When we met Shalini Menon she was working with Dream a Dream in Bangalore, India, helping to empower vulnerable young people using art and sports. Her work life was vibrant and powerful and she was making a huge impact in the lives of hundreds of young people, but in her heart she felt alone. She was disconnected from her fellow educators and mentors, an ‘isolated island’. Dream a Dream became a partner organization of Partners for Youth Empowerment, introducing the Creative Community Model into every aspect of their work. “At Partners for Youth Empowerment trainings, we often spoke about the idea of a Learning Circle. I started to really see the potential of building on that idea.”
In March 2013 Shalini decided to experiment. She set up a social event called FUN(N) Saturday and invited all the educators she knew to join her in a public park to begin sharing experiences and knowledge. 12 people turned up for the first ever FUN(N) Saturday. Today there are more than 250 members who collectively reach more than 2,500 young people, meeting on a regular basis to spark connections and share ideas.
Shalini has now set up an organization called the Educators Collective, dedicated to bringing adult youth mentors together and breaking down the barriers that isolate them. “If we don’t experiment as educators we will stagnate. It’s really important we allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Shalini has plans to expand the initiative to other regions of India and possibly beyond, allowing educators to find meaningful connections and community with their peers and with other organizations. Experiential and arts-based activities are key to the way Shalini brings the community together. “I learnt how to use the arts to create powerful experiences for people. The Creative Community Model is a beautiful model because it is simple and yet incredibly effective.”