Inspiring Interviews

Meet the Stanford Ignite Cohort Alumna who is making Children from Low-Income Communities Emotionally Intelligent

We thought of how Light Up could be used as a metaphor throughout our journey and our aim is to light up lives and enable children to do the same in their surroundings as they evolve.

Interview by Nisha Dhawan; Editing by Anobik Saha

Hi Juhi! Thanks for taking out time to chat with us. Could you introduce yourself to the readers of Indspire Me?

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I am Juhi Sharma, Founder of Light Up. Prior to becoming an advocate for the need for emotional intelligence, I have worked in Corporates, including Edelman India, Xander, National program for homeless, and 5 years+ communication and research experience in the development Sector in the arena of WASH, Education and Health.

I am passionate and driven about equipping children with a healthy social-emotional life and the inclusion of emotional intelligence in the mainstream curriculum in the Indian Education landscape for the overall development of a child.  I have been conducting SEL-workshops in low-income communities and collaborated Light Up with Teach for India classrooms, NDMC summer workshop, Paramjyoti schools (Andhra Pradesh), Swechha, PhilARThrophy and The Neemrana Foundation.

What is Light Up? What is the idea behind the name?

Light Up is one of the first few social ventures that is focusing on harnessing the emotional intelligence (EI) of children, parents and, teachers by developing their social and emotional competencies.  Light Up focusses on facilitating change, through development of EQ (Emotional Quotient) and enabling compassion in the society, resulting in holistic development of the child-parent-teacher ecosystem leading to meaningful relationships and a positive future.

Light Up truly believes that the development of emotional and social skills is important to advance the education-based prevention of behavioral and mental health issues.

Teacher training program: It’s imperative to sensitise and equip teachers with appropriate emotional vocabulary, innovative SEL teaching styles and reflection exercises. We sensitise them to the science behind emotional intelligence; enable teachers with question banks and activities that can be initiated to ensure emotional well-being of students.

Parent sensitisation session: It’s an initiative to equip mothers and fathers with parenting skills. We inform parents about the new learnings and tools being provided to their children. We reinforce the same tools and enable parents to apply them in their daily lives. It allows them to build a strong stress release mechanism and align their thought process with their children.

We thought of how Light Up could be used as a metaphor throughout our journey and our aim is to light up lives and enable children to do the same in their surroundings as they evolve.

This light stands for the limitless power within everyone, the warmth and energy we wish to spread in their lives, pulling them out of the darkness that could engulf them, and making them believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel and encourage them to shine on.

When did the idea of doing something socially impactful strike you?

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The idea was born just after my first community experience in 2012 where the only element that helped me bond with children was human empathy, not my work experience or degree. I realized that there is a gap in the education system where we are not being equipped by social and emotional skills.

Within my job, I moved to the development sector to harness my knowledge base and build core expertise. The idea of not being able to bring about change always bothered me and made me restless, so I started stitching together the concept of Light Up. I invested about 2-3 years in just reading, researching and equipping myself with the science behind emotional intelligence and other elements to it.

Finally, being accepted into the Stanford Ignite Cohort of 2016 helped me in understanding the market dynamics and the nuances of building a social venture from an idea.

Through years of community work, I have come to observe and understand the questionable circumstances in which majority of our future generation is being nurtured. In many parts of India, children from the low-income communities experience a troubled childhood. They often run away from drunken and intensely violent fathers, cruel step-parents, and suffer from starvation and at hands of parents who fail to support them.

They are brave, but profoundly vulnerable survivors and grow up much before their age. Our education system fails to help them build a strong emotional foundation and skill-sets which would help them to survive in the real world. The real-life experiences teach them a half-baked approach that often manifests itself in layers of anger issues, fear and sadness, not to forget signs of early stage anxiety and depression.

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What role does Emotional Intelligence play in today’s world? 

The relevance and application of Emotional Intelligence in today’s world is more crucial than ever. We as individuals are battling every day to strike a balance in our lives.

With the over exposure of technology, convoluted relationships, erratic work schedules amidst other issues, we humans are struggling our way to lead a happy life.

When we are young, we are taught very little about things that actually matter. We are given little knowledge about how to be emotionally sound. Rather than that the emphasis is on improving the general intelligence. Being able express empathy and tune in to how others are feeling can contribute to a more healthy and successful life than merely one which is academic centric. Emotional Intelligence has a role to play in our organisations, schools, relationships, communities and even parenting.

By practicing EI and improving your EQ and taking active steps to make changes, you’ll find you are more productive, and can build more productive relationships around you. Emotional Intelligence is important, it’s intrinsic to who we are, and as such it impacts every facet of our lives.

EI can be thought of as an individual’s abilities to be:

Self-Aware: Our own knowledge of ourselves, and being able to both recognise and understand ourselves, our behaviors, and our emotions.

Self-Manage and Self-Regulate: Our ability to be in control of our emotions, and therefore our responses.

Self-Motivated: Our internal resources to be driven, perform, act, and reach towards goals.

Empathic: Our ability to understand and ‘feel for’ others, understand their emotions, and therefore relate to them more effectively.

Relational: Our ability to build and maintain relationships, network, lead, manage conflict and work with others.

What do Light Up workshops focus on? Have the participants (parents-teachers-students) been receptive to the idea?

The success of any attempt to educate the child is dependent upon the degree of learning that takes place in a caring, supportive, safe, and empowering setting. Therefore, we are continuously working on developing alternative methods like creative expressive arts, engaging classroom activities, self-reflection activities, EI tool kits for articulating and teaching EI skills to create a more emotionally aware class environment.

Thus, for children to be able to apply these skills beyond their environmental barriers, it’s imperative to ensure that they have a well-developed emotional foundation by reinforcing and exercising EI principles on a routine basis. It is crucial that these skills become an entrenched part of their personalities, for EI cannot just be quantified in numbers, it must be applied and consistently nurtured through behavioral responses with respect to intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli.

The response has been very positive and encouraging and is a source of daily motivation for our team. As a team we have worked very hard on the kind of words we use, our body language and conduct as well as our knowledge.

As part of our induction process, our volunteers as well as core team members are put through an intensive training program and sensitised to community needs.  We as an organisation are working on our own emotional intelligence and that reflects a lot on our approach on how we reach out to children and communities.

The trust and relationship building activities where even we share about our problems act as a great ice breaker for both the groups to come onto the same page. The children, parents and teachers have been very forthcoming as they too believe and have realised the importance of a conversation around emotional well-being and behavior.

Recently in a total of 7 Light Up classrooms in Seelampur and Saket areas of Delhi, we reinforced the concept of sharing by introducing a ‘May I help you’ box, where students could pen down and drop their problems. Our concern was that the same might not attract much traction, and students may still not open-up.

But, at first what seemed impossible, turned possible. We received about 600 letters across 5 classrooms at one go.

How has Light Up made a difference in society since its inception in early 2017?

Light Up has been able to create classrooms as a safe space for students where they can come and share about the emotional turmoil that they are going through very comfortably.

We have created a no hesitation zone for them that acts like a stress release mechanism for the students and same for the parents, especially mothers. Due to their circumstances women suppress their emotions at various levels and stop sharing after a point.

Light Up has initiated the development of a support group amongst themselves and equip all of them with Light Up tools which are turning out to be highly effective in nature.

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Do you have a standard model for analysing real growth and impact of the workshop participants through Light Up’s initiatives, say, a few years down the line?

Yes. The prime objective of any project, study or an intervention is to be able to measure the impact. We are assessing impact with both qualitative and quantitative methods. On one hand we use photography, interviews and reflection forms from our stakeholders and on the other hand we are testing their skills through EI tests and improving EQ (Emotional Quotient) scores.

How can our readers reach out to you? Are you actively looking for volunteers to take Light Up to the next level?

Our website (www.lightupei.in) has a volunteer form, we have been reached out by people on our facebook (@lightupeq) and Instagram pages (@lightupei).

Interested participants or a prospective collaboration lead can reach out to me at juhi@lightupei.in.

Please share an inspiring message with the readers of Indspire Me.

Human empathy is the need of the hour. Be the change you want to see in the society and around you.

There’s no big or small change, change is change so don’t restrict yourself by measuring the scale or impact at first go as it evolves in the process.

Focus on the kind of individual you want to be by focusing on values such as integrity, loyalty, empathy, grit, honesty, and perseverance. It’s very critical that you stand self-sufficient, set an example for the people around you and let the ripple effect happen. The way you shape up as a human being is the only determinant to bringing about change.

Editorial Note: If you liked this interview and would like to check out more such awesome goodness, then head on over to our Inspiring Interviews section.


About the Interviewer 

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Nisha Dhawan is a fashion and English literature student. Her interests lie in fashion , fitness , travel and photography. She is an animal lover who wishes to do something big for the homeless animals in the near future and also has a pet dog named Tyson.

About the Editor

Anobik

Anobik is passionate about his purposeful work as a digital marketing professional at a U.S.-based leadership tech development start-up. In the past, his intellectual pursuits led him to explore several domains that include working as a graphic designer, freelance writer, proscenium theatre artist and learning French. After work hours, he dedicates time to his lo-fi music production and prepping for the next trek in the Himalayas. His recent trysts with meditation and yoga now take up most of his headspace, pondering over and learning about the boundaries of human potential, breakthroughs in neuroscience and emotional intelligence. His favorite movies are Into the Wild, Frances Ha and Valley Uprising.

Twitter: @anobik_

Instagram: @_anobik

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