth it. I have strict no photographs or cellphones policy for my workshops because I wish to create a safe environment for participants to open up and be vulnerable in a wholesome manner.
Being a woman you have to handle a lot of things- tell us how you maintain a work-life balance.
Coming from a deeply patriarchal background, it is more than just work-life balance for me. It is about convincing everyone around me, especially the controlling family that I deserve to have a career. In small-town India, the norm is for a woman to give up on her career entirely and have an arranged marriage. I refused to follow the patriarchal gender roles. Now my work is doubled as I need to constantly assure them that I am succeeding. Women as social entrepreneurs are few in numbers where I come from. People don’t understand the work that I am doing. Many assume I am unemployed because my office is in my house. It is increasingly frustrating to have a conversation with people about my work because they don’t see any need for gender equality as they are convinced that gender roles are “God-given” and “laws of nature”. They continuously blame women for working after marriage. The concept of women having a choice or agency is completely alien to many men in my country. Hence, doing what I do seems like a humongous task at times. It is in times such as these that the stories of individual impact that my workshops have been able to create come as a respite. When I read about the depth of the impact I have been able to create I am more motivated than ever to continue doing what I am doing.
What is the most important learning which you want to share with our emerging women entrepreneurs?
If I had to pass on one word of wisdom to emerging women entrepreneurs it would be: Perseverance. As women, the world will constantly try to take away what is rightfully ours. Employers constantly give us low salaries and as entrepreneurs, clients will constantly misjudge or underestimate us due to our gender. We will win when we persevere. Don’t give up because the world has made it tougher for women. We need to overcome all the challenges not only for ourselves but also our gender. Don’t let anyone pull you down. Don’t give in to the patriarchy but challenge it every step along the way. A win for one woman is a win for all of us as it gives more strength to the cause of women being represented everywhere. Let’s move away from ancient notions pitting women against women and let’s collectively persevere to win against patriarchy.
What do you suggest to a woman who is interested in starting their own business?
I would suggest that she create pros and cons list while understanding there is never a perfect time to do anything. Starting her entrepreneurship journey shall always feel like jumping into the pool to learn swimming. It could seem like a huge risk at first but there is no other way to rip off the bandaid. Sometimes a woman’s gotta do what she gotta do. Your friends and family may not always understand or be supportive of your entrepreneurship journey but you can’t let them get in your way. Hold that vision of your success or your brand clearly in your mind as you continue to persevere and work smart. Success is sure to follow.
Where do you see your brain-child in the next 2-3 years from now?
I see Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives growing tremendously in the near future. I wish to increase my workshops quantitatively and qualitatively. I have also planned several events for stakeholders which involve them collaborating with each other and sharing their learnings and takeaways from my workshops with each other. I plan to increase my outreach in India and shall also start pitching to international schools and colleges outside India. Optimistic after the initial success, I see the next 2-3 years as a crucial time for the growth of my brain-child. I seek to take Drishtikona overseas and gain work and funding opportunities along with valuable exposure.
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