Published: 16th June 2021
Led by a 26-year-old, this advocacy group based out of Vizag is making citizens active again
CitySpeaks and its founder, Srilekha Ati, strongly believe that citizens want to be active but aren't sure of how to exactly go about it. So this organisation helps them channelise their energy...
It takes a lot to get people to care about things they should care about, leave alone rallying behind it. Srilekha Ati is painfully aware of this fact, but that doesn't mean she will let it come in the way of her trying. That's why she launched CitySpeaks in May 2019, to not only make the residents of the city understand the importance of certain citizen issues, but also understand the city along with its frameworks and indicators as well.
The artists and the artworks
"I understood that people are actually interested in being active citizens, but aren't aware of channels that would help them direct this interest, a commonplace query," says Srilekha. How did she reaffirm this? By conducting about five open-to-all sessions at their office on Beach Road, Visakhapatnam or in one of the several cafés that dot the coastal city. The themes would usually revolve around city and nature or city and identity, and college students would flock to these discussions, we hear. The research and advocacy organisation got down to more serious business when they conducted Towards Responsible Land Governance in Andhra Pradesh, a 40-day event in August 2020 that included panel discussions, awareness walks, painting competitions and more — their largest event yet.
They conducted an online survey asking citizens questions like: 'Who plans the city? Where does the budget go?' About 120 people participated in it
In the light of the ongoing land scam in Vizag, one would say such an event was quite timely. "The walk along Beach Road on weekends garnered about 20 people, while the painting competition attracted 40 plus enthusiasts between the ages of 19 and 60. It was an engaging event where a lot of conversation around lang governance took place," says the youngster who holds a Master's in Public Policy from Azim Premji University. Another positive thing that happened last year was that Srilekha was selected as one of the top 30 social innovators as a part of NITI Aayog and UNDP India's Youth Co:Lab, an initiative aimed at accelerating social entrepreneurship. "We pitched the idea of a community radio to talk about mental health for women in urban slums. It was a good and interactive experience for me," says the youngster who, in the past, has curated data for MLAs, worked for a UNICEF project and has been a data consultant for various projects.
It was a hitchhiking trip across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha in August 2017 that was the turning point for Srilekha — she realised that starting an advocacy organisation is where her heart lies. The pandemic has tied their hands but the youngster and her over 50-member team are determined as ever to keep working for change via webinars, videos on their YouTube channel and waiting in the wings before they can start having face-to-face conversations again.
For more on them check out cityspeaks.org