Recent events have compelled nonprofit organizations to change the way they get work done, how they deliver their services, and what they do to achieve a more just and equitable society. So, The Business of Giving has connected with those organizations that are doing this exceptionally well in a segment we call: The Paths Forward. Because there is more than just one way.
Denver: In this edition of The Paths Forward we’ll speak with team members at Uninhibited, a nonprofit organization that build safe spaces, to break the silence around menstrual health in marginalized communities, so women and girls can stay in school, workforce, and participate equitably in society.
We’ll start with their CEO, Dilip Pattubala, who talks about aligning their culture with their mission.
Dilip Pattubala: And if you think that we really want to create safe spaces for women and girls to start talking about the subject they don’t talk about within their own households, it is also the question that how are we able to create that safe space within the organization. How are we able to measure the work that we essentially want to see on the ground within the organization?
And that kind of really brings in a lot more perspective around: How do we really make sure that workspace is safe? What kind of values are grounding the
organization? What kind of language are we using within the organization that makes everyone feel included and together as a tribe? So today we are nearly a hundred-person organization. It is a challenge as we scale to really hold on to that culture that we really think is working for us. And so there is definitely a lot of thought about it.. And as we think about: How do we scale our behavioral change program? … How do we scale our helpline?… one of the things that we spend a lot of time thinking about is: How do we scale our culture? And I think that’s something which we don’t talk about in the ecosystem enough, and we’re glad we’re able to do that.
Denver: Values, Alignment and Staying Connected to the Work are just some of the elements that make up Uninhibited’s special culture according to Pragna, Priyanka and Anagha
Pragna: And one of the beautiful process that we have in the organization to ensure that we are upholding these values is we have these things called value check-ins in a monthly basis or a quarterly basis where the entire organization, right from the field staff, who are working on the grassroots, to the headquarters team, who are working remotely in the COVID context currently, come together and we really deep dive and talk about what are the instances in our interactions where we think we have violated a certain value or we think we have upheld a certain value and we talk about it very transparently. And I think these spaces also become spaces where each one of us is able to show up extremely vulnerability.
Priyanka: One of the things which I always keep in mind and that’s a very recent year I heard it while having a conversation in the organization only that
Uninhibited should have a culture and should be like that, what we see, what we want in the outer world. Whatever we want in the outdoor world, safe space, and the vulnerable conversation and all those things, we actually are practicing in Uninhibited and would like to continue it.
Anagha: So, that, I have seen a lot in the organization as well, and also the fact that we have Period Fellowship and people from Period Fellowship also then end up working as staff. So, what I have seen, I’m someone who joined in the middle of pandemic, and I had seen these Period Fellows would come in and become staff, also becoming really strong pillars who hold the culture together because they’ve also worked on down, they worked with the people on ground, and then become a staff.
So, they have both the views of what happens directly on the ground and also now that you’re a staff and leading people on the ground, how do we hold that perspective?
And I’ve seen those people specifically becoming the pillars of culture and constantly having conversations to say, ” Hey, we are sidelining, how do we come back on track whenever that has happened.
Denver: Uninhibited prides itself on its Culture of Accountabilty which includes managers being held accountable by their team members as Himanshi, Anagha, and Zenobia explain.
Himanshi: But at the same time, there’s also a space where I can hold my manager accountable for something. Let’s say, if Zenobia is my manager, for example, “Zenobia, you were supposed to do these things and you were not able to do these things on time.”
But, at the same time, I’m also approaching her with a sense of collaboration that “I understand you are not able to work or probably because of your bandwidth, is there something I can step in and help you out with?”
So that kind of collaborative work and that kind of safe space that we are trying to create, they’re trying to ensure in those value sessions that from the CEO to the ground staff, everyone has that space to open up and hold each other accountable to make it a more equatorian organization.
Anagha: Yeah, sure. I think, it is around what Himanshi shared, right? How we have the space to hold our managers or people who are above us accountable? I am someone who has always struggled to speak up in large groups and to share, “I don’t agree with this.” I have always worried how do I do that? But I have had that sort of space in Uninhibited where even in the organization-wide calls that there are plenty of us having conversations.
I have been able to say, ” Hey, Dilip, I don’t agree to this, I don’t think this is the right way to go about it.” Or to Zenobia to say, ” But this doesn’t feel right to me. Can we think of it in a different way?” And the first time I tried, I was a little worried, okay, what is going to happen after this? But I felt super safe.
I did not see any kind of difference in behavior or any sort of difference in the way people were talking to me even after I dissent you. And that was such a good validation to go ahead and share what I was thinking, what I was feeling and to also bring in who I am into the things that we are doing as well. So, that experience came to my mind when Himanshi was sharing about holding our senior managers accountable.
