Dr. Dilshad Dayani, leadership coach, broadcast journalist and cultural social impact strategist, in conversation with Dr. Geeta Mehta, founder of Asia Initiatives.
Dilshad: As the founder of Asia Initiative, you have addressed gender equity with a different model called Social Capital Credits (SOCCs). Can we call it the new thriving currency for sustainable communities?
Geeta: The world we live in is just focused on the creation and maximization of financial capital, which we at Asia Initiative think is the root cause of most of the problems we face today. We believe it is crucial for us to start thinking in terms of the triple bottom line on all decision making, including social, ecological and financial capital, if we want to work towards human happiness and sustainability of our natural resources. Since, Social Capital is something that we, as a society, haven’t yet begun to consider seriously as the new currency which perhaps can double or triple our value for the dollars we spend on lifting communities. It is very interesting to witness Social Capital and how it activates the power embedded in our networks, ultimately influencing our wellbeing, markets, processes, news, relationships and innovations.
Dilshad: The mission of Asia Initiatives is to ‘help a woman rise’. How do you see women as influential catalysts in this process?
Geeta: Actually, we create opportunities for women and their families in the communities by empowering them with tools of exchange which we call SOCCs menu and help them become the stakeholders of their own success. The social credit/ SoCCs program allows women to be key influencers of their own impact. The women earn SoCCs, attend monthly meetings, mentor others, and serve in a variety of daily leadership roles which often go unnoticed and invisible. This model allows them to gain exchange currency as they get educated about reproductive health care, cleanliness, financial literacy, and combating domestic violence and alcoholism. For example, women redeem these SoCCs from attending classes for pre-vaccinated chicks to start a small poultry farm business or any other means of livelihood. This creates financial independence, confidence, and empowerment among the women, allowing them to become leaders within their communities and families. As these women are part of Self Help Groups, they are also able to share their problems and innovative solutions as a team.
Dilshad: Why do you think SoCCs is so much more effective and sustainable in terms of escalating human worth and community development?
Geeta: Current economic systems do not value nonfinancial capital. As a result, cash-constrained communities are deemed poor. Yet many of these communities abound with entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and social capital, which, owing to lack of recognition, are not valued. SoCCs replaces money constraints, by increasing the velocity and the number of transactions without the use of money. Money is particularly an important constraint for women, who often lack access to formal jobs and therefore have no means to earn a stable income. Also, men do not allow women to go and get informal education. We have seen it globally how Women assist their husbands with all the resources they own, such as time and skills to either bring money back home or to meet needs and activities that are crucial for the survival of a household, such as childcare, fetching water, cooking and housework. When we raise awareness of the value of unpaid work, Social Capital Credits come into the picture and bring tangible awards. we make the invisible work of women visible, and distill dignity in them. SoCCs also acknowledges that real changes are not going to come from anywhere but from within the communities, and so they need to drive the changes.
Dilshad: How can public spaces be capitalized for social good?
Geeta: Totalitarian governments have often consciously created public spaces where spaces and streets may result in a visually “beautiful” city, but will not serve public in its truest forms. Our public spaces should incentivize social and environmental capital formation. Streets should be designed to give priority to pedestrians, then non-motorized transport, and then public transport. Private cars should be the last priority. Similarly, by making use of Social Capital, and methodologies, we can improve public safety, community building and quality of life, all of them affected by social capital.
Dilshad: Do you think, there is a gap between academia, policy and program development when it comes to understanding social models of impact?
Geeta: of course, I see a big gap. The issues that we face today are the result of neo liberalism around the world. This has resulted in governments abdicating their responsibility of being representatives of people and instead have become dealers in public land and interest in the services of real estate developers and infrastructure companies. Government and academia should be a “partnership”, but this has also been breaking down. Many private universities in the US have begun to act like private businesses, simply focused on maximizing their profits. A clear example of this is the skyrocketing tuition fees that create inequality among those who can pay it and those who can’t. The role of universities in society must be redefined as students are graduating with heavy debts. Governments need to stop this phenomenon. Likewise, many universities are focusing on teaching money-making skills at the expense of liberal value-based education.
Dilshad: How can people support your organization initiatives and connect networks to build thriving communities?
Geeta: I think we must understand that money alone cannot answer or solve problems in the long run. Our poor communities around the world need more than that. We need to recognize that non-profit organizations and international donors have been dumping money into poverty and after 70 years we haven’t seen sustainable changes. We need monetary resources along with new methodologies, ideas and models which ensure that the communities we build can have their way out of poverty by themselves. Our gala is one of the platforms in which we strengthen the power of networks, bring people together who care about the world, give them opportunities so they can support and make our projects possible around the world. We at Asia Initiative recognize the social capital of the people to help other communities through engagement and bringing relevancy in terms of deliverables.
Dr. Geeta Mehta is the founder of Asia Initiatives.