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Q+A: Sushma, Uttarakhand Cluster

SUSHMA CORNELIUS is a health trainer with India's Uttarakhand Cluster. Before that, she led a team of over 200 people from WorldVision and their partner organisations. Here, she shares lessons in leadership, reflects on the Cluster's work, and shines a light on the good things that she’s seen come out of the pandemic.

What did you do at WorldVision? My project focussed on TB prevention, treatment and advocacy. Our focus was hard-to-reach districts in India - places government infrastructure couldn't reach. We covered 70 districts in 8 states, which is a huge population. We were tasked with identifying one million TB cases over five years, getting them treatment, and following the cases up. And that's what we did.

You’ve held many leadership roles - what have you learned about leading others? As projects grow and budgets increase, leaders sometimes overlook the needs of their staff. I've learned that's it's important to be relationship-oriented, while still getting the work done. I like the term "walking-around leadership" - when we walk around with people, we get to know them better, and we also understand the challenges they face. It's not top-down, where you sit at your table and expect people to come and report to you. You walk with them and learn with them.

What's your role with Uttarakhand Cluster? I am a health trainer for the Cluster. In partnership with CMC Vellore - a large medical college in India - I help train community workers, and give people basic health knowledge so that some diseases – like fever, diarrhoea, or anaemia – can be caught and treated early. These are small changes, but they have a large impact when it's across communities and across households.

Is being in the Cluster different from working elsewhere? Yes. Working in other NGOs is more structured: 'my team does this and their team does that'. But in the Cluster, the environment is such that it generates learning. For example, after joining the Cluster I learned of the need to cover mental health and disaster management in our training - and that's what we did. There's a lot more collaboration rather than competition here, and everything's based on relationships. You feel like people are doing things with more passion, and it's very infectious.

What do you think is Uttarakhand Cluster's biggest achievement? Our response to Covid-19 has been great. Our members have reached so many families, and the government recognises our efforts. We've kept in touch with each other through newsletters, Zoom meetings and prayer. And to know that there's a Cluster backing me up is very reassuring. The transfer of knowledge has been very encouraging too - across the network.

Would you like to see any changes in the Cluster? One thing we could improve is documentation. We learn so much in our work, but if we don't document this learning, we lose out. Writing and sharing case studies means we will capture knowledge and learning, and we will encourage and inspire others too. For example, I know that Bihar Cluster has learned a lot from us, but my dream is to see many more Clusters like that, learning and helping each other. Documenting will help make this a reality.

What does it mean to you to be in the wider, global Arukah Network? Actually, this is one positive to come out of the Covid-19 situation. We're all using Zoom more, and I met Jake when he joined a Cluster Zoom call. I then read some of the Arukah blogs and newsletters, and I hope I’ll be able to read more and write about some of the work that we do. We are more than just a Cluster - we are a global network. And there's so much to learn from each other.

Has Covid-19 changed the Cluster? Even though it's a difficult time, I think it's brought the best out of our members. We've learned to appreciate each other's strengths more, and we’re responding to the need collectively rather than as individual organisations. Praying for one another and reassuring one another has been very crucial. It's beautiful to be part of this experience.

It’s great to hear your positivity, even in such a difficult time. If it weren’t for Covid-19, we wouldn't have met! I didn't think that Zoom calls could bring people across the world together.

Learn more about Uttarakhand Cluster here.


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