Hasina Kharbhih: From Youth Activist to Social Entrepreneur

This article is part of The Woman Impact Series.

(Hasina Kharbhih was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006)

For Hasina Kharbhih, becoming a social entrepreneur was a natural progression of her position as a youth leader. At seventeen years, the drive in her to pursue her own path was augmented by the leadership training she underwent in school. With a group of other young idealists, she started her efforts against child rights and exploitation soon out of school.  However, with the pressure of academics, many of them slowly phased out even as Hasina grew more confident in her vision of a North-East free from child exploitation and trafficking.

Talking to Hasina is like being a part of an exhilarating moment. Unendingly generous with her thoughts and ideas, Hasina describes her work only as a true crusader would. From changing her appearance to talk to community leaders to involving the law enforcement agencies in her work to build deeper engagement, this human rights defender will do everything in her power to reach her goals. She makes it sound effortless; however the road hasn’t been an easy one.

From financial worries to gaining acceptance for her ideas, Hasina has had to face several setbacks. Personally, she struggled with the idea of continuing down a career path or choosing to continue the work she had started. She also faced resistance from several stakeholders as she started her work with law enforcement and criminal justice. “Eyebrows are often raised,” she says, “when a woman starts to work in the field of human rights.” “Women are traditionally seen to be ‘service oriented,’” she goes on to say, “anyone doing rights-based work generally faces a huge challenge."

So, how did she overcome this? “I graduated in the way I communicated with people,” she says. Everything changed – from what she wore and how she acted. She took on a far more senior, serious and professional persona, a far-cry from the youth activist lifestyle she led at that time. This was her growing-up period, a time of drastic change both personally and professionally.

But, she was not without help. Hasina places a great amount of stress on the importance of mentorship in her life. These are the people who supported her, recognized the importance of her idea and encouraged her to keep going. At a time of personal dilemmas, recognition in the form of awards and the personal support of her mentoring from Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Center encouraged her to continue her work, even as she finished her education.

To young women entrepreneurs who are starting their own ventures and organisations, Hasina says, “Believe strongly in what you want to do. There will be challenges; there will be periods of change. Learn how to accept and balance them out.” She particularly talks about peer pressure – something which all young people will face even as they experiment and innovate with new ideas and uncharted territories. “Involve people around you; get them engaged with your work, then watch as the pressure disappears. It will be difficult when you set out, but as you grow these challenges will get resolved.”

This deeply committed young woman has been an inspiration to all us at Ashoka. Her commitment can be seen in her philosophy towards work. The only way to succeed in her work, she believes, is to be married to her vision. Impishly, she says, “People get married to each other and then get engrossed in one another. For me, I get engrossed in my vision. I am, indeed, married to it!”

By Sanjana Janardhanan

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