Zenobia: The second thing I would say is I see that the senior management or the leadership team is not afraid of the opinion of everyone else that reports into them or everyone else on the front line, on field. They’re open to that kind of criticism and they’re open to, I wouldn’t say criticism, but I’d say, they’re open to constructive feedback. We’re constantly looking for it every time that we come up with something as an organization, it’s always after taking the inputs of everyone in the organization, we try to be democratic, collaborative.
Denver: Check-Ins have always been an important part of the Uninhibited Culture. Zenobia and Priyanks says that did not change when they went Remote.
Zenobia: And even this feelings check is a very inclusive space, which I think when it was offline, maybe these spaces happen more organically. But I think what going online helped was with ensuring that everyone participated because when we do the feelings check, we tag one person after the other. After I’m done with my feelings check, I tag another person who tags the next. And then we go around that way to ensure that everyone’s being covered. So, I think while there are a lot of negatives to this remote working, we were able to switch it and ensure it increases the inclusivity in all these spaces that we were striving to create, I would say.
Priyanka: And it’s been two plus years, but I made sure that we are having daily check-in with them, and not just about how work is happening, but how they are feeling, how things are in their family and everything. Also, I think there’s a lot of empathy and understanding that because we’re working remotely, every people is in a different background, and in a different space. And we are not sharing a common space. So, just to check on each other from time to time to understand how everyone is pleased and coming from this place of empathy becomes extremely important.
Denver: Priyanka, Zenobia and Anagha speak about Wellbeing at Uninhibited.
Priyanka: Also, there’s this boundary, after maybe 6:00 or 6:30, we will not have work conversation at all, which took us some time because when we started, during COVID, it was stuff like how to maintain this, but right now, I feel like we all are in the space where we sort of respect like after 6:00, 6:30, we will not talk about work.
We can definitely call to have personal conversation, but not with respect to work.
Zenobia: And it does lead to a work environment, which a lot of us are not used to. And that could lead to a lack of work-life balance, anxiety, just the lack of human interaction could cause so many things, negative things, which we weren’t accustomed to dealing with, which is when we, like I said, tied up with this organization called One Future Collective, which offered mental support, which was like mental support to anyone in the organization that needed it.
And this was something we socialized with the team, the headquarter team on the ground, and frontline workers, et cetera. So, everybody could avail of the service, and avail free sessions with a counselor, a therapist, and I think some of us did use it. And it was something that a lot of people found very useful at that point of time.
So, I think that’s one of the things we did for well-being. I think another thing is while we create these safe spaces, we also create an opportunity for people to talk about anything that they’ve learned to enhance. If they do need some time off to look after their mental health or anything in the family that’s going on, we do give them that liberty to go on a sabbatical as one that we feel the case is genuine.
Anagha: Yes. To build on, I was thinking about we also have menstrual leave. Every month, we can take menstrual leaves.
Of course, it’s an organization working in menstruation. We fully understand the importance of it and we do implement it as well. That was one thing I was
thinking about and another aspect of care. I’m someone who believes that our well-being depends a lot on our community. So, it’s not just an individual person. So, I can work on my well-being, but if the people around me are not creating that space for me, but if they are not well, then my healing, my well-being is also on stake then. So, Uninhibited, as a community, as an organization, sort of create spaces for people to prioritize themselves, their mental health. And that is something that I had seen.
Anagha: And it’s also connected to the actions like there are times when I’ve also seen Dilip take a week off and come back and say, “Hey, I was not doing well mentally. And I needed that break. I was not able to show up in my full capacity.” And someone was working under him feeling, ” Oh, wow. Someone can set that sort of an example.” Can come and vulnerably say, ” I’m sorry, I couldn’t show up in full capacity. That has also been extremely inspirational for me when I see managers also setting that sort of an example.
Pragna: So, for me, that’s been a core of how we continue to uphold and create that safe space within the organization. Another for me is authentic leadership. I don’t know if this is a word that we have made up or it’s already out there, but I think in your conversation with Dilip, that would have come out too, his leadership style is extremely vulnerable.
He is not afraid of failures and failures don’t determine what we are limited to. So, in the way that we show up in the organization, I feel vulnerability and being authentic in the way that we express ourselves is definitely a space where we are able to look at each other, not as managers, but as leaders, who are shaping the organization and taking it forward
Pragna: So, how do you balance people versus processes is something that’s an ongoing internal dissonance for us as well, but at the same time that it has made us really think about how do we want to evolve our culture when we keep this in the center. So, for us, one thing that I think came out, because of COVID, what happened was we had to shift towards that we were remote working.
And inevitably, we had to have a lot of meetings, a lot of processes to keep accountability and transparency in line. But, for the first time, when we met together in an organizational retreat that happened for over a month and go two years later, we were meeting for the first time, and so many of us in this call were also meeting for the first time, a lot came out around how like Uninhibited has been an organization that’s always kept people in the center.
