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Unheard Stories of Moral Practices is a five-part series, over the course of a month, showcasing the hard-edged skills, challenges, and values practiced by the 2021 Acumen India Fellows from the Spring Cohort.

Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder and CEO of Acumen, explains Moral Imagination as “the basis of an ethical framework,” a founding value that enables us to “recognize our common humanity and insists on opportunity, choice and dignity for all of us.”

In simple terms, Moral Imagination is the ability to empathise, to stand in the shoes of another, to witness and approach problems as your own and create meaningful solutions.

It is the ability to listen, learn, and immerse yourself entirely in the challenges of your community, in order to reimagine how old systems and ways of thinking can better address those challenges.

It’s likely you’ve practised moral imagination without knowing it. We have all at some point in our lives concocted ways to overcome roadblocks and move ahead.

Here are stories from our Fellows, who are practising moral imagination to fight for equity in education, healthcare, livelihood and employment, and mental health.

Sahithya AnumoluCo-Founder of Inqui-Lab Foundation

Inqui-Lab aims to co-create platforms and interventions that build problem-solving capacity in children and youth and support their change-making journeys.

During my Teach For India (TFI) Fellowship, I taught a class of 30 Grade-4 boys from a public school in Hyderabad. I prepared lesson plans in detail for each class with the growth of my students in mind. However, some days my class would overshoot into lunchtime by 2–10 minutes, and the children would get restless, which I gave little thought to . Instead, I assumed that the restless students lacked motivation or would fall prey to disruptive behaviours.

After months of teaching them and learning from them, I realized that for many students, the midday meal served during lunch was their first meal of the day. The students became restless because they were functioning on an empty stomach.

Coming from privilege, certain truths of life escape our understanding. We come to the social sector with the best of intentions but it may take us several months or years to begin to fully understand the people we wish to serve. While we focus on improving specific aspects of their life, we fail to realize the web of problems that are tugging at them at the same moment.

With time I realised that I had to have the courage and humility to witness the world as it was for the children I wanted to work for and the audacity to imagine a world they could benefit from.

Soon after TFI, I co-founded Inqui-Lab Foundation, a non-profit with the vision to build an inclusive and sustainable world in partnership with young innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers. We design interventions for harbouring problem-solving capacity in children and youth.

To reimagine a world that prioritises safety and authentic learning interventions, it is crucial to incorporate the voices of our target community. Over the years, we have invested in learning and adapting multiple ways to do this through stakeholder mapping and interviews, rapid prototyping, pilots, partnership with experienced organizations, better data collection and recruitment of youngsters from our target demographic.

Across 2 flagship programs and multiple projects, we’ve reached 27,000 students across Telangana via school, NGO, corporate or state-wide partnerships, generating 10,000+ student ideas submissions.

With every passing year, I hope to believe that we are listening more carefully; designing more intentionally; creating more light than shadows.

Arun SharmaDirector of Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) Mission, Government of India

The DBT Mission aims to reform Government’s delivery systems for simpler and faster flow of information/funds, welfare schemes and to ensure accurate targeting of the beneficiaries.

Back in 2013–14, I was with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), our larger objective was to improve health indicators in one of the most populous and poorest states in India, Bihar. Bihar’s primary healthcare was rudimentary and under-equipped. Its network of ASHA workers were under stress and unable to deliver on their tasks due to payment delays, unheard grievances, and corruption.

Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers are trained female community health activists from the community and for the community. ASHAs work to bridge the gaps between the community and the public health system.

To improve the collective health and ensure access to the public healthcare system, we launched HOPE- Health Operations Payment Engine, a web-based platform to conduct the calculation, verification and processing of health payments. We worked with a firm to create mobile wallets to transfer their payments, which could be encashed at designated points closer to their homes. With more autonomy and access to their earnings, ASHAs were able to use their money or save it as they pleased, and it also pushed them to address their concerns collectively. The seamless and heartening adaptation of technology and its benefits, improved their performance on parameters like the number of patients attended, routine inoculations, neonatal care, counselling, etc in the following year.

HOPE lifted the veil of bureaucracy between the ASHAs and the government. Its maker-checker module helped them to track payments and follow-up on discrepancies in the payslips. HOPE is now under the central government as part of the Public Financial Management Systems (PFMS).

