Greeting from Sohini
I have been at Breakthrough for the time span of seven annual reports, but this is the first time I have had the immense and humbling honour to greet you here as Breakthrough’s CEO.
I believe that Breakthrough’s approach is the breakthrough approach. We are pioneers, transforming communities in the world’s two largest democracies and beyond. We are focused on culture change; fueled by arts, media, and tech; firm in our belief that everyone has the power to take action. When we change attitudes, we change actions. When we change attitudes and actions, we change culture.
Today I see calamity, and I see opportunity. I see opportunity because so much has been laid bare, propelling and priming people everywhere to take action. In both India and the U.S., the increasingly visible misogyny, violence, and hate are not political; they are cultural.
But the same is true of the ever-louder voices of opposition: their volume comes from values. We stand with women and people of color and all those marginalized because we stand for dignity, equality, and justice—for a world where human rights are the norm in every home and institution, and where anything less is unacceptable. I see opportunity because I know how effectively Breakthrough helps shift cultural norms around sexual assault, early marriage, domestic violence, rigid gender norms, and more.
We share a vision. You are reading this for the same reason I am writing it. We believe in the fundamental humanity of all people. And together we are building a world where that shared belief is the norm, everywhere and every day.
So I thank you in advance. Thank you, also, to our tireless global team and staff in both countries. I am so excited to continue working with all of you.
OUR WORK AND IMPACT
We inspire and train youth
to use the most potent, relevant tools
to break through norms...
...and drive the culture change we need to make gender-based violence and discrimination unacceptable and embrace the human rights, and humanity, of all people.
Breaking through gender norms
The state of Haryana has the most skewed sex ratio in India—an indicator of the worst possible devaluing of girls and women. Our intensive curriculum targeting youth stands to change that. Our program, now running in 150 government schools in Haryana, is designed to challenge and transform traditional patriarchal norms around gender.
Impact this year
As of 2016, 18,000 adolescents have been covered by Breakthrough's school-based interventions. The community mobilisation reached 122,500 and mass media campaigns reach 10.5 million. The scale-up through partners reached 2.7 million.
By the start of 2018, 380,210 boys and girls between 11 and 18 in 3,500 villages in 14 districts across 5 states of India have undergone a shift in attitudes and behavior as a result of our work. According to research done by J-PAL South Asia, both boys and girls significantly improved gender attitudes and behavior after two years of the program. This change was even greater among boys than girls.
We enable young women to come face to face with their own power and potential—and they in turn inspire others. Meera, 20, wanted to go to college, but her parents wouldn’t even allow her into the living room to meet visitors. Through our programming, she became a peer educator, travelled (and sat on a train) for the first time—and met the prime minister. Because of Meera, her older sister sees new possibilities for herself, too, and has applied for a job with the police. “Now,” says Meera, “my parents introduce me to everyone.”
The impact can be seen in girls’ lives, right now. Two high school girls wanted to play a national sport called Kabaddi. But there was no field for them—it was all boys playing football and cricket—and girls weren’t allowed to travel to play away matches. After doing our training, the girls met with the head of their village and said “We want to play.” Not only did he them time on the field, but now he accompanies them for away matches. We are, almost literally, leveling the playing field.
Breaking through early marriage
Early marriage is illegal in India. It is also the norm. Help and reporting resources exist but are not accessed. But our video vans, interactive theater experiences, and transformative workshops show stakeholders and communities in Bihar and Jharkhand the dangers of early marriage. Most important, they make it “acceptable,” even admirable, to challenge—and ultimately end—the practice.
Impact this year
Our school-based intervention in early marriage reached 56,000 and our community mobilisaton reached 145,000. The digital media campaigns reached 883,000. In partnership with Unicef, our training and mass media reached 2.6 million people.
Our own midline study found a resulting increase among women in our areas of 1 to 1.77 years in the average age of marriage. A national health survey likewise found a 20% decline in the number of women in Bihar aged 20-24 who were married before age 18.
