Twenty19.com introduces Sanjukta Basu. Though famous in the Social media and Blogging Circles and to more than a few at the Delhi High Court, Sanjukta is your modern day independent woman, literally! From Studying law to stirring up corporate jobs, she has helped the non profit industry come of age to the potential of Social Media. Working as a Social Media and Communications Consultant, she founded ‘Samyukta Media’ and runs a quite the unconventional blog ‘This is my truth’ on wordpress, details of which, you have to read to believe. Leading a life with an aim to keep diversifying, we hope she creates an inspiration for many.. Read on and you’ll know!
Like the Moses who moved the seas, you’ve shaken up the social media to the cause of non-profits, A blogger on Twenty19, it’s fabulous, and First off, tell us about your background, schooling, college, those days of fun, frolic and exams, who were you before?
Sanjukta: I was born in Jalpaiguri with my ancestors on both sides coming from Bangladesh, so I have got a long history of Bengali tradition. My dad worked in Delhi for 25 years so for most part, I have lived and studied in Delhi. Back in school, I was not a studious one, I mean it was only in January that I realized it was my board year with exams in March, but I still did well enough. I have done law, LLB, in my graduation. I have practiced in courts and worked with corporate firms and NGOs. I have been shuttling between the corporate world and the world of non profit. This transition, like other things in my life, happened by chance. When I was practicing in the High Court of Delhi, I was not very happy with it. It was a hard struggle so I decided to apply for jobs. One where I landed was with an NGO MARG- Multiple Action Research Group which works for women empowerment in north Indian villages. This opened me up to the nonprofit sector. But then a better job came across the KPO sector so I joined that, only to leave it for another NGO. So this shuttling went on in my mid-twenties. But this was bad for my CV and I was asked why I left jobs within a year max. Not having a good enough answer, my only reply was that I wanted to try out different things in life. So it’s been only 2 years that I decided to do something of my own, completely moving on to the Media and Communications side. Law has remained in the background, giving me my sense of logic, right, duties and my personality but what I want to do is use media tools to provide this medium to others to leverage. To sum up, I feel proud to have followed my heart in life and not having faced too many failures.
So when you first started, you blogged about your personal life, for those who are yet to read those stories, please share with us some of the more interesting anecdotes you’ve blogged about?
Sanjukta: I have blogged about my first crush and how I got rejected, my third crush and the rejection, so contrary to not having faced any failures professionally my personal life came with quite a few. I am forever single and eternally romantic, always looking for my soul mate, never to get it right. So you’ll find stories of heartbreaks, political statements on the chaos in the movie and ad industry. Also many thoughts on ‘women issues’ not feminine but I do have strong opinions on how women are viewed in society. I have infused some humor to not come across like a ‘bra-burning’ feminist. I believe in women’s choices, be it wearing a bikini top to wanting to be objectified. We should have the liberty to do what we want. So I share this political stand in my writing. Plus, I practice what I preach showcasing it via my blog.
Not everyone, I feel would be so open to blog about their more private details. Why do you attach so much importance to this medium of expression and what is your suggestion to the college students of today in this regard?
Sanjukta: I feel the need to remove the difference between our public life and private life. From childhood we’re taught some things are for public and others very private, truer for women than men. Like men are conditioned to not show their emotions, a crying guy would be labeled a ‘sissy’. But this forces people to not behave naturally as they are tuned to, so a man, he should be able to cry without being ridiculed. So to mitigate this stigma, the line of difference is to be blurred. This is what I did through my blog. I did not care that this was my private life. As long as you’re saying the truth, you should be able to say it without being judged at. Not everyone would support what I write. I might be termed anti moral, anti cultural, but if ten guys or ten girls stand by me to share their private truths, I would have motivated ten people join my side of the table, in the hopes of creating a bigger revolution. I have stirred many to change who have written back to me telling me how they’ve changed. My aim from all this is to have ‘individual liberty’, in a country where two people cannot marry safely without being killed for it. No culture, no moral should be placed above individual liberty as long as I’m not harming someone else. I have tried to pose a societal challenge and hope others join me.
The “Bell Bajao” campaign you’re associated with is very talked about. How did it all start? What has it been all about? What made you switch over to entrepreneurship?
Sanjukta: Last I was working in a corporate real estate firm in Bangalore. There I was hugely involved in blogging events, twitter meets, getting involved with the social media and I came across ‘Breakthrough’, the organization behind ‘Bell Bajao’, a campaign against domestic violence against women, who had advertised on twitter that they were looking for a person to handle their Social Media outreach. It was a killer combo having 3 things close to me – nonprofit, women issues and Social media. My inclination was evident from my blog. Also I was volunteering as Editor for an online magazine called Mutiny, which has shut shop now, but was a very strong blog back in 2007. I got the job and worked for ‘Bell Bajao’ for nine months. It has been a great experience, including a glamorous experience as ‘Boman Iraani’ was part of it. I coordinated the Video-van activities spreading awareness, and then a performance by a rock band ‘Swaratma’. So towards the end of my stint, the Social media scene was set for ‘Bell Bajao’, and I felt I could help more NGOs leverage Social media. As a consultant, I wanted to take up more non profits on to the Social Media scene, given they might not be tech savvy. This is what led to me starting-up with ‘Samyukta Media’.