As the Director of DBT Mission, we create systems that are efficient and reliable with the goal to dismantle all roadblocks and reach the beneficiaries at their doorsteps.

Vinod Kumar PandeyCo-Founder of Rozgar Dhaba

Rozgar Dhaba facilitates information exchange for daily-wage earners on local jobs, government support, and health programs out of a physical office in villages.

Myelder cousin had migrated in search of work when I was still young. My family’s financial condition was not so good back then, I did not manage or handle it then.

I was 12 when I was told he died in the city, succumbed to the city life. But I soon realised that my cousin did not succumb to the city life. He died because of the lack of access to basic healthcare, decent living conditions or a reasonable daily wage to survive. I spent so much time over the years thinking of ways my cousin and so many others like him could have survived. My cousin’s death made me see how invisible and unsafe our world is. This was the first such death in my family and it left a mark on me.

In 2008, I entered the development sector and conceptualised Rozgar Dhaba — a village information exchange office to provide information on local jobs, government support, and health programs.

Working with the rural community made me realise that misinformation, or rather the lack of structured information is the real issue instead of unsafe migration and unemployment.

It connects migrant workers/farmers/village communities to the opportunities available for livelihood. It also assists the community in accessing government services by getting them different documents like ration cards or a bank account. Rozgar Dhaba plays a vital role in connecting rural communities to structured information on local livelihood opportunities. We also assist them in availing government schemes and solve implementation issues around government programs.

I work at the grassroots today because I believe villages have better work opportunities, it’s just we are not aware of it.

Today, there are 11 Rozgar Dhabas across India, and we helped more than 80,000 migrants gain access to locally possible livelihood, even during COVID.

I look forward to a world where no one dies because they can’t find a job. I want to take the Rozgar Dhaba model to every village and its Panchayat Resource Center. I hope this will make my cousin brother’s soul rest in peace.

Rashi VidyasagarDirector of The Alternative Story
The Alternative Story is a mental health service provider that is intersectional feminist, trauma-informed, kink-aware, queer-affirmative and caste aware.

Ihave taken some time to make sense of “Moral Imagination.” I make sense of things by breaking them up into components, and that’s how I approached Moral Imagination.

The intent to provide mental healthcare for marginalised groups is how The Alternative Story was founded. I had been thinking of ways to become a part of the solution rather than the problem, it was a part of imagination for me. It had become necessary for me because I wanted my voice as a mental healthcare user to be taken seriously.

One of the biggest gaps in the mental health sector is the lack of diverse team members, and due to no fault of mine, this is also what my organization struggles with. This is where my morality comes in. I cannot always imagine myself in the shoes of everyone. I can get as close to the experience as I want but I will never be someone else.

Over the last few years, I have gained credibility and some power in my small little domain. However, we still don’t have mental health practitioners from the marginalised groups we aim to provide our services to. It feels like I am repeating the same mistakes that I had set out to correct.

A reason for this apparent paucity of diverse therapists and counsellors is that mental healthcare is not seen as a valid career for many people due to stigma as well as lack of awareness. When there are no diverse persons for the job, how do I hire them?

How do I solve a problem where I am not the solution? If I can solve a problem by becoming the solution, it would only mean that the solution is there somewhere within the problem.

This is where I believe we require Moral Imagination. It’s time to make space, pass the mic and do whatever it takes to ensure that solutions are created within where the problem lies.

At The Alternative Story, we are doing this by raising money to offer scholarships to students to become mental health professionals. Money and mentorship can go a long way to make sure that there is diversity within the field. Diversity will also ensure the issues are looked at from a non-majoritarian lens and hence creating equity and justice.

To think Moral Imagination starts and ends with empathy is to misunderstand the concept itself. Moral Imagination moves beyond empathy, it is the call to accept, acknowledge, and analyze the world around us and take part in building one that represents and fulfils the needs of the community we serve.

Join our Fellows, and the Acumen community in understanding and practising Moral Imagination, to create systems that create ripples of change.

Register for the Path of Moral Leadership course with Acumen Founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz to learn the hard-edged skills necessary to build a better world.

To know more about our 2021 Spring cohort, and their work, head over here.

Article originally published on Medium.

Project FUEL and Acumen Academy India are collaborating over a series of blog posts where we will be sharing inspiring and motivating stories from the 2021 Acumen India Spring Cohort.



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