Posted: 21 March 2019

By: Apurba K.C.

Rarely does anybody graduate law school without justifying the role of lawyers as “social engineers.” Recurring examination question encouraged students to expound upon the “non-justiciability of state policies.’’ This should not have necessarily led a student like me to believe legal institutionalization as the most effective tool of ushering in social change. Unfortunately, it did.

My initial experiences in Yuwa Aaja-researching Nepal’s prominent campaigns-further strengthened this prejudice. The campaign led by Blue Diamond Society (BDS) sought to protect the LGBTQ community’s right to non-discrimination through a writ petition at the Supreme Court. Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) led citizenship campaign sought to constitutionally protect a person’s right to acquire citizenship in the name of the mother. The Second People’s Revolution sought to oust the constitutionally protected monarchy and establish a democratic republic Nepal through a new constitution. Even Dr. Govinda K.C’s campaign aimed to reform the Medical Education Bill. I had grown to expect reforms in law or reforms through law to be the zenith, the endgame of all worthwhile campaigns.

I first recognized this personal echo-chamber when I caught myself repeatedly questioning Yuwa Aaja Campaign’s purpose and design. Why did we need a policy reform campaign on domestic youth employment, when the right to employment and rights at work were already constitutionally protected? What was there to fight for?

Another catalyst to this cynical outlook was my misconception that I understood campaigns. Four years of engagement with youth organizations led me to confuse the essence of campaign with that of developmental projects: a challenge; envisioned solutions; funding; actors; and programs. Like many critics of the sector, I regarded carelessly titled “campaigns” through the lens of burgeoning pseudo-interventions. Their mushrooming—I believed had saturated people’s interest in engaging with such interventions. I worried about Yuwa Aaja going down the same route.

Working as a Coaching Advisor to the Innovation Leaders became the impetus that led me to delve deeper into the essence of campaigning. I realized that campaigning in essence is pain. It’s a shared journey of tackling adaptive challenges-challenges that require mind-set and behavioural change. Such journey is fuelled by people’s pain, to be passionately led by people with the pain, to enable each other in managing the pains or losses inherent in change. These learnings led to the onset of my perceptual shifts and renewed my faith in the purpose of Yuwa Aaja campaign.

After all, a state’s commitments on paper – policy and law – can only go as far as prescribing and sanctioning a course of conduct; its implementation ultimately pivots on the practice, i.e.; behaviour of all actors. Nepal’s law and policy documents can go as far as establishing mechanisms that encourage and improve youth employment in Nepal – but the mind-set and behavioural shift required to eschew foreign employment and value domestic opportunities cannot be ushered without civic campaigns. On-the-ground implementation of any law/policy will require continuous collective effort from all actors-the government, private sector, civil society, citizens like you and me. In other words, campaigns for policy reforms and their implementation do not come with redundancy clauses. This path to societal progress merits constant nudging. It thus makes sense that the wider LGBTQ community continue to host Gaijatra parades. These counts. Even the smallest of interaction programs pressurizing civil servants to issue citizenship from a mother’s name. So, do all interventions of Yuwa Aaja.

Previously, my faith in impact of campaigns like Yuwa Aaja, i.e, campaign to be sustained on committed volunteerism of participants – was shaky. Having seen many “campaigns” lose momentum despite monetary incentives given to actors, I was wary of the time and energy that our Innovation Leaders could invest – the challenge being they were actors with pertinent prior commitments. Simply put, I was wary of the campaign causing its actors ‘inconvenience’, resulting in little chances of its sustainability. A year in, I’ve realized that campaigns are precisely meant to cause its actors discomfort. Authentic campaigns nudge citizens with the pain to share responsibility in making efforts to address them.

Yuwa Aaja caused a fundamental perceptual shift in me- I understood that attributing civic responsibility is foundational to inculcating civic agency. After all, there is not much comfort in handing the sole reins of societal progress to authority bearers. Neither can we enjoy convenience in passively observing from the side-lines and limiting ourselves to expression of grievances.

Yuwa Aaja campaigners will always be followed by the question of the campaign’s tangible attributable impact. I personally find hope and agency in knowing that we, as part of the larger Yuwa Aaja family, can carve and share that impact. A key peak towards that vision lies in campaign stakeholders like us tackling the prejudices we have developed within our professional or sectoral echo-chambers. This is my story of overcoming biases. What is yours?

– Apurba K.C. is a Leadership Research Officer at Nepal Leadership Academy (NLA)