DSA2020: New Leadership for Global Challenges
University of Birmingham, 16-19 June 2020
Alpa Shah’s most recent book, ‘Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas’, was a finalist for the 2019 Orwell Prize and the New India Foundation Book Prize, on the longlist for the Tata Literature Live Nonfiction Book Award and featured on several 2018 Book of the Year lists from the New Statesman to the Hindu. Alpa is also the author of ‘In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India’ (2010) and co-author of ‘Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India’ (2018). In 2010, Alpa made a 30-minute radio documentary for BBC Radio 4 Crossing Continents on ‘India’s Red Belt’, has since featured on several other BBC Radio 4 programmes, and recently co-curated a major photo exhibition ‘Behind the Indian Boom’. Alpa was raised in Nairobi, read Geography at Cambridge and then trained in Anthropology at the LSE where she now teaches.
Rethinking Leadership for Global Challenges - Srilatha Batliwala
For most of us the term “global” has a particular meaning, even a particular location, even if we are not aware of it: something becomes global because it is happening in multiple locations (such as a pandemic), or because it is happening within or through a multilateral institution (like the UN). I wish to interrogate this understanding and offer alternative ways to frame the idea of the global – particularly building on Arturo Escobar’s notion of “meshworks”.
The nature of global challenges has to be similarly re-thought – moving slightly away from the widely recognized ones of global warming and climate change, poverty, conflict, sexual and gender based violence, extremism of various kinds, and the resurgence of authoritarian leaders and regimes that are of course important, but asserting that these framings push us toward siloed solutions that are increasingly untenable. I propose that the two deepest, most fundamental global challenges are (1) perverse confluences and (2) perverse divergences, building on Otto Scharmer’s concept of “Axial Shift”, and that we are approaching essentially new problems with old solutions.
These global challenges – these perverse confluences and divergences – are being confronted and navigated every day in very local, grassroots sites. This we all know. But what is less well known is the incredibly innovative strategies and solutions that are being developed that can be globalized in interesting ways. It is about challenging the deeply-rooted patriarchy in a village in Nepal as a proxy for dealing with patriarchal resurgence around the world; or Wahhabi orthodoxy confronted by a single divorced mother in a village in Bangladesh as a proxy for challenging religious fundamentalism around the world; or poor women sitting in silent protest in their neighbourhoods against an unconstitutional citizenship bill in India, and becoming a magnet for thousands of like-minded people to gather and debate the current challenges to democratic values.
Without romanticizing or essentialising the local, I believe the challenge is to build confluences of these initiatives, these processes, these expressions of the open – as opposed to closed – parts of the axis of change that build profound, constructive, rights-affirming, planet-renewing, inclusive meshworks that can transform the world. This requires us to build and support a new kind of leadership: young women – and men – who are working in multiple locations, but ready to build pathbreaking new alliances / collaborations with unlike actors, and drive an inclusive, just change agenda forward.
My work with young, marginalised grassroots women and trans activists has focused on attempting to do exactly this: moving away from the “how to” model of capacity building to building capacity to analyse and understand how power operates not only systemically but within ourselves, to recognize how power structures such as patriarchy are constructed and sustain themselves, to examine our own internalized uses and abuses of power, and to build a concept and practice of feminist leadership that is fundamentally different to the prevailing paradigms. It has been my privilege and joy to see them take these frameworks and apply them in crafting solutions to essentially global problems in very local sites – giving us a whole new generation of global leaders who are changing their world, and by so doing, changing the world at large.
Srilatha Batliwala is currently Senior Advisor, Knowledge Building with CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action), an international organization that works at the intersection of gender, sexuality and human rights, and Senior Associate, Gender at Work, a global network of gender experts supporting organizations to build cultures of equality and inclusion. Her work focuses on building knowledge from practice, especially in the areas of gender, feminist movement building and feminist leadership, and on capacity building of young activists and organisations to advance feminist visions of social justice.
Through the past four decades, Srilatha’s work has spanned grassroots activism, building movements of marginalized grassroots women, research and scholarly work, policy advocacy, grant-making, and capacity building of young women activists around the world. Up to the mid-90s, she was involved for over twenty years in grassroots work in India, where she helped build large-scale women’s movements that mobilized and empowered tens of thousands of the most socio-economically marginalized rural and urban women in slum communities in Mumbai (Bombay) and in the backward districts of Karnataka state in South India. Thereafter, she worked internationally including as Civil Society Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, New York (1997-2000), Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations (2000 – 2007), and from 2008 – 2016 as Scholar Associate in AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development).
Srilatha has written and published extensively on a range of women’s issues, and is best known for her work on women’s empowerment, women’s movements and feminist approaches to monitoring and evaluation. Her most recent publications are (i) a collection of her writings of the past twenty years: “Engaging with Empowerment – An Intellectual and Experiential Journey” (Women Unlimited, 2014, and eBook version 2015), and (ii) a primer for activists, “All About Power”.
Srilatha commutes between homes in Bangalore and the Nilgiri Hills of South India, and is an active feminist grandmother to her four grandchildren!
‘We are not poor’: new forms of resistance to extractivism in Xolobeni, South Africa - Shireen Hassim
The strategy of development in resource-rich countries is generally underpinned by the promise of jobs in exchange for control over land and resources. Poor communities are presented with an iniquitous choice to change their lifestyles and abrogate centuries-old practices of living in concert with nature in favour of employment within the capitalist system. Large global mining corporates, in concert with governments, push for deregulation and unrestrained access to natural resources, selling their role as ‘the only alternative’ to poverty. One small community in the Eastern Cape of South Africa has taken on a global mining corporate, successfully defending their right to determine the terms of development on their land. This talk addresses the ways in which their campaign to defend ancestral lands offers a story of hope in dark times.
Shireen Hassim has written and edited several books including No Shortcuts to Power: Women and Policymaking in Africa, and Go Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Politics of Difference in South Africa. Women’s Organisations and Democracy: Contesting Authority won the Victoria Shuck Award for Best Book in Women and Politics from the American Political Science Association. Her most recent book was an archival recuperation of the work of the South African sociologist, Fatima Meer. She is a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and served as an elected member of its National Council.