The plan had been for Pinky, then in tenth grade, to abandon school for marriage. Pinky did not like that plan. Emboldened by a Breakthrough training, Pinky went to the police. Result: Pinky was able to avoid marriage and continue her studies in a nearby town. For a while. When Breakthrough staff went back to see how Pinky was faring, they got bad news. Her parents had prevailed. Pinky was married. But that wasn’t the end of Pinky’s story. In her village, girl after girl, with family support, was facing down prevailing norms, continuing her studies rather than heading into marriage—and saying it was Pinky who had inspired her. Says a local vice principal: “Whenever we ask, ‘‘Who was the first girl to raise her voice against early marriage?’ The answer is Pinky.”
WATCH Pinky’s Legacy below to find out how Breakthrough continues to embolden girls like Pinky and build community support to sustain their efforts.
Where we work, fathers make family decisions—including the all-important choice for their daughters between continued education and early marriage. Our #mydadmyally campaign took this call to fathers—stand with your daughters and for their choices, even if it means bucking patriarchal norms—to millions, with our powerful video Rashmi Matric Pass reaching more than 9 million across social media platforms.
Breaking through sexual harassment
Our research shows that more than 90% of women in India are sexually harassed: at work, in school, in transit. Their families may even keep them home (or get them married) to keep them “safe,” cutting off their mobility, agency, and access. (And home may be anything but “safe.”) The Breakthrough solution: create safe spaces for women by helping communities create safe spaces for women.
Impact this year
We have trained 24,000 youth, 41,000 local government officials, police and protection officers, and NGO workers to challenge the attitudes and practices that perpetuate domestic violence and sexual harassment. In the Delhi/National Capital Region, our comprehensive StreeLink program has reached 12,000 garment factory employees, ensuring that male bosses and co-workers recognize harassment and its harms, and that women are empowered to report it and receive a response. We also work to create a safer journey for women from home to workplace by giving their families and communities the tools for awareness and action.
Reach for the Sky
Kite-flying is seen as a boys-only sport. But when the girls in our groups told us flying kites makes them feel free, we made sure they had the power to soar. On August 15—India’s independence day and traditionally a kite-flying festival—our youth brigade of boys and girls gathered in a popular Delhi amphitheater and launched into the air hundreds of kites carrying message against sexual harassment. Culminating with a performance by an all-girls’ rock band and widely covered across media, the event emphasized girls’ rights to safely claim public space—and reach for the sky.
Our campaigns sparking intergenerational dialogue on sexual harassment, stigma, and segregation—and rallying millions to stand for safe spaces for women everywhere—included:
14 million views of our videos featuring a mother and son discussing sexual harassment
300K engaged with the social media campaign
- 1.5 million reached, with 89,000 video views
- exposed rampant sexual harassment on a Haryana bus line used frequently by students
- Bike rally in New Delhi kicked off two-week campaign reaching 13,000 with the call to help create gender-inclusive safe spaces
Breaking through gender biased sex selection
75% of 10,000 students we surveyed say they see more men than women everywhere; we work to recover India’s “missing girls,” their absence striking in the skewed child sex ratio and across public life. Whether bringing the issue of gender-biased sex selection (GBSS)—and girls themselves—into high visibility through our audacious multimedia campaigns, or directly enabling health workers, teachers, and other community stakeholders to support families in rejecting son preference, we inspire communities to embrace and invest in their daughters.
Impact this year
Taaron ki Toli: Our school-based intervention in Haryana reached 18,000 adolescents in 150 schools with a curriculum that connects GBSS to gender-based discrimination across society. More than 30% of participants committed to take action for gender equality.
Mission Hazaar: Our regional campaign exploded nationally, with the government of India launching the Beti bachao, Beti padhao (Save Daughter, Educate Daughter) campaign integrating our media and educational materials and reaching more than 187 million.
- Brought to Haryana to underscore the links between sexual harassment and gender-biased sex selection: harassment both demonstrates the devaluing of women and helps drive son preference
- Six-day public education and street theater campaign along neighborhood-to-school bus route where harassment is rampant rallied more than 8000 to call for safe transport for women together with men.
Breaking through gender norms
Sexual violence on and near college campuses is rampant. Increased attention to the problem—itself welcome—has served to highlight the deeply entrenched norms that perpetuate it. Students bring these norms with them into the school setting, where they are reinforced, and then out into the world. Breakthrough sought to amplify and deepen the conversation around sexual violence by going to the cultural source—gender norms—and to build student power to campaign for safety, consent, and respect in their communities.
In September 2016, we recruited six student fellows from colleges and universities around the U.S. to create change both on their campuses and nationally by challenging the norms that enable gender-based violence and discrimination. The fellows carried out actions to prevent violence and acts of hate through outreach, community reconciliation, and public education. Below are a few highlights from the program.
In response to increased post-election harassment of gender nonconforming students at Bates College and the Trump administration’s rescinding of protections for transgender people, Breakthrough fellow Cash took action through a “Bathroom Revolution” campaign designed to rally the student body to create a climate of safety and support on and off campus. Cash led a group of their peers to place “all-gender” signs on restroom doors around Bates. The action had a campus reach of 1,800 and increased dialogue around the need for everyone to safely access restrooms. The campaign was picked up by student press and inspired a national op-ed resulting in a reach of 7,100 locally and nationally.
Watch the Bathroom Revolution:
Spring Weekend is Brown University’s huge annual concert, and it’s a really big deal in campus social life. It’s expected that everyone will have a good time that weekend, but over her time on campus Molly saw how that expectation of fun could lead to violations of consent. Molly wanted to push back on those cultural narratives that expect a “yes” to everything during Spring Weekend, and to turn Spring Weekend into a space where everyone can have a good time – even if they skip the drinking and hooking up.
Molly created the Positive Change campaign to address these issues and ensure that everyone had access to the resources they needed to support consent, respect, and bodily autonomy during Spring Weekend.
- She trained 20 volunteers to prepare them for shifts at the Positive Change tent.
- She collected donations to cover orders for 5,000 temporary tattoos, 5,000 stickers, and 5,000 condoms with the positive change symbol.
- She printed 5,000 business cards with resources for help and safety at Brown.
- She trained 100 Resident Peer Leaders on consent ahead of their shifts on duty during Spring Weekend.
- Molly’s campaign was covered by the Brown Daily Herald and the Blognonian. The Brown Concert Agency, Office of Health Promotion, Office of Residential Life, and Student Activities Office, and others signed on as official partners.
Watch Positive Change:
The concept of “norms” can seem abstract. Breakthrough made it concrete—and colorful—with puppets named Norm and Norma. In a series of three videos, these characters and their rainbow of friends friends (operated by puppeteers from Broadway’s Avenue Q) navigate intersectionality, gender norms, identities, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and transphobia—and find ways to be part of the solutions. A robust culture change toolkit (LINK TK) accompanies the series.
- 70+K views on Facebook and YouTube
- Significant press coverage including The Advocate, Broadway World
- The first time Gabriel, a non-binary puppeteer, had the opportunity to operate a non-binary puppet character.
“Students who grew up on Sesame Street will recognize the puppets as a nostalgic, familiar form. But instead of teaching the ABCs, characters break down ideas that are crucial to activism, yet are sometimes difficult to grasp.” —Broadway World
Breakthrough convenes young leaders across the country, offering intensive leadership training for participants to create disruptive actions on their campuses that alter the prevailing culture norms. In July 2017, Breakthrough held its inaugural Northeast Region Action Lab co-hosted by the NYU School of Media, Culture, and Communication. Participants from 24 campuses in the Northeast U.S. region took part. Given the rhetoric of "fake news" and fears of censorship in this new political climate, the Action Lab targeted media, journalism, and communications students through an interactive agenda. Media experts and human rights activists who focus on race, gender, arts and culture served as mentors and co-facilitators.
