Ashraf Patel is this year’s recipient of the Social Innovator of the Year Award. She runs Pravah and ComMutiny, two organisations that work with youth and youth leaders at the basic level.
Ashraf Patel was born into a home full of communal love and harmony. Her parents are of different religions, and she remembers her Muslim father going off to protect their Sikh neighbours in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Ashraf and her husband Arjun and their friend Meenu were working as HR Managers in a company when the Babri Masjid was demolished. They could feel the disparity even among their friends after that. As HR employees they felt the need to educate the employees and people around them on the need for communal harmony. But a corporate office was not a place that welcomed that kind of talk. So, Ashraf, Arjun and Meenu started to conduct workshops at schools. That was a turning point in their lives.
Their workshops were named ‘From Me to We’ and their aim was to help students understand the relationship they shared with themselves, and how the occurrences of the outside world can be a manifestation of what happens within. These workshops were a success and the three friends realised that at least one of them will have to resign their job to keep up with the work they were receiving. And Ashraf resigned from her job, and they established their NGO Pravah.
Since its establishment, Pravah has built many programmes and collaborated with international organisations, including the UN, to encourage children to understand democratic leadership, caste-based discrimination, gender inequalities, rural development, differences of opinions and thoughts, and more. They also run programmes to support early-stage social entrepreneurs.
To further these learning journeys, in 2008, Ashraf, Arjun and Meenu also set up ComMutiny, a youth collective. This was to bring in these young leaders together under the scope of ‘the 5th space’.
Ashraf explains in her interview with The Better India, “You can say that typically, young people occupy four spaces — family, friends, education/careers, and recreation. The idea is they might not always have full agency to take decisions in all four spaces. They could be governed by factors like family decisions, rules, media influence etc. The fifth space, thus, is where young people discover themselves by engaging in social action, active citizenship, volunteering and much more. We argue that the 5th space must be re-positioned as one that focuses as much on self-transformation as it does on transforming society through youth.”
Under the scope of ComMutiny, Ashraf also started the vartaLeap coalition. This coalition now has 120 members from 67 organisations that are engaged in various sectors and promote shared principles and values in youth work.
This year, Ashraf became the only Indian recipient of the Social Innovator of the Year Award 2022, chosen from across 190 countries and among 15 leaders. She has also been an Ashoka fellow since 1994.