President & CEO, Breakthrough

Shifting Your Frame of Reference Can Lead to Change that is Sustainable | Mallika Dutt

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“When we started Bell Bajao, four years ago, we really wanted to look at how to change the way in which men understood their role in addressing violence. So we shifted the frame from saying simply that men beat women, men abuse women or that women need to empower themselves as ‘either or frame’ and we shifted it to saying, you know what, men can be part of the solution. Men may be perpetrators but men can also be people who stand up, who say no, who challenge themselves as well as their communities around them.” – Mallika Dutt

Listen in to this podcast conversation with Mallika Dutt, Founder, President & CEO of Breaktrough.

Co-create for Sustainability

Khemka Forum Podcast Series: Transcript of the podcast with Mallika Dutt

Interviewer: Shivraj Parshad, The PRactice



Shivraj: Mallika Dutt, thanks very much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Mallika Dutt: Hi Shivraj, I am delighted to join you today.

Shivraj: Mallika, a lot has been said and written about Breakthrough and you’ve received a lot of citations and awards, but from your perspective what really has been the path breaking innovation that you have done at Breakthrough?

Mallika Dutt: Shivraj, for me at Breakthrough as I look back on the last decade of our work, I feel that one of the biggest innovations that we brought to the work on really building a culture of human rights, was to use ‘culture to change culture’. One of the things that we talk about a lot in challenging things like violence and discrimination is how do you get to the sort of underlying causes of what results in things like domestic violence or HIV/ AIDs or racial injustice or you know any of the myriad issues or problems that we try and tackle in our society today. When I started Breakthrough eleven years ago it was really in response to a question that I was asking myself which was, how do we create sustainable, effective, long lasting change and how do we go to scale, how do we reach really the largest numbers of people possible and bring them into this change process, and that’s really the journey that Breakthrough has been on for the last 10 years.

Shivraj: And you know Mallika, a lot of social entrepreneurs grapple with the issue of impact of change, so how do you build those partnerships, how do you co-opt a larger population or stakeholder community into what you do?

Mallika Dutt: You know Shivraj in the traditional way in which human rights as a concept and as a movement has been deployed, there has always been an approach of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, of looking at sort of the violator and the violated, you know the victim and the oppressor and all of these binaries, so its men versus women, as one example. One of the things that is an integral part of our methodology is that we believe that everybody has to be part of the solution and that it’s about all of us and we have to find a way to solve problems. So let me take the example of one of our more recent campaigns Bell Bajao which means ‘ring the bell’, which calls on men to take a stand and challenge domestic violence and using this campaign as an example to illustrate our methodology because I think it has a lot of relevance for the global conversation and certainly the conversation that is happening in India right now on the issue of violence against women. The recent gang-rape in New Delhi and the subsequent death of the young woman has sparked a kind of a conversation that you know we all have been striving to generate. So when we started Bell Bajao, four years ago, we really wanted to look at how to change the way in which men understood their role in addressing violence. So we shifted the frame from saying simply that men beat women, men abuse women or that women need to empower themselves as ‘either or frame’ and we shifted it to saying, you know what, men can be part of the solution. Men may be perpetrators but men can also be people who stand up, who say no, who challenge themselves as well as their communities around them. And we found that by shifting the frame that it really created a very very vibrant and engaged dialogue and conversations. Not only did it create this incredible conversation, we also then started to get hundreds of stories of people who had actually rung the bell, literally and in other ways and that for us was a real vindication of the methodology which for us is, you know, everyone can be a change actor and if you can find a way in which to connect media, arts and technology with partnerships, with clear actions you can actually shift behaviour and attitudes around some of our most intractable problems.

Shivraj: And a lot of what you said of where you used popular culture, where you used media, how important is that to sort of bring together a disparate group? I believe you have a few campaigns coming up, something called 1 billion rising, tell us a little about that, how have you galvanised these various groups to come together?

Mallika Dutt: So one billion rising is Eve Ensler’s initiative and Eve Ensler is this incredible leader who wrote the Vagina Monologues and has really used her power and her voice to bring together people to challenge violence against women and what Eve has done, she’s called on groups around the world on February 14 which is Valentines Day to rise up, to rise up and dance. The 1 billion number comes from calculations that actually if we add up all the statistics, at least 1 billion women face some kind of violence in their lifetime on this planet. And that’s a huge huge number, so with one billion rising Breakthrough along with you know thousands of groups around the world is encouraging people to shift the paradigm around violence and you know say ‘no more’ we can really talk about love and peace and coming together instead of the violence that surrounds us. The other thing that I would like to share with you, that as Phase 2 of Bell Bajao, the ring the bell campaign which has now been adapted in China and Vietnam and Malaysia and we are looking at adaptations in other countries as well, what we are doing to build on sort of the momentum that has been generated as well as One billion Rising is that on March 8 we are creating a call for one million men to make one million promises to end violence against women. March 8 is International Women’s Day and it’s also during the period when the UN Commission on the Status of Women is looking at preventing violence against women and so Breakthrough is organising parallel events in Rio De Janero, Johannesburg , New Delhi, New York to really bring together voices to say that it’s not enough to simply issue statements against violence. We want men to stand up and say, here is what I am going to do specifically, tangibly, concretely.

Shivraj: How do you gauge the kind of real impact that you are making and therefore pass along as a testimony to the difference that you are making?

Mallika Dutt: So we have a five pronged methodology to change hearts and minds which includes media, arts, technology, strategic partnerships, leadership development where we actually train young people as well as a host of other actors in human rights with a focus on gender, community mobilization where we sort of convene both digital and physical moments whether we are using a video van or whether we are organising a tweetathon to bring people together to focus on a particular issue and the 5th prong of our strategy is what we call learning and sharing. And learning and sharing includes the more traditional monitoring and evaluation tools, so for example now we are beginning a campaign in Bihar and Jharkhand on the issue of early marriage, we’ve undertaken some very important research to really understand what’s going on, you know why is early marriage continuing to be such an issue and not just pointing fingers but listening to people, listening to parents, listening to other organisations that have been working on this issue and using that knowledge base to inform the methodology, the message, the campaign that we hope to launch later in this year. With Bell Bajao we did a similar process, I mean the idea of engaging men as allies really emerged from voices on the ground or women that we have been working with, saying you know what unless men change we are really not going to be able to stop this problem. And we’ve sort of used baseline and end line methodology as well as a whole host of other techniques to really try and measure change to gather stories to verify those stories. So there’s that whole way in which we are constantly checking back to see what are we doing effectively, what are we doing that’s not working, what can we learn from our own work as well as everybody around us, and I think that making this idea of learning and sharing a two way street as part of our DNA and culture of an organisation is really a critical way for people who are in the social entrepreneurship space to check back on how they are doing.

Shivraj: And you know like you said the whole learning and listening and putting your ear to the ground is important, but where does human rights find a space in the work of social entrepreneurs, because you know the present discourse seems to be on the right business model, the right strategy, the products and services that they are putting out there?

Mallika Dutt: Pretty much everything that we do in a social, political and economic space has to lie on a bedrock of human rights and I understand human rights to be about the right of every single person on this planet to live with dignity and it isn’t just about having any job and it isn’t just about having a pair of tattered clothes as clothing, it’s this notion of dignity which requires food, shelter, clothing, jobs, all of the economic and social rights that we should have as human beings. It also includes the right to live a life free of violence, the right to practice your belief and religion without fear of discrimination, to have the ability to have voice in your political structure and a democratic structure. And if you understand human rights from that point of view of living with dignity as sort of the first place in which you begin, I think it makes you place a lot more attention to voices that otherwise become ignored, voices that constantly teach you that wisdom can be sourced in multiple ways, voices that are bottom of the pyramid but not just the bottom of the pyramid in terms of objects of what you are trying to do but subjects that have to be partners in whether you are trying to bring you know solar panels into areas that don’t have electricity or say you are trying to build baby incubators that for infants that are born with critical medical conditions to survive in areas that don’t have access to health care. I mean I really see the work of social entrepreneurs as deeply and intimately connected to this shared enterprise of enabling everybody to live a life with dignity.

Shivraj: For social entrepreneurs listening to this podcast, what are the two or three concrete learnings that you would like to share with them?

Mallika Dutt: Well I think one of the things that’s absolutely critical is to pay attention to the ways in which power and hierarchy play out in whatever constituency you’ve chosen to work with. You know poor people or disadvantaged people or any group of people isn’t some monolithic mass, in every community you really need to pay attention to gender discrimination or what’s going on with caste based issues or where does sort of economic power reside. If you don’t pay attention to those kinds of things when you try and come up with solutions you often miss the forest for the trees and too often end up doing things in your attempt to create good solutions that actually ends up leaving out a whole other constituency of people. So I think it’s really important to pay attention to men and women, to all of the ways in which hierarchy plays out in communities to come up with effective solutions, I think that is really critical. I think the second thing that social entrepreneurs really need to do and sort of think about effectively is that some things can be measured with concrete outcomes, that can count the numbers of children that end up in a school or the number of vaccinations that have been delivered to a particular group of people or the number of solar panels that have been set up in whatever place, but there is a lot of change that doesn’t lend itself to this kind of concrete numbers but which ultimately is the place where long term systemic cultural change happens, so I would encourage all of us to look for concrete while also paying attention to the more intangible stuff and having ways to think about and talk about it in our work.

Shivraj: Mallika Dutt, thank very much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Mallika Dutt: Thank you Shivraj and all good wishes to the Khemka Forum.


Views expressed here are solely that of the person interviewed and may not represent the views of The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.