Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Managing the tricky art of breaking the news of a baby (Mint Lounge)

 



“It’s a girl!”

Scratch that.

It wasn’t a surprise: We chose to have a daughter over a son.

 

“Born on …”

Delete.

Who sends a baby announcement after 3.5 months?


“Weighing…”

Erase.

Our delicate darling’s kilos were nothing worth flaunting about.

 

I was making a creative on Canva to share the homecoming of our heart baby with select friends on WhatsApp when I realised that the templates for a baby announcement needed major tweaking for our kind of good news.

We had decided we would not broadcast our adopted daughter’s arrival but would share it with a handful of people, including close connections, fellow adoptive parents we knew, and my husband’s team members who will need to discount his dozing off during meetings.

We were hoping that our outer circle would come to know that we have a child when our daughter is 2-3 years old, which is past the stage of “OMG, Congratulations!” and a suite of questions about sleepless nights, timeline of my pregnancy and their memory of my bump.

But contrary to my plan, the word about our daughter got around faster.

The three of us were invited to a birthday party of a toddler whose parents we liked in our apartment building. While the hosts knew about the new addition in our family, other parents of children who lived in the same building and were invited to the party expressed their surprise on suddenly seeing us with a stroller and diaper bag. I had bumped into one of the moms randomly while walking downstairs on an average of two times per month in the last two years that we had been living in this community. She was the type who would check you out from top to bottom while saying the cursory “Hi”. At the party, she told me she didn’t notice that I was pregnant last year. I merely gave her the sweetest smile ever.

Then there is the naΓ―ve type who doesn’t know how to be politically correct. One woman I had crossed paths with while coming out of the elevator with the stroller, parroted multiple times that she never saw my bump, as if her saying the same thing repeatedly would eventually get me to open my mouth about it. I gave her the same harmless smile as if to say, “Interpret it as you please: surrogacy, adoption or some divine intervention.”

There is also the suave sort who know how to mask their surprise with the right thing to say: “You don’t look like you delivered six months back!” I smiled and thanked her, adding, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

When we realised that there was no escaping people who live in the same apartment complex, we decided to throw a small “bless our baby” party, inviting a few fellow residents. Everything was going fine until a kid mentioned how much he loved the YouTube series Ninja Kidz and added emphatically that one of the kids in it is adopted. An awkward silence ensued.

Comparatively, our adoptive-parent friends who brought their child home during covid had it easy. Opening the door of your house after the lockdown years and having two-and-a-half people emerging from it didn’t raise an eyebrow.

But our awkward conversations were not just because of being seen. Our absence also raised questions: An inquisitive acquaintance, who is part of a social group that my husband and I are also a part of, noticed that we have been MIA for a few months. She pushed us into a corner till we told her. We had to tell her how special she is to us that we were divulging this precious news to her and hardly anyone else. We figured she would find out at some point.

We were not only caught out by our physical presence or absence; even the online arena didn’t spare us. I didn’t post pictures of our baby on Instagram. However, I did ask for recommendations for cute beach-wear brands for infants on a women’s WhatsApp group that shares suggestions on everything from doctors to restaurants at exotic holiday destinations to tailors for alterations. In the fraction of a second, one of the girls on the group who I meet once a quarter at social events messaged me directly asking if I was expecting. I replied I have a 6-month-old, and left her wondering.

Our intent behind not broadcasting our adoption is not to hide that we became parents through this channel. It is to disclose about our baby only to emotionally sensitive and mature people who will not say a version of “She’s so lucky to have you both as parents” or “You did such a noble deed by adopting.” Considering the long wait from filing the papers to bringing your child home, it is clear that adoption is no charity.

So, I punched in to the Canva search bar “heart baby announcement”, and that displayed a template with a few hearts strung on a thread. We sent out the creative, hoping the recipients get the subtle reference. Those who don’t can keep deciphering it like they do my mysterious smile.

(Read the article on Mint website here)

Read more…

Saturday, March 2, 2024

A mother’s notes on what the endless wait to adopt a child feels like (Mint Lounge)


“Please describe the procedures you and your spouse used to reach a decision.”

This wasn’t an inquiry raised by a psychologist during a couple’s therapy session, but a question in the Home Study Report (HSR). My husband and I were required to fill this as the preliminary step towards applying with the Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), which comes under the Union Ministry of Women & Child Development, to adopt our daughter. From assessing the quality of the marriage of the Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs) and the financial position to the motivation behind the adoption, the HSR interrogates everything. Since safety of the child is at the center of this due diligence, we responded to the questions even while squirming internally.

The online submission of the report is usually followed by visit of a social worker to the prospective parents’ home to validate the responses. During such a visit, people put forward their best selves forward to not get rejected on grounds of being physically, mentally and financially incapable of raising the child. On the day of our scheduled home-study, the house was vacuumed, our clothes were ironed, and freshly-baked cookies were laid out with tea. The social worker inspected every corner of our house while asking us the questions in the HSR, tallying the answers we had submitted. She went back pleased that we had mosquito mesh in our balcony and a common play area for kids in the apartment complex.  

My husband and I finished the formalities after a friend, who had adopted, urged us to put in the paperwork, while warning us about the 1.5-2 year-long-waiting period between registering with CARA and getting the initial call for adoption. This was May 2020. My husband was feeling the void of a child during the covid-19 lockdown. I was done with futile IVF cycles. And that’s how we joined the waiting list.

Soon thereafter, our adoptive-parent friends added us to various WhatsApp and Facebook groups consisting largely of PAPs and a few adoptive parents who had been there, