Through its Capacity Development program in India, Gender At Work supported a group of women and men leaders of grassroots NGOs to explore the gender and power dynamics within their organizations and evolve strategies for gender transformation. After an initial workshop to arrive at a common framework for understanding gender issues in organizational settings, participants designed and implemented change projects in their own organizations, then met again to share their lessons and learn from each others' experiences.
In India, as in most other cultures, story-telling is a familiar method of teaching and learning. In many Indian folk-tales, the preceptor begins a story that poses a philosophical or ethical dilemma, challenging the student to take the narrative forward and resolve the conundrum in a way that upholds the moral, ethical or legal principle in question. Stories and story-telling continue to be widely used to encourage deep reflection on complicated concepts and abstract ideas, or to validate precepts and principles by grounding them in everyday reality.
The G@W program was structured around peer-learning. Story-telling became the method of choice for the group to delve deeper into change processes. Change stories were fleshed out collectively through a process of critical questioning. Questions from the listeners helped story-tellers to re-examine elements of the change process that had been edited out from the first telling, endowing them with new significance. Often, a question rooted in the experience of one organization became an “a-ha moment” for another, resulting in an entirely new angle to on the change process. Telling and re-telling these stories added rich layers of detail and complexity to the understanding of change, throwing into sharp relief the ways in which personal histories, values, beliefs and ways of being and doing contributed to building the organizational culture and shaped its trajectory.
To close the program, we invited participants to create digital stories of each others' personal journeys. Along with giving participants a chance to learn a useful skill and honing the craft of building stories through asking questions, this process also resulted in a bouquet of engaging and inspiring life stories that we are happy and proud to share with a wider audience.
As one participant put it, “I felt so proud when I saw the film that my partner made about my life – in telling my story, I realized how strong I am, how many battles I have fought and won....”