From the starting of our fellowship, there is this one time for which everyone eagerly waits. The Design Thinking Workshop! For this, the 2017 India Fellow cohort collectively raised funds and went to Leh, Ladakh – perhaps the only place where one can see water, sand, and snow in the same frame. The workshop is about learning, understanding and applying the concepts of Design Thinking.
To practically experience this, fellows are placed in a group with different organizations where we have to work on a real-life challenge which the organization is currently facing using the process of design thinking. I along with my 4 co-fellows, were assigned to PAGIR (People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights). PAGIR is an organization working out of Saboo village, Leh for the rights of persons with disabilities. Founded by Mohd. Iqbal in 2007, PAGIR was created precisely for the purpose of creating a just, equitable and inclusive society at one of the remotest, challenging and beautiful places on the earth, Ladakh for the people with disability and to improve their everyday life.
Iqbal Ji was born in 1968 with a rare congenital disorder that contracts joints and weakens the muscles. People in Ladakh, consider disability a stigma, but Iqbal Ji’s family and neighbors were different. They were very supportive of him, his family used to carry him everywhere and children used to include him while playing games. He used to be made the umpire at cricket matches, and he could play chess and other games using his mouth. As a child, Iqbal never thought of himself as handicapped but as he hit his 20s, there came a phase of depression. In 2001, he met Vidhya Ramasubban, a social worker who had come to Ladakh and that changed his world completely. Who knew that he could become a leader in society and in 2007 he along with 3 others started PAGIR.
PAGIR is a rights movement with a belief of creating a society that is inclusive and free of prejudices. Majority of the members of PAGIR are specially abled or have family members who are especially able or have experienced disability in different forms in the society and care to work towards it.
There focus is not to create specialized services for disabled persons that are potentially isolating in nature, instead, they work with the government system, NGOs, and other community structures to create an environment that ensures inclusion of specially-abled persons in mainstream activities. Their work involves large-scale mobilization and advocacy to:
- Help implement government policies and ensure that services reach disabled people
- Create mass awareness amongst people regarding rights issue
- Promote disabled people’s participation in the social and political processes of the region
- To empower disabled people economically, so that they contribute to the economic development of the region
“Jungwa Shrungskyob”, meaning the protection of the four elements of nature: earth, water, fire, and air, which is also one of the social ventures of PAGIR. As waste management is an important issue in Ladakh, the main motive of Jungwa Shrungskyob is working towards the conservation of nature and having environment-friendly processes established in the Ladakh region of India. The differently-able artisans of Ladakh turn waste materials into a craft and therefore contributing to environment conservation and usable products, like converting paper waste and tailor’s waste into quality products like paper-mâché based goods, carry bags, belts and wall hangings etc.
As a group we were given 2 projects by PAGIR:
- To provide advocacy for Aadhaar linking to different utilities like bank, ration, sim cards and gas.
- To do a market survey and to increase the outreach of handmade products made by the people of PAGIR to improve the business enterprise and work towards self-sustenance.
The team split itself up into groups of 2 and 3. In order to provide advocacy for Aadhaar linking, Hyjel and Prafull approached different utility outlets (banks, ration, SIM cards) to understand the current scenario and facilities available for the disabled individuals. They also did a survey of government buildings and public spaces in Leh based on the accessibility criteria set out by the Indian government. Through continuous probing of government and medical officials, they also discovered the issues with the issuance of Disability Cards in the hospitals, the absence of concrete guidelines for evaluating the percentage of disability and the inadequate welfare schemes available for persons with disabilities. All these findings were collated into a presentation with recommendations for the future.
To do the market survey, first Makrand and Saumyadeb and i, familiarized ourselves with the handmade products of PAGIR and the recycled cloth and paper manufacturing process that is undertaken along with. Then, armed with organization concept notes, product list and sample products, we made a list of potential place where we can approach to pitch the sale of PAGIR products. We started our day by first contacting with Army canteens. The same day we took an appointment to meet the Station Commander. We were quite unsure of how this will go, but to our surprise, he agreed to put the products up for sale in the military shopping complexes of Fire and Fury (Taringini), Hall of Fame and Zoravar Fort. 5 big hotels and restaurants in the Leh market area also agreed to sell them on credit without any commission. A proposal for the same was submitted by the group to initiate this process.
Along with this we also decided on doing a small action research by selling the products made by PAGIR on our own in the Leh market. For this, first, we made a list of all the potential products which we believed will have the most demand among the people. Secondly, we took permission from the Leh Municipal Corporation to open a makeshift roadside stall in the market area for two days. To set up the stall we made a big poster with the name of the organization, pictures and one catchy quote “For, Of and By the Specially Able persons of Ladakh”. To attract customers, we pre-decided a story line to be conveyed to customers and also played guitar and sang. Hearing about them, people were very supportive and the total sale of products by putting up a stall for 2 hours each of the 2 days was Rs. 11,870.
This action research actually helped the group to identify items in demand and that not in demand. Lists of such items were created with remarks on how to improve sales through the 2-day observation. After 3 days, all the findings were presented to PAGIR and suggestions like proper branding, the inclusion of price tags, biweekly makeshift stalls, proper follow-up processes, standardization of products etc. were put forward. In the end, the founder, Mr. Iqbal and his team members were immensely happy and appreciated us for their efforts to bring into light a lot of gaps in the current marketing and advocacy fields.
PAGIR does not want special services for people with disabilities since this can lead to further isolation from mainstream society. Instead, PAGIR wants society to be more inclusive of all people in society It is the right of people with disability to be a part of the mainstream society and access equal opportunities that exist for other normally abled persons of our society.
From L to R : Hyjel Dsouza, Iqbal ji, Deepshikha Chhetri, Saumyadeb Dasgupta, Prafull Sharma and Makrand Pachar