The following projects are among those pursued by participants:
- A storytelling podcast called “You Are” will examine at social issues through the lenses of the varying identities of participants
- An interactive performance art piece, “Talk It Out,” invites participants to engage in conversation to break the stigma around survivor storytelling and mental health
- A media/art installation showcasing work from survivors of violence
In January 2018, we stepped into the momentum of #metoo and engaged more than 52,000 people via social, along with 400 students on the ground, with the question: What’s next? What actions can we all take to make sure the culture change sticks—and includes everyone? In partnership with Restaurant Opportunities Center United and Presente.org, we successfully drew connections between the rarefied worlds in the #metoo headlines and our own everyday interactions, with hundreds pledging to stand with those around them who often go unheard and help amplify their voices.
Breakthrough received the extremely distinguished 2016 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship—a tremendous recognition of Breakthrough’s innovative approach, cutting-edge methodology, and effective programs that scale from local to global. This award has enabled Breakthrough to exponentially increase the reach and impact of its Taaron Ki Toli program fostering gender-equitable attitudes and actions among nearly 400,000 youth, and has supported U.S. and India social media campaigns reaching more than 334,000.
Our interactive multimedia platform storytelling platform THE G WORD—honored in 2016 for Best Web: Activism by the 20th Annual Webby Awards—is designed to illuminate and shift the cultural norms that underpin gender-based discrimination and violence. The stories submitted from around the world reflect a wide range of origins and perspectives, representing LBGTQI communities, survivors of violence, immigrants, the #metoo movement, people from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, and more. Readers are able to respond and react to stories, deepening the experience of engagement, community, and shared experience across diversity. Breakthrough worked with numerous organizational partners to collect authentic stories that advance advocacy agendas, challenge gender norms, and envision a world that enables everyone to thrive.
- 1.3 million+ video views from around the world
- 269K+ unique site visitors
- 650 stories from from 190 countries
- 80% of people who shared their stories expressed a heightened understanding of how norms drive harm in their lives and feel more capable of being agents of change
Dyondra's G WORD story
“Representation matters to women like me who grew up feeling left out of the American Girl doll collection, until they finally decided to add their token number five: Addy Walker, a child born into slavery. My white peers had various characters made in their likeness and I had a slave. Can’t get more American than that! Representation is important because what we see registers not only to the mind but to the soul. Representation matters when you can’t ‘play like a girl’ to win. My soul yearned for more. I fed it until I became that woman my younger self-dreamed about. Going to college, traveling the world, and helping people along the way is only part of a dream that was passed down to me from the back of my ancestors. I still have far to go, but I continue to #represent the best I can through the lens of a young American black woman.” —Dyondra, 23
Over breathtaking views of Manhattan from the Mandarin Oriental, our 2016 Inspiration Awards gala honored changemakers building a world where everyone lives with dignity and equality. Two male college fraternity members and anti-rape activists trained by Breakthrough presented our Changemaker Inspiration Award to Amy Ziering, producer of the Oscar-nominated film The Hunting Ground, which made the issue of campus sexual assault impossible to ignore. We also presented our Corporate Inspiration Award to Dinesh Paliwal, chairman, president and CEO of HARMAN, for elevating and integrating a human rights in his corporate business model, as well as a Changemaker Inspiration Award to vocalist, composer, producer, and philanthropist Ila Paliwal. Guests representing the worlds of sports, finance, entertainment, tech, activism, and more were also introduced to our transmedia storytelling platform, THE G-WORD, and entertained by comedy legend Judy Gold.
Our 2017 Inspiration Awards gala at the Edison Ballroom in New York City brought together luminaries in entertainment, finance, and social justice to celebrate our shared vision for equality and honor high-impact leaders in culture change—including Julie Parker Benello, co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures and Gamechanger Films. Emcee Negin Farsad and special guest Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show) added hilarious comedic commentary to a dazzling evening. The Inspiration Awards were also the first with CEO Sohini Bhattacharya at the helm and provided Breakthrough an opportunity to present her vision for the continued success of the organization.
17 - 18 Financials (U.S. & India)
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