Spotlight Series: Pauline Laravoire, Co-Founder of Y-East & Community Engagement Manager of #LearningPlanet


Most of the ‘Ungender Social’ event will take place on-site, but the Roundtable Conference will be streamed live on the Y-East Facebook page from 4pm IST (11.30am CET) onwards on Sunday, 7th March 2021. Tune in!

To find out more about Y-East, click here.

1. Can you share your journey that led you to co-found Y-East?

By the time I finished my masters degree in Sustainability and Social Innovation in Paris, I had the clarity of mind that I deeply wanted to work in a highly impactful field in a geography where I could feel I was making a difference on a daily basis – and the opportunity of being based out of Kolkata exactly met these professional ambitions. As I moved to the City of Joy, I adopted the position of an external observer and quickly gathered key observations:
1- Comparatively, East and North East India were considered as underdeveloped regions, logistically difficult to access, having a hard time retaining talents, relatively unattractive for investments, barely visible when considering business, entrepreneurship and impact success stories;
2- the social and environmental sustainability space (e.g. civil society organisations, social enterprises etc) was highly fragmented into plenty of small-scale organisations working in their own little pockets of expertise and beneficiaries, with only rare opportunities to connect and collaborate with one another and to reach out to broader audiences. Moreover, overall, sustainability wasn’t being considered as an education or business priority and locally lagged behind in terms of public awareness;
3- The sector was also suffering from a lack of unity and visibility on the overall local stakeholders’ map, and was struggling to be taken seriously, especially by government bodies or private corporations. This most probably emanates from a perceived lack of professionalism, difficulty to implement anything at scale, inability to ‘play in the big league’ of big money.

Despite all this and according to me, Eastern India displayed a rare regional potential, at the crossroads of several other countries, and having been one of the strongholds of trade and outstanding intellectual capacities in the past (it is still the case today, but unfortunately the region suffers from significant brain drain). The concept of Y-East as a collaboration platform dedicated to all these organisations focused on sustainable development in Eastern India came from all these observations. Today, Y-East is Eastern India’s only aggregating platform gathering professional organisations of the social and sustainability sectors, with a geographic focus on East and North East India. Y-East’s activities mainly focus on collaborative, networking, outreach opportunities for its members, educational and awareness initiatives, impact research and studies. It currently aggregates more than 100 professional organisations, hosts monthly professional meet-ups in Kolkata and Darjeeling, and has organised / supported around 100 multistakeholders programs since inception at the beginning of 2019, with the strong belief that meaningful impact at scale cannot happen without a sincere intent to collaborate and gather forces. In this way, Y-East very much positions itself as an embodiment of Sustainable Development Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

Our upcoming event, The Ungender Social, reflects this collaborative spirit, as it will involve more than 30 local organisations.

2. What does International Women’s Day mean to you? (alternative: what are some of your reflections for IWD)

As much as I am aware of all the inequalities that play to the detriment of women, I think it is important for me to admit and remind myself that I have not personally suffered from my gender condition as a woman – at least not in a significantly perceptible way. Overall, I have had the privilege to evolve in an equitable environment which enabled equal opportunities for genders, and I may therefore lack depth and personal experience while addressing gender issues. Having said so, this privileged position has allowed me to develop a strong motivation towards building environments in which all genders could thrive as equal, with the strong belief that gender does not and should not affect any individual’s ability to reach their maximum potential and to offer their talents to the world while having the choice and pride to be just themselves. It has made less and less sense for me to even talk about men separately from women and vice versa. I believe it is high time to ‘ungender’ genders, to stop talking about them as separate categories. Equality, eventually, calls all of us to stop telling ‘men’ and ‘women’ apart. At the end of the day, our common humanity and therefore access to the very same rights and opportunities should prevail.
I therefore tend to hope that International Women’s Day will soon become obsolete, because it reinforces a dichotomous perception and dialogue to a great extent, and is not inclusive of all genders. Having said so, in our transition towards a world of equal opportunities and equal treatment, women – and all oppressed genders for that matter – definitely deserve to be celebrated a little more, which is why I still never miss to celebrate International Women’s Day properly.

3. How does the Ungender Social event differ from other IWD events? Why should we #ChooseToChallenge the gender bias & assumptions and build a society on the models of equity and inclusion? (—> taken from the event description)

We spent a decent amount of time conceptualising the Ungender Social (in its name, visuals, activities etc) as an event which would start moving away from the dichotomous narrative into the direction of a safe space without gender borders. In this objective, we did not highlight ‘women’ in its title, we did not portray only women in the event’s visuals, we did not restrict the audience to only women and we did not only plan for activities traditionally associated with women only. We see the Ungender Social as an annual signature event and are envisioning to further enhance this inclusive narrative year over year. In a way, beyond choosing to challenge the status quo between genders itself, we also #ChooseToChallenge the very way we address and speak about this status quo. Multiple actions and solutions need to be implemented to rectify the balance, and I consider the way we speak about genders as one aspect of the issue that is often overlooked – and that can fuel to the problem if we don’t pay closer attention.

The Ungender Social is therefore thought as a multistakeholders platform to exchange, learn, redefine the contours of genders the way they are traditionally understood. We have included mostly women-led sustainable brands and food stalls; a series of roundtables to trigger high-level discussions about genders in arts, sports, tech, science, media and business; and a series of workshops from self-defense to DJ-ing. Without the support offered by all our partners and especially by Offbeat CCU, our ecosystem and venue partner in Kolkata, we wouldn’t have been able to put the event together. Collaboration mode in action!