Minar Pimple founded YUVA in 1984. Over the years, he has taken on a variety of roles, serving as Founder Chair Oxfam India, Executive Director of PDHRE (The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education), and Regional Director of the UN Millennium Campaign for Asia Pacific. Currently he is Senior Director, Global Operations, at Amnesty International, committed to the organisation’s ‘moving closer to the ground’ strategy with the setup of regional offices across the world to enhance human rights impact. We caught up with Minar recently to talk about his journey and experiences with YUVA, and his vision for the organisation on its 34th anniversary. Excerpts from the interview are reproduced with permission below.
What has traditionally set YUVA apart?
The key driver in setting up YUVA was the need to develop youth leadership. I have always strongly believed in the fact that the best people to manage issues being faced, are those who experience it themselves. Solutions and approaches come from those who have first-hand experience of the problems that need to be tackled.
From the beginning, we were a young organisation. I was only 23 when I founded YUVA, and many others working with me were in the age group 23–26 years.
We were an organisation promoting youth as agents of change, led by a significant number of youth members themselves.
We began looking at social justice issues and youth empowerment strategies that we could take up. We strongly believed that along with the youth, women are strong agents of change. They are the ones who can lead and support changes in the community.
It was based on belief that we did not require only those holding a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work to contribute to YUVA’s work. Even the 11-month paraprofessional training program developed by us, or other animators and leadership courses specially designed to cater to community requirements, would be a good starting point to begin work at YUVA, and help develop leadership from among the communities.
Looking back on YUVA’s early years, what are the significant episodes that come to mind?
In 1984, when YUVA was founded, pavement dwellers were being brutally evicted from the streets of Mumbai in large numbers. We needed to respond to this and other emerging social justice issues, and we did.
Within the first year of formation, the Committee for the Rights of Housing was launched. We realised the need to bring in different organisations together (from church-based bodies to community-based organisations, multiple non-profits, and other partners) to work towards lasting social change. Building a coalition of organisations was something we did from our early time together, and since then YUVA’s approach to promote and facilitate collectives and coalitions has remained its strong point.
As we worked further, we also began to draw deeper interconnections between the issues we worked on. For instance, the issue of evictions is experienced not just in Mumbai, but also in Calcutta, Bangalore, Delhi, and other cities. We began working with organisations and groups across the country. A primary concern was, how do we really take forward the learning from our own struggles and ways or working across cities, and make this knowledge available and accessible to others. Co-learning was also an important cornerstone complementing our work. We were committed to work towards and build larger coalitions, eventually to influence policy with collective action.
As we began discussing how we could continue to work at various levels, we articulated the three core pillars of our work: poverty eradication (how can we tackle issues of poverty), governance (how are people participating in decision making processes), and environmental sustainability (how can we ensure sustainable living).
Alongside the national coalition-building efforts, we also realised the need to develop international alliances as the struggles on housing and informal labour rights are not just limited to India. We began to participate and develop coalitions at the Asia and global level, and succeeded in building lasting partnerships, developing a strong position on right to adequate housing in various fora, including the United Nations.
Over time, we developed YUVA Urban, YUVA Rural, YUVA Consulting (to offer our learning for associated projects) and YUVA Centre (a learning and sharing space to build people’s organisations and institutions). This multi-pronged approach was intended to help us address political and social change from multiple perspectives and vantage points. In early stages of YUVA we involved a lot of cultural activities like, singing and street theatre as part of social mobilisation, and used video films for public education, to tackle human rights violations in a range of ways, some of which has become part of YUVA’s culture.
While many non-profits have continued to remain founder-centric, in the case of YUVA this has not been the case. Can you elaborate on how you planned this and your vision for YUVA?
YUVA has taken me on a tremendously significant journey, giving me huge opportunities to experiment, learn and try different methodologies. I learnt a lot from my work and time at YUVA, and I could undertake building theoretical frameworks, put them in practice, and take it back to developing the framework further, enriched by the learnings gained.
I led YUVA for 20 years, from 1984–2004, with a very passionate team of leaders and activists. Many non-profits are founder-centric but I always wanted to build an organisation which can carry on and become a centurion organisation, responding to newer challenges and defending human rights for years to come.
It is to YUVA’s credit that it has stayed close to its vision and mission, showing the way and being a pioneer in many ways. Even before the Supreme Court guidelines on sexual harassment, for instance, YUVA already had a special committee to consider sexual harassment cases. Our institutional processes were very strong. We used to run a week-long staff school, encouraging the staff to learn from each other and from changing external realities, to remain relevant and ahead of the curve. I feel proud when I meet people associated with these programmes, who are now spread across the world with various institutions and initiatives. They remember the strong value-based foundation of YUVA. Opportunities for learning, and the linkage of micro-macro perspectives helped us set quality standards early, contribute to policy-level discussions, and keep the organisation going.
As someone who has closely worked on SDGs, could you please share learnings that you feel YUVA can benefit from?
The success of SDG implementation depends, to a large extent, on ownership of these goals by the government and different stakeholders. Community involvement is key to ensure SDG implementation. YUVA has already been doing a lot on this front on localising SDGs and promoting their implementation within the community. As the organisation moves ahead, coalition building with other partners should be strengthened, so that stakeholders can be held to account and YUVA can continue to make implementation of SDGs sustainable.
What is your message for YUVA?
My dream is that YUVA should not only grow but also continue to develop theories of change that are relevant. This can be a powerful way to garner more support for the organisation’s work. The external world is constantly offering new challenges. YUVA should continue to develop as a professional organisation and maintain its passionate value-driven core. As we build a cadre of passionate professionals, we should continue to focus on leadership. We should also emphasise the development of leadership for governance. These measures will help YUVA work towards becoming a centurion organisation, with refreshed energy and commitment to take the organisation forward. Alongside, we should look to develop constituencies of strong supporters, contributors, fellow travellers who can stand by YUVA, even during difficult times.
All the very best on the 34th anniversary of YUVA.