Today, I received the 2016 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship for Breakthrough. I have been blessed with deep recognition over my years of work to end violence against women and advance human rights. This award, however, holds great resonance for me as I understand better the intersections between the Skoll Foundation’s understanding of equilibrium shift and my own rootedness in the idea of culture change.
I’ve resisted orthodoxies of any sort for most of my life. While being deeply steeped in global movements for human rights, I wanted to experiment with media, arts and culture to engage larger constituencies with its values. That experiment, in the form of Mann ke Manjeere: an album of women’s dreams, led to the creation of Breakthrough which adopted as its mandate: building a global culture of human rights by using culture to change culture.
My Breakthrough journey has included experimenting with multiple technologies and storytelling to shift narratives, engage people at scale, and change culture. We created ICED, the first 3D video game on detention and deportation,, and Bell Bajao, one of the first global campaigns calling on men to challenge violence against women. We embrace the lens of intersectionality to explore connections between race, gender, and class through our work on college campuses. In 150 schools in Haryana, we’re shifting gender norms that lead to an alarmingly skewed sex ratio. Along the way, we’re constantly learning and adapting by asking tough questions about our effectiveness through methodologies ranging from intensive randomized control tests to quick Facebook polls.
I have come to believe that to dream a new world into being, we must engage in culture change. Culture change is about shifting cultural beliefs and practices that lead to violence and discrimination. That shift requires not only dismantling current norms that come from patriarchal mindsets of fear and scarcity but also creating new norms and practices that are based on interconnectedness, compassion, and love. Dismantling the gender norms that underlie so much of the violence and discrimination in this world is key
I discovered great resonance between my approach to culture change with that of the Skoll Foundation’s understanding of equilibrium shift as laid out so beautifully in Getting Beyond Better by Roger Martin and Sally Osberg. Their description of how social entrepreneurs challenge the equilibrium of unjust systems and transform them into new equilibria through disruption and change has provided me with a new map and new tools to understand and describe my own journey with Breakthrough.
As I receive this award, I embrace the connections between social entrepreneurship and movement building, culture change and equilibrium change. I am honored to be a part of this global community of disruptors and change-makers and to bring the issue of gender-based violence into the world of social entrepreneurship. Our shared belief that “even the most intractable problem offers an opportunity for change” is a mantra that I hold onto every single day. I remain deeply committed to building a world where all beings can thrive. This award expands my sense of partnership and companionship on this journey.