BENGALURU: Growing up, Preethi Herman fought through inherent sexism on a daily basis. Early on, the Bengaluru-based global executive director of The Change.org Foundation, realised that living life the way she wanted was going to require a big fight. “I knew I would have to fight very hard to be heard, to get opportunities like having access to sports or a public library or books,” she says.
Today, Preethi, who facilitates those who wish to be an agent of change through intensive campaigns, is the only Indian to have been chosen to be part of the inaugural batch of the Obama Foundation Fellowship. The two-year, non-residential programme that brings together 20 leaders representing 11 countries around the world, aims to create a change on many of the world’s most pressing problems. Preethi’s application was one among 20,000 from 191 countries.
Having grown up in several small towns, a village and even inside a forest in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Preethi says she was exposed to a community that was very ‘repressive and oppressive.’ “Nothing that I do now happened by chance. From a very young age, I knew I was the happiest when I was in the service of other people. I bristled at the unfairness and injustice but also humbly recognised that real change happens when many people step out to create that change in their society and countries,” she says.
The Fellowship will offer hands-on training, leadership development and a powerful network for fellows to amplify the impact of their work and inspire a wave of civic innovation. “I lead a passionate team that aims to ensure that citizens around the world have a voice in the issues affecting their communities and countries. Our teams in Asia and South America help create communities of changemakers, generate media and social media attention to critical issues and work with politicians so they understand the power and importance of citizen-led activism,” she says.
The key campaigns that her team and she have facilitated from Bengaluru in the recent times have been 18-year-old Garvita Gulhati’s initiative to get restaurants to reduce the amount of water they waste, and mother Candida Preetham’s attempt to ensure schools don’t deny admission to autistic children.
The challenges have been many. But learnings in equal proportion.
“The struggle for equality for women, or any social change won’t be won in one fight, but at all levels — in our communities, in the media, in our politics and in our laws. We have powerful new online tools, platforms and social media that can create opportunities for people-led organising,” she says. But Preethi understands that ‘transformational change’ will not occur on its own. “We have to create the vision, systems and engagement to help it flourish. We have to support millions of people who will step up to change things positively in their communities around the globe.”