The mystique of Sonali Ojha
The social sector is truly a cauldron of multiple ideas, superb emotions and great intent and the people who have real depth of understanding are able to design interventions that can truly create lasting transformation. The Sonali Ojha Foundation course is one such, which plays out every day at all our lighthouse projects. A tribute to its founder who is no more
"Listen with your whole being… to fully receive the words, the pauses, the breathlessness and its resonance.
Speak from the deepest of your heart… let the words rise from your gut where kindness meets courage.
Lead like the earth, vast spacious and invisible…. where all are welcomed and everyone is transformed.
Celebrate like little children… laugh, play and rejoice every moment of your life with innocent tears and gracious smiles.
Leave quietly in the silent hour of the night…the butterfly that nurtured the flowers will now fly into the eternal.”
These five mystical practices have been enshrined in many minds, hearts and souls as the enduring legacy of a great visionary. Sonali Ojha, the magician who inspired us at Pune City Connect and Lighthouse Communities with her work on agency and aspiration building in deprived youth, departed the world on a monsoon night in Mumbai. She was still in her early fifties but with a body of work that would take mere mortals many lifetimes to accomplish. Founder of an amazing entity called 'Dream Catchers'-consultant to much of the community transformation social work at Zensar Technologies and creator of the path-breaking 'Sonali Ojha Foundation course' for our award-winning Skills Lighthouses mission at Pune City Connect, many of us take solace from the fact that our lives touched Sonali’s, albeit briefly.
In my own life, where I believe that I attained the peak of my productive and inclusive existence only after I chose legacy over legitimacy fifteen years ago, I have been proud to say that I had no mentors who shaped my thinking; only role models for various aspects of my thinking, feeling and doing. My father successfully straddled the business, cultural and social world, building a company called Waxpol in Jharkhand and transforming the aspirations of children in six villages through the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Kendra which he started, inspired me. So did KK Nohria of Crompton Greaves and Vijay Thadani of NIIT. David Garvin of Harvard Business School taught me the value of truly knowing and loving people around me and finally, Pervin Varma and Sonali Ojha helped us create the magic of Pune City Connect and shared our excitement at making this a national mission to transform a million lives. There have been no shortage of folks to admire and learn from but none as unique as Sonali Ojha.
For readers of this column, it may be useful to understand what is it that one can really take away from the positive impact of a person like Sonali. She would immediately strike you as the sister who would take care of your every pain and smooth your furrowed brow to ease your worries. It was this deep interest in people that made her listen intently to every word you spoke and extract meanings from your expressions and pauses that even you may not have thought to exist in the first place. Whomever she spoke to, she willingly engaged deeply and found ways to add value in every situation and every interaction. Be it, the fearful young person who had wandered into a lighthouse for its light and stayed for its warmth; the young social worker who was often overawed with the enormity of the task of transforming thousands of lives in each community or even authority figures in any organisation.
The social sector is truly a cauldron of multiple ideas, superb emotions and great intent and the people who have a real depth of understanding are able to design interventions that can truly create lasting transformation. The Sonali Ojha Foundation course is one such, which plays out every day at all our lighthouse projects, now in Maharashtra and soon in Delhi and Odisha. It is a prerequisite for every young person who wants to acquire a skill and explore opportunities through employment or entrepreneurship to build a sustainable livelihood for themselves and a place of happiness for families. After the failure of many national skills efforts, it took the vision of a Sonali Ojha and the collective wisdom of five of us who thought through the problem and came up with the solution. This was to create a model where every participant could have a safe space in which to dream; to lose their fear of the unknown and give timely counselling to enable them to choose what they really wanted to do.
The early successes we have seen are inspiring and we will forever owe Sonali Ojha a huge debt of gratitude and wish she were still here with us. As one of her multitude of friends and fans says “magicians don’t leave us, they only dissolve, inviting us to source their message within our heart.” A little part of our hearts has also dissolved with her passing but we are committed to transform a million lives across the slum communities of urban India as a true homage to our fallen leader.