And that is something that we do not want to let go. Yes, we need processes to streamline things and the way that we work, but we can never leave the people.
Pragna: For example, we have a principle called Sacred Pause. For example, if I’m seeing something, Zenobia wouldn’t immediately step in or interrupt my flow or Himanshi wouldn’t do that. We take a second, we take a pause after some person has shared, we let that sink in, and then share what needs to be shared. So, that allows for space that allows for someone who is not very comfortable taking up space to take up space, and the person who is taking up too much space do not do that. So how are we able to inculcate them, imbibe these rituals, language, and behaviors as we grow from 10 to 10,000, maybe in the next 10 years, who knows, but how do we keep that spirit of Uninhibited alive is something that we’re all striving towards today.
Denver: A few final thoughts from Himanshi on not fearing failure, Zenobia on Perspective and Pragna on Leadership Development.
Pragna: But I truly think Uninhibited is a space which is committed to nurturing and shaping leaders within the organization and outside of the organization, be it with our end beneficiaries.
And that happens through creating that safe space, giving that safe space, nourishing well-being, all of these aspects that everybody touched upon. I think
all of it comes together for me there because what’s made me stay like after you’re everywhere, I’m like, “Yeah, maybe next year, starting next year, I’ll think about starting.”
But every year, I keep giving myself an excuse to stay back here and what’s made me stay really, if I have to tell you, Denver, is how I find that space with my organization, with my manager, where I continuously feel like I’m in a space of learning, I’m in a space where someone is able to mentor me, able to guide me, able to not just take my work hours for the work but is also invested in my own growth, along with the organization’s growth.
So, it could be within the organization structure or beyond the organization structure. So, every time, I have my monthly check-ins or quarterly check-ins with my manager, it’s not just understanding, okay, what went right and what went wrong with the work that we’re doing, but it’s also talking about, ” Hey, Pragna, how are you growing as a leader within this organization?”
Maybe it can be hierarchal, but it can be beyond that, like I truly feel the senior management team or my own manager, Dilip, has given me that space to think about what my goals are in life, what my roadmap in life is going to be like. And that inspires me every day to show up to work.
And it really makes me feel like I’m having a crash course of five different masters program by staying here for the last four years. I don’t need to go to a masters program at all. And, so, that’s beautiful for me. And I don’t think I could have ever learned everything that I’ve learned from interacting with each and every person in this organization.
Zenobia: And the word we use a lot is “dance floor was his balcony”. That’s like a word we keep using. And so, there’s this constant emphasis on, yes, you may get sucked into your everyday task, but it’s also great to take a pause and look at the big picture. And I find that language really helps because it’s so catchy for some reason, ” dance floor was his balcony”.
So, every time you get too involved in your day-to-day activities and just the growth of everything, something reminds you to take a step back, whether it’s the organization-wide call that we have every week or whatever it is, there’s always something pushing you to say, “Hey, don’t get too tied down and just take a step back, look at what the objective or what the logic goal is.” And I think that really works because it prevents people from getting sucked into
the mundane and monotony of everyday activities and keeps them motivated.
Himanshi: And they used to mock me a lot because that was one of the qualities I didn’t have. So, yeah, they have made me grow into a person for whom it’s okay to be appreciated once in a while. But a very nice sauce, my personal sauce is it’s okay to make mistakes.
You won’t be judged if you create something in the organization, which is not favorable towards the organization, because I remember this was hard. This has happened to me. I made a mistake. I was not able to reach out to the senior management team. And I asked my peers that I have done this. This is the brand that I’ve created. And everyone had the same response. Everyone said, “It’s a human mistake. You are a human. It’s bound to happen. It’s fine. Just reach out to the team.” And I think that gave me a lot of courage to actually speak up that, okay, I have done this. I’m okay to take all the responsibility, but I also wanted to share that out on this.
And the great part is I didn’t have to take up the responsibility. So, allowing you and looking at you as a human and not as a machine that, okay, you are given this task and you have to complete it no matter how. I think that is something I’m really appreciative of this entire team, not just the senior management team, but the entire team, straight from the ground staff to these people, to everyone.
Denver: I want to thank the Uninhibited team members who participated in this piece: Himanshi Narula, Zenobia Imtiaz, Anagha Nair, Pragna Shekar, and Priyanka Bhardwaj. And to learn more about The organization go visit their website at uninhibited.org.in or visit Denver-frederick.com and catch my earlier interview with Dilip Kumar Pattubala , the CEO of Uninhibited.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Strategic Advisor and Executive Coach to NGO and Nonprofit CEOs and Board Chairs. His Book, The Business of Giving: The Non-Profit Leaders Guide to Transform Leadership, Philanthropy, and Organizational Success in a Changed World, will be released in the spring of 2022.
Listen to more The Business of Giving episodes for free here. Subscribe to our podcast channel on Spotify to get notified of new episodes. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.