Our readers would love to know how this shift in career for you has worked out practically. Is blogging plus social media and non profit, a lucrative/satisfying/difficult career choice to make? What does it take to cut it?
Sanjukta: First – It is not easy! It is not easy to quit your job, and shuttle between industries with no steady job. I think I have been lucky. That said, when I quit my well paying job in 2010, to start-up, for a year I did not earn any profits. It has not been easy to convince people that this career path works. But then again, I was able to do it since I did not have many responsibilities to take care of, like a kid’s education. I could sit at home and stock up on savings.
The biggest learning for me is that unless you know your priorities, what you want to do in your life, you should not take up responsibilities, you should not commit to serious plans, like a marriage, a job or kids.
For the second part, it is definitely coming up since it is gaining popularity. There are many consultancies bubbling up by people who feel that using social media makes them adept at consulting, which is presumptuous. The catch is, I am blogging for over 7 years now and using FB and twitter for 5 years, and am aware of consultancies run by people who had started with twitter only a year ago. So you should know what you’re doing. The field is very open and lucrative but difficult too. It’s easy to get hits and followers, but the challenge would be to keep them engaged. Social media has two aspects, one – the tools like FB, twitter and then what you do with the tools, so that comes from a long time of experience. Using FB for a long time does not mean you can impart the right kind of communication. Many SMEs are there in India who will need Social media services, so it’s good career choice, but it comes with difficulty and patience.
Can you take us through step by step as to how social media, in a nutshell can be used effectively to say, drive a campaign for a social cause? What are the keys to success?
Sanjukta: If it is a campaign, know your target to create awareness and to know the campaign. What I must say is that a Blog is very crucial. An FB page is not enough, a blog is like a virtual home, where you live, your identity, whereas the FB pages are where you’re discussing. You must have a presence on platforms which have the highest reach. Also remember to give people an action plan from your media, via your YouTube and Flickr accounts. Simply a quotation won’t work. If you say you see this injustice happening, also propose what your actions would be to stop it. You have to give people the action; they cannot figure it out on their own. If you have to raise funds, you ask for it. If you need awareness, you ask people to share stories and do mass blogging like in ‘Bell Bajao’, we asked people to come forth and speak about it.
Keys to success would be hard to tell – you make something catchy that people connect to, give an action point and present things in a way people can identify with. Be a brand or a campaign, if people relate on a day to day basis that yes, this is relevant to my life then it clicks. It’s a good formula for success.
What is the Blogging scene in India as of now? Do govt. and large change making bodies consider it as a significant driver of change? Is it mainly youth driven, which is why it is seen as amateurish to use perhaps?
Sanjukta: Blogging scene in India is very bleak. It started off in 2004, as a blogging revolution when everyone took to blogging. The people from tech industries were the largest users and contributors. Till 2007 it happened hugely, but the govt., scholars and media groups still dint take note, leaving it restricted to the youth. Then your social media happened so everyone took to that, so blogging took a back seat, globally too. Blogging is a serious activity, needing more of your grey cells, compared to the 140 chars you need on twitter. Social media was just easier to be on. But people like me keep trying to put the focus on the need to maintain a corporate blog with all your plans put in it.
Today social media for private companies is handled by PR agencies that take care of blogging but the govt. has still not got the point. In fact I aspire to work with the govt. on their social media start-off. That said, the Delhi Traffic Police’s (DTP) FB page is fantastic especially when it’s being monitored by the Jt. Commissioner himself. People’s point of view has changed, they respect the DTP more.
You’ve worked at the industry level and with NGOs, what is your take on internships students are doing in non-profits? How does one compare that to a corporate exposure?
Sanjukta: Internships at NGOs or full time jobs at corporate, I think they are all the same. Working in a non-profit alone doesn’t mean you are doing a great deal of philanthropy; a job is a job at the end of the day. Do it for the money if that’s what is important to you or do it for the creative satisfaction. But do it sincerely and professionally. Don’t be too romantic about a nonprofit job and get carried away. One needs to put in the exact amount of hard work, discipline, tactfulness and diplomacy you need in a corporate job. I’ve learned this the hard way. I expected the work profiles at NGOs to be drastically different than the corporates but they weren’t.
At the same time expect due recognition and compensation for your hard work. If a nonprofit expects you to work for peanuts, it does not make sense. Talking about making a difference socially, go out of your home and help someone out with your own two hands, contribute financially, donate clothes and feed people, but working with nonprofit cannot be your short cut to charity. Don’t be a grumpy Santa Claus, you want to give out gifts, do it without returns, and when you do a job, treat it as a job, do it sincerely.
You’ve always been a free person; happy with what you do, where does get that sense of motivation and drive from keeping in mind the practicalities and liabilities of career, income, family and sustainability? Can you give us a peek into your future as you see it?
Sanjukta: As I said earlier having no responsibilities makes it easier to follow my heart. Another source of motivation is when people like you interview me (she jokes), there is a lot of goodwill and popularity. I really am a free and self made person. There is no other way to lead my life. Freedom is a necessity for my living.
My future, I don’t really know, don’t plan too far ahead. But I want to be a famous person, make a difference, and take Samyukta Media to a different level, like our recent tie up with the University of Dehradun. I also want to write a book, be a photographer, so I have many dreams.
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