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What I’ve Learnt Through A Grassroot Organisation, And How To Start One

by Chloe Lee |

I am part of a youth-led campaign called Undi Saksama, where we challenge gerrymandering and malapportionment, and also address alternative voting systems (big words, I know) in Malaysia. I won’t bore you with the details, but some of our goals are to spark conversations about these topics and to work towards different legislative changes – if you would like to find out more, follow us on social media or feel free to drop me a message on Instagram! We have only been around for a few months but this short period of time has opened up my eyes to what is happening in the political climate in Malaysia and introduced me to many intelligent and bright people. As a bi-partisan group filled with youngsters, people might think we are incompetent or too naive, but I am learning so much from being a part of this movement.

Grassroot organisations or movements are often made up of individuals fighting towards the same cause and are advocating for change at local, national or international levels. These community-driven groups may not always be political but can be for various causes such as environmental issues, animal protection, sustainable food production or gender equality.

Personally, being a part of this movement has taught me a few things:

You are never too young

One of our co-founders, Po Eic, is still a university student. Many other members are also still studying or are fresh-grads. We might not have a lot of years of experience, but we are all passionate and hard-working in our own ways. It is inspiring to be surrounded by young people who are so politically well-versed, driven, and ambitious. Most importantly, we are able to drive this movement simply because we are willing to learn from each other and to grow throughout the process.

I am not alone

With whatever you are passionate about, you might feel like you are the only person who cares- but it’s not true! There is actually a community out there who has the same vision and heart as you. It feels good to be doing this as part of a team rather than an individual trying to make my own mark in this – or any other – industry. I am fortunate to be able to find like-minded people who are passionate about bringing change.

We do not necessarily vote for the same people, as such, we are able to have healthy conversations and bounce off each other's ideas instead of our ideologies. It’s assuring to know that this is not a feel-good echo chamber (an environment in which individuals engage with beliefs/opinions that coincide with their own to reinforce their views; where alternative opinions are not taken into consideration) but an environment where we can brainstorm and suggest freely without any pressure or fear. Not a lot of Malaysian youths are interested in politics, and it can sometimes feel like you’re talking to a wall. My peers would dismiss the subject easily because it’s not their “thing” (which makes me a bit sad), but it is empowering to know that there are other youths out there who are equally, if not more, passionate about these subjects and that I now have friends to talk to about politics!

Managing my time well

Because we are all doing this voluntarily, we have to learn to juggle between our full-time commitments and this campaign. I am part of the Public Engagement team and part of my role is to create content for our social media platforms. Sometimes, the process of coming up with ideas, designing, and writing captions can be a tiring and time-consuming process. On top of that, I am also learning how to deal with the notifications of the account! As such, it is a huge balancing act where I need to plan in advance, block out my schedule for my commitments or social life and also take care of my own mental well-being. Despite the challenges, it has been a very fulfilling experience.

It is very rewarding when I know I am working towards something bigger than myself. If you are passionate about something and want to start a grassroots organisation (in any industry or field), here are a few tips, courtesy of the team:

Expand your horizons

In terms of your network or your knowledge on the topics, put in the effort to get to know people or understand the subject matter better.

“Networking at forums and events will help you meet other activists/ or advocates that share a similar interest as you, but you will also be able to meet people who can be your next funder!

That said, you have to be diligent in researching on websites of international and local foundations (they typically announce grants either the beginning or the end of the year, so begin planning your proposals around these times). In writing proposals, make sure you can articulate the measurement and evaluation mechanisms for your project. This is how grantors track the goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of who they fund, so these are important. Lastly, get your proposal proofread by someone else - if they can grasp your ideas easily, your funders won't struggle to understand too.” -- Qyira Yusri, Co-founder of Undi 18, Undi Saksama and 111 Initiative

Ask yourself tough questions

“Start your campaign as though you want to start a startup and consider ‘the tough questions’: Is there a demand for your product? Is there competition selling the same product? If so, what makes you better than your competitors? Do I have the right skillset to sell and market this product? Who is the target market for this product? The reason why you do this analysis is because you want your business to be profitable, sustainable and popular.

The ‘product’ for startups is the equivalent of the ‘cause / message’ for a grassroots campaign. If you are starting a grassroots campaign, you must think about these things too. Does anyone care about your cause or is it too esoteric? Who else is doing this cause and what makes your approach unique? Are YOU the right person to lead this cause? Who are you trying to influence through this campaign?

In the world we live in, doing good and creating a positive impact on the community and the country is not easy. Far too many people have started a cause purely out of passion or anger and then quickly find themselves tired, heartbroken and burnt-out. To succeed, you must consider a different approach.” -- Tharma Pillai, Co-founder of Undi 18 and Undi Saksama

Leverage on your resources

Use your time (it’s a precious resource), your money, and your connections wisely.

“Dream big, but start by doing small things. Make an effort to know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in the team and if you know people who have worked in other NGOs or organisations, definitely leverage on those connections and get them to lend some support to your campaign.” -- Quah Po Eic, Co-founder Undi Saksama

There are also plenty of free resources online that you can benefit from!

Personally, being a part of a grassroots movement has allowed me to see what’s happening on the grounds and to be able to be creative in how we want to shape our messages to garner attention. If you want to embark on an adventure to advocate for what you care for, don’t be afraid to start small, but also set achievable goals. Slowly but surely, you will be able to work towards something together with your team. When you know you are working on something you are passionate about, the hard work will be worth it!

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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