She knows this is no child's play

QUality childhood The

She knows this is no child's play

Over 90 million children  do not have proper acess to quality early childhood development. Sashwati Banerjee, Managing Director at Sesame Workshop India, ensures that she does impact some of the children through her active role in the early childhood development space. The popular TV show Galli Galli Sim Sim is something you could have hardly missed. 

Be the change

 “I choose to work with Sesame Workshop because the vision of the organisation appeals to me as a person who wants to bring about social change through communication. I truly believe that for India to develop as the next superpower in the world, high-quality early education is the key. Along with learning their letters and numbers, it is imperative for children to learn 21st century skills, embrace values that break stereotypes of gender and abilities, be critical thinkers and learners,” she states.

Their curriculum aims to shift the paradigm of early childhood development in India. The programmes use the power of media and muppets to promote holistic  child development, including cognitive, social, emotional and physical wellbeing, to help children in India become smarter, stronger and kinder.

Having grown up in Delhi during the 1970s and 1980s, Sashwati says, “In a way I had a pretty idyllic childhood. A lot of my growing up years was spent outside playing, reading books. As my father was a big traveller, I remember being woken up by my dad at 3 a.m, and bundled into the car to drive to Shimla! I got involved in activism during my college days at Delhi University. Even then Delhi was not safe for women and in whatever small way possible I wanted to make a difference,” she reminisces.

Being different

Quiz her if she always had an inclination towards doing something different she avers, “I was very clear from the start that I could not follow set norms and patterns. I was lucky to have parents who were very supportive of my rebelliousness – though I think I did try their patience often enough. Unlike a lot of other parents, mine never pushed to me get married, or conform. When I look back today,  I could not be who I am without their unconditional love and support for me as an individual.”

From being a front-office person in a five-star hotel to working as a junior casting director in a period film, moving out of India and working as a ‘gister’ in a Forex firm in Hong Kong, to working in advertising agencies, field research and communication for development, she has pretty much been there and done that.

She had also conceived a photography exhibition, Point of View, with a friend, which would question what fifty years of independence mean for women. “We wanted the world’s foremost photographers to participate in the exhibition, we wanted it to travel to multiple cities in India and the US, engage with young people, women, men and media – to raise the question and start a dialogue. We were a bit mad, highly passionate and convinced that we would make it a success. We recently did our first crowd-funded campaign to amplify the voices of women living with disability and violence,” says Sashwati. With her varied career she says that she never felt there was a glass ceiling.

Potential change “I always work hard, but it’s not because I believe that there is a glass ceiling. Actually I’m not personally a highly ambitious ‘I need to climb the corporate ladder’ type of person. So even if the ceilings existed, it does not interest me much. I want to do what I want to do and for that I don’t believe any ceilings exist.”

The person who has inspired her the most is her 104-year-old grandfather who she says is the most spirited person she knows. Then there are women who have fought against odds and come out winners; friends and her core support system; and her mother who still gets excited about seeing her photograph in the papers.

Sashwati enjoys travel, food, books, films, meeting new people and seeing new places. “The potential of change inspires me. In many little ways, waking up in the morning and  knowing that I have made a difference, created change – that inspires me,” she says. Her advice to young women who are about to start their career is simple. “Stay focused, be true to yourself and what you want to do, experiment and push the boundaries.”

She hopes that the future includes “a place in the mountains, continuing to work on issues that I feel most deeply about, a long holiday, which I feel I desperately need.”

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