Saturday, September 17, 2016

Better classrooms for introverted kids

Here is an interview with Susan Cain the author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. The interview focuses on how we could make classroom better for introverted kids. 

This topic is close to my heart because I was always on the introverted end of the spectrum. I did/ do well in small groups and was/ am pretty terrible in large group settings. 

Some of the most important things that stood out for me in this article: 
1. How we structure groups is important in group learning/ project based classes. I think asking kids to think of roles and have each person be responsible for a major part of the project would help each one be responsible for a role. We could even do lead and co-lead for each role, where each kid gets at least one lead role and at least one co-lead role. This way, a hard task won't be just upto one person. I think this is important for any project based learning classroom for young adults. 

2. I really liked the idea that the teachers give a minute to think when ever they ask questions! I've always liked this and I think we should train all our teachers to do this! This way we won't be putting kids on the spot nor give the chance only to kids who think on their feet.

3. I also really like the idea of discussing answers with a partner after a minute of think time! Again, I've loved this technique, when I've been on the listening end. Never knew why I was so much more comfortable doing this. 

I think these are all very actionable ideas for all teachers and teacher trainers! 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Three sources of inspiration

A few weeks ago, a series of three unrelated things came together to form a fiercely inspiring moment for me.

I heard a talk by an investor and holocaust survivor, Arnold Van Den Berg.  He spoke about focus and how his father espoused it as being the essential element of having survived the death march. A 24 hour, 20 mile walk between concentration camps, on a couple of slices of bread, when he was malnourished and weak to start with. He said the only thing that got him through that was a faultless focus on putting one leg in front of the other and locking the knee each time. If *any* other thought entered his mind, the knee would have given way. A fall would have followed. And, falling was not an option because you got whipped and shot if you couldn't continue walking. If you wanted to survive, you focussed one hundred percent on your knee.

I need focus.

I met an entrepreneur who works a fulltime job. She said she doesn't hesitate to invest in herself and never fails to be positive, patient and persevering. Against all odds she was a happy and successful person. She was a great person to talk to and I realized that the difference between the masses and those like her was hardwork and nothing else. When I mentioned that to her, she said she wakes up at 3am everyday. My first thought was "Is that even possible?!".

I need to work harder.

Then, what sealed the deal was a quote by a politician. He was talking about his working class parents and that though his mother wasn't the lecturing kind, she told him this: “You can either be right or you can do right. If you want to be right go ahead and be a pessimist. If you want to do right, be an optimist.” For a while, I've been what I've considered a realist. Having worked on the field in a non-profit in India for a few years I allowed myself to grow some cynicism, and thus reality became pessimistic. After years of hearing that I shouldn't be a pessimist from my most trusted mentors, and feeling inner dissonance that it would be wrong to ignore everything I knew, this quote did it for me. Yes, I could be right all I wanted. But was that important?

I need an attitude shift.

I've been waking up at 4am for the last few days and find myself doing that easily now. I've been trying to utilize my extra hours well. I'll get there soon.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hire the best candidate! Gender no bar.

Suppose you have 5 super talented people in your pool of applicants for a critical position. Would you be ok with someone saying you can only look at 3 of them? Would you not want to look at all 5 in a rational and impartial manner? What if this is your own brain telling you incorrect information about half of the people in your pool, and you pass them up for stereotypes that you think they fit? Or for reasons that is true for all other candidates as well, but you just aren't trained to look that way?

Many people who run small businesses and many hiring managers from companies of all sizes worry about hiring women when they are of child bearing and child rearing age. Even if they are more than qualified for the roles they are applying for. This seems to be true across male and female managers I spoke to, so I'm not complaining about men in this post, I understand the completely patriarchal society I live in.

The worry seems to stem from the short term loss in professional productivity that potential child birth will entail. A survey of 500 managers by a law firm shows that 40% of them are wary of hiring women of child bearing age, and 40% are reluctant to hire moms into senior roles. Is it any wonder that we don't see too many women in upper rungs of companies, if they aren't given the opportunities to lead when they are fully capable?

I instinctively thought of all the ways in which this can be "quickly" solved by breaking down and abandoning our long nurtured, carefully honed patriarchal mindset. But instead of going down that difficult route, a friend helped come up with more practical ideas to incentivize hiring managers to hire women into crucial roles. I list a couple below. Thoughts?

1. We could create a talent placement agency that provides businesses with replacement personnel for the 3-6 months that an employee is away on parental leave? They would also need a couple of months of overlap with the employee for training, so a 5-8 month assignment would be created, depending on the seniority of the role. Folks who like to constantly learn new skills, professionals who are trying to get back into the industry after a break, people who like short term gigs would be ideal candidates for the placement agency. Employer fears about few months of employee absence could be quelled to a certain degree this way. To further incentivize the employer, they could be allowed to choose from a pool of professional consultants in various fields, not just for the role that their employee would be taking parental leave from. This would make it easier for them get professionals take a fresh look at their company and provide valuable perspectives for them to move forward with. The organization can thus offer parental leave and encourage employees to use them fully, playing their part in creating a more equitable society.

This would make it easier for all employees to take their full parental leave and allow child rearing to become less of a mom-only job by making it easier for men to take their time off to bond with their new borns and grow as committed parents.

The temporary hires would learn a lot, would have tried a few different things, and have many folks who can provide recommendation at the end of a few months on this job.

The talent placement agency would get funded by large organizations that have goals for bringing more women into the workplace, and those that seek to make every parent play a vital role in raising their children.

2. Larger companies that are committed to women's rights, could provide job share capabilities for a couple of employees to share responsibility for a role. The overhead would be for the manager to interact with 2 people instead of 1, but other than that, the doubling up of talent and backup they will get from this arrangement could be a win-win for all involved. A placement platform would need to be built that specializes in placing people as pairs within organizations. It would also take care of finding a new people if an existing pair needs to break up for some reason. This could also be an ideal situation for men who are increasingly playing a larger role in their children's well being. It would make workplaces more resilient, creative and as an added benefit, family friendly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Day 3: Parting Guidance from a Psychotherapist

Domestic abuse

Before I left the hostel I stayed in, I happened to meet a retired psychotherapist at the lounge where I was chatting with a bunch of girls who've been traveling. I asked about his work and he said he worked with violent men who had abused or assaulted their partners or ex-partners.
He mentioned that according to a CDC study his work led to men not going back to violence 75% of the time. That is, if a man court ordered to do this 3 to 6 month long program, stayed in it, he did not go back to violence 75% of the time. The ones who went back typically belonged in 2 categories:
1. the ones who had been extremely violent before the program, and
2. the ones who binge drank (> 5 beers, or 5 shots of hard alcohol at one time)
Since this was a bunch of young girls, he asked: "So, do you know who to stay away from?". "Who?" "Men with control issues and men who drink too much". I asked for clarification about how young girls would identify control issues and the girls offered a lot of tips: the guys who want you to dress a certain way, or know exactly where you'd been and who you spoke to, the ones who force you to do things you don't enjoy. Also, the ones who make you feel crazy because you felt and shared the concern that something wasn't right about his behaviour. The psychotherapist also mentioned that when girls had controlling parents, they were more vulnerable to get into such relationships because they didn't catch the red flags quickly, since that behaviour was normal for them.
(I had asked too many questions at this point and I had to assure him that I was in the best of relationships and my husband was kind, caring and very supportive and that I was *super* lucky to have that. I told him, convincingly, that I'd like our young girls at Pudiyador and beyond to know what they must watch out for, and that domestic abuse was sadly still rampant in my part of the world - In India, 57% boys and 53% girls think wife beating is justified)
He then told me that the best thing to do for a person in an abusive relationship was to
1. stay in touch with her and
2. encourage her to stay in touch with her other close friends and family
Controlling men typically try to isolate their partner and not have them enjoy relationships with other close friends and kin. He said that even if the girl in an abusive relationship isn't ready to move out of the relationship at this point, she will need the support structure of friends and family if she ever decides to move out.

This conversation with a holidaying retired psychotherapist, at the hostel lounge, completely unrelated to the summit I was attending, ended my 3 days in Washington DC for the ‪#‎StateOfWomen‬ and ‪#‎Gender360Summit‬.

Day 3: United State of Women Summit

Gender Based Violence

Thursday, the final day of the ‪#‎Gender360Summit‬, was about how to prevent gender based violence (GBV) on adolescents and the challenges in doing that. It was stated that violence against women and girls was ultimate abuse of power is one of the most heinous and prevalent human rights abuses.
Some drivers of gender based violence:
1. Patriarchy, resulting in practices such as female foeticide and infanticide
2. Gender norms: needing to preserve culture and tradition with dehumanizing norms such as early marriage, female genital mutilation
3. Masculine norms of behavior: dominance and control
There was a talk about violence against children in schools and how this could be changed by changing the way we speak about schools: RaisingVoices
There was a lot of discussion about how to bring adolescents to the table to design, run, evaluate and improve their programs. I found this hard to imagine doing well in a context where adolescent girls are hidden away in homes. I still have questions about this and this seemed the most loved concept of the day.

The Horrors of Bride price

Violence against adolescents is scary. Adolescent girls have to go against age and gender norms to say no, and they often don't know the can if the perpetrator is known to them. Adolescent boys get abused too, and this violence is primarily physical violence through the hands of teachers, peers and caregivers. Adolescent girls, on the other hand, face sexual violence often by their romantic partners. Other forms of violence against adolescent girls were honor killings, dowry deaths, bride price, female genital mutilation and forced, early marriage.
I didn't know much about bride price and why it would cause abuse, but an example was given that was heart wrenching. A 14 year old girl is said to have been bought for 15 cows from her uncle. The husband raped and physically assaulted her for a month before she finally ran away. When aid workers spoke to her recently, she reported that both the uncle and the husband were in jail. But not for the reasons one would think obvious. The uncle was in jail because he couldn't repay the 15 cows to the husband, since the bride had run away and their contract was void. The husband was in jail because he was unable to pay 2 cows to the uncle - which was the fine for hitting his new bride.
I was saddened to hear that violence against adolescent girls has increased dramatically after the drought because of bride price.
1. Men rape girls so that they will be forcefully married as justice
2. Fathers and uncles sell girls at younger and younger ages to gain access to cattle
3. Girls are abducted if they can't be afforded

Empowerment and Self defense classes for girls

A Kenyan organization, Ujaama, has used an empowerment and self defense 6 week course to tackle gender based violence and have seen a 60% reduction in violence against girls. A program that has proven effective, the director answered 2 important questions:
Q. Is this putting the burden on the girls, and isn't that making it harder for them?
A: Most of the girls who used the self defense techniques only needed to resort to the assertive verbal techniques that say no assertively, so it seems like the empowerment is a key component. Also, in many cases the girls hadn't known that what had happened to them had been rape and it was NOT ok. Especially if the perpetrator was someone known to them, they assumed that it wasn't anything they could do anything about. They just didn't know if it was stoppable when their step-father wanted sexual favors. So, just empowering them with the fact that it wasn't ok and they could say no was a big part of the training.
It was also important for girls to know patterns that often lead to sexual assault - a teacher who gives and seeks special attention in secrecy, boyfriend who needs to be in control etc.
Q: Do the girls feel worse and self-blame if they've attended the training and couldn't prevent the assault?
A: In this study, they saw that reporting had increased in the study group - even when they couldn't stop the assault, the reported the assault, instead of wanting to hide it. This seems to indicate that the direction is good. Also, the language used in the training was key to not have self-blame happen incase the assault wasn't preventable by the girl.

Day 2: United State of Women Summit

Programming for Adolescents

I was at the ‪#‎Gender360Summit‬ today, on Engaging Adolescent Girls and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality and Combating Gender-based Violence. This was a side summit to the ‪#‎StateOfWomen‬ summit I attended yesterday.
I met a wide variety of people today. Folks who work on dealing with victims of gender based violence, folks who work in refugee camps and in an oppressed border city, to provide services to children and prevent evils like child marriage and female genital mutilation. This is super hard work in super hard circumstances.
I heard folks talk about adolescent education and how it was crucial for adolescent programs to be designed by them, and keep them involved them in every step of the way. Even in monitoring and evaluation, they know the best questions that need to be asked to see if change was being made in the right directions.
Folks who worked in economics and said that one way to sell the idea of women working on the national level is to talk about the macro economic budgets and how much the GDP could improve by having women employed in the labour force.
There was also a thread about data collection in this space and that very little is known about adolescents. And HIV among this group is increasing, whereas it is getting lower for every other demographic. And we don't really know why.
I met a writer who writes plays about oppressed people and child marriage. I also met someone who works on researching the impact of life skills programs and how to best provide trainings to develop these skills to adolescents.
Folks who work in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and plenty of african countries. On the whole, another very busy, thought provoking day.

Women in the Workplace

One thing that piqued my interest in the ‪#‎Gender360Summit‬ today was that folks don't seem to understand completely why women in workplaces have flatlined at about 50% in the last 30 years. Girls are getting more access to education and more skill training from all other successes in education, but aren't making it to the workplace. For men, about 75% participate in the labour force.
I have some theories:
1. Insufficient, low quality or expensive childcare options, making it infeasible to do anything other than childcare
2. Men not helping with any childcare, household chores, thus making it hard for women to stay at work after kids
3. Societies holding on to stereotypical gender roles, creating too steep a hill that many women don't have the resources to conquer last mile
4. My pet theory is that maybe 75% men being employed in the formal sector is too high because some of these men don't want to do stressful work outside home either, but are forced to because their spouses don't want to? I'm sure that if the spouse worked many men are going to be happy to stay home and this percentage will drop to the real percentage of men who really "want" to participate in the labor force in its present form. Workplaces are bound to have to improve when this happens, thus allowing more people to participate willingly in the workforce

An Amazing Youth Ambassador

I heard from a few extremely articulate youth ambassadors who broke from the cycle of poverty. One girl, Sarah from Kenya, listed the things that helped her break the cycle:
  1. That she was blessed to have a mother who believed strongly that education would help her come out of poverty
  2. Scholarships she had received: Her mom couldn't pay the fees in primary school and Sarah stood outside the classroom to listen to the lectures so she could learn! Her teacher then waived the owed fee, and gave her a scholarship to complete primary school. She went on to get full scholarships through secondary school and then for her bachelors in Environmental Sciences to become the first graduate in her family
  3. Reproductive and sexual education: She said this helped her understand her body, have control in delaying having children and follow the path she had decided on
  4. Financial literacy classes: She mentioned that in Kenya men controlled all the resources. Learning about this made her aware of this and how she could access capital
  5. Communication skills: She blew me away with this. She said someone else tells a girls story, until she becomes an adolescent and realizes more about herself. Then, at this point, she should be able to tell her own story and market herself for good jobs! She cannot allow other people to tell her story when she has her own voice and knows best about the issues she faces and what she needs.
  6. Leadership skills
  7. ICT skills: She said boys got this easily, but getting to know "how big the world is, and how small the global village is" was very fascinating. My guess is that this is about information technology and the internet

That was one inspiring lady!

Day 1: The United State of Women Summit

I heard Warren Buffett, President Obama, Michelle Obama and Joe Biden speak today, live at the first ever United State of Women Summit. A special mention of the two eleven-year old girls who are changing the world Marley Dias and Mikaila Ulmer. Each of these and so many others spoke with utmost clarity and conviction about their causes, dreams and realities. Here's what I remember from each talk...

Joe Biden said that his dad told him that the cardinal sin was to lift a hand to hurt a women, and that it was the worst kind of abuse of power. He said it is the culture needs to change, since the laws were in place and not enough. He said his work would be done when not one woman who was assaulted ever felt guilty that it may have been her fault and not one man ever thought that a woman "had it coming".

Mikaila urged us all to dream like a kid and introduced President Obama.


President Obama said he knew we were all there to see Michelle, that birth control was now free because of the affordable care act which couldn't treat women differently, and that the next generation thought that "discrimination was for losers". He looked like a feminist : :)



Warren Buffet said the one graduation ceremony he accepts to speak at are the 10000 Women project by Goldman Sachs and he really likes those graduates best. He was also bullish on women, and, the anonymous winner of the lunch bid was a woman this year!




Michelle Obama said we have to spend time to get to know ourselves, prioritize what we spend our time on to stay on track, and be authentic to who we are. She also urged men to "be better". Better fathers, better husbands, better employers and just better at everything.



I had a lovely time, interacted with so many inspiring people, and have a lot of new connections that I need to strengthen. I am inspired!