Small Voices Matter: Social Change at the Margins

Small Voices aka Soloprenuers are an important pivot in making our communities more vibrant as group think is avoided and their risk appetite in curating a world towards normative ends is greater. Scale as a narrative is over hyped. We, in the private sector are driven by the animal spirits of growth ensconced in the ever evolving construct of modernity. The growth narrative is hinged on scale; big numbers and steep percentages and the media seems to be enchanted with them, rarely questioning the real impact in the ground.

Community activists are often a lone breed. They are driven by by a passion which chars them. The small, feeble voices which they echo, is often ridiculed by fellow members as spending personal resources on activist causes which might not bear fruit. The apt example is of the migration NGO’s in Singapore and Malaysia, or even the initiatives focused on transient domestic workers in India, who travel from one end of the country to the other to eek out a living.  These social ventures are focused on empowerment, advocacy and giving a voice which shatter mainstream media narratives such as Bangladeshi construction worker poets in Singapore. But, the focus population is transient, and help from these community activists might be a measure of last resort to the target community. These community activists are often hidden, silently toiling away at the margins helping these subaltern communities. Where does the impact assessment paradigm of grants based funding help in improving the ecosystem, as most soloprenuers  are self or crowd funded, and often do not have the bandwidth to even apply for grants such as a young Singaporean woman trying to help women Rohingya refugees with skills training in Malaysia or couple of friends trying to light up villages in North East India . Institution building takes resources, and a dedicated team. Small voices often work with volunteer consultants and well wishers who dedicate their time and money behind a cause in the form of an event or two, but a protracted conversation on social change needs a distinct fire in the belly which these small voices have, often banging their heads against a wall. But, they still continue working with every new member of their partner community such as Mr AKM Mohsin of Banglar Kantha-Dibashram in Singapore, working with Bangladeshi blue collared migrants for over two decades.

These community activists work in marginalized communities on specific issues, and depend on social media as a free loud speaker to bring these important voices whether the auto driver or the house help in Delhi or the Baul practitioner in rural Bengal. This however, does not discount the materiality of the requirements of running a program on social change, only that scale is often not the solution and that resources are an aid, not a silver bullet.

Impact is catalyzed one conversation at a time, and does not need a grant application to be written.