Series: The unconventional Women of SSMI
After hand-wringing for a few years, SSMI is now taking significant steps toward digital transformation by including digital training, and media literacy programs in their employee development plan. While partially, this could be an after-effect of the recent encounter with COVID-19, the cascading effect of which led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital tools and technologies, the other reason could be the growing dependence of NGOs on third-party vendors for digital services. Whatever the trigger may be, digital integration that was once an aspiration for non-profits has now become a necessity.
To learn more about this sea change in approach and how it has empowered women workers, we spoke with Dr. Kanika Sachdeva who is spearheading Delhi-based Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute’s social media presence and digital upskilling initiatives.
COVID-19 forced organizations across sectors and around the globe to implement digital capabilities. Those already on the verge of transformation accelerated their pace. The first-timers jumped the bandwagon – as a matter of survival. “Pandemic forced even the most reluctant ones online. It hastened digital conversion much faster than otherwise”, says the passionate educationist.
After being associated with SSMI for 17 years in various capacities, right in the middle of the pandemic, Kanika took charge of establishing the institute’s social media presence and strengthening the website for their commercial venture ‘Room100’. Although the website had been actively running for a few years now, however, it could not make an impact as expected with limited visibility. “My first task after joining SSMI was to spruce up the website for Room100 and create a social media presence and branding strategy for the same,” notes the 42-year-old. While developing and optimizing the brand, she identified one of the primary reasons the organization has struggled in the digital domain and capacity building is its excessive reliance on third-party vendors. “With the ‘new normal’, the world has much higher expectations from organizations, so keeping up the third-party service providers become difficult. Whether it is website maintenance, social media advertising, or other digital tasks, the dependence impacted time optimization and money spent on these efforts. We realized that we can resolve this problem by training the staff in digital self-dependency so they can consolidate and centralize their digital media activities and align them better with the organization’s objectives.”
Using her extensive research experience and entrepreneurial bent, Kanika started to train a team of 6 workers that included both men and women from SSMI as part of the organization’s ‘Digital Self-reliance project.’ Through her entrepreneurial venture ‘OMEMY,’ she customized a training pathway as per the institute’s specific requirements. “For those wondering, OMEMY is a combination of 3 connotations- ‘O’, ‘ME’ & ‘MY.’ I founded OMEMY with an intention to develop a self-learning platform for individuals who want to upskill themselves. Today, through this platform, the women workers of SSMI are getting trained to handle day-to-day website editing and other related operations, online advertising, and digital marketing tasks independently without paying and following up with third-party providers.”
Kanika shares that the entire exercise of providing digital training to SSMI employees encouraged broader participation and prompted a breakthrough in transformative learning, which is a need of the hour. In a short span, three female team members built their first primary school website prototype as part of their ‘hands-on training.’ However, as easy and smooth as it may sound, the journey up till here was filled with challenges. The London-based entrepreneur says, “In my several years of experience, I have sensed a lot of hesitation in women in digital and finance-related areas. They are generally plagued with a subtle stereotype that ‘maybe, men can do this better.’ But the women of SSMI are the true epitome of new India – ready to take on challenges, eager to push their boundaries, and achieve to the best of their capabilities. They have surpassed my expectations and made a genuine effort to learn more and apply their learnings for better outcomes on their digital platforms.”
In India, numerous self-learning platforms support individuals from diverse backgrounds to realize their full potential. However, Kanika feels they are hugely devoid of digital citizenship etiquette and internet safety information. This gap needs to be addressed to create a safe & constructive online environment for everyone. The digital self-training pathway designed by OMEMY for SSMI largely relies on a congruent framework and follows the ‘leave no one behind’ policy. It’s conscious of women’s safety and empowers them with digital knowledge, access, and growth, simultaneously decreasing the gender divide. Hands-on exposure to technology builds their interest and confidence to take up more significant and emerging roles in the future.
In a state of heightened anxiety such as that of COVID-19, adopting digital transformation and enhancing the technological fluency of women workers has been a challenge for SSMI. However, now more than prepared, the non-profit views it not only as a pragmatic solution to its problems but also as a unique way to generate more opportunities for its female staff.
(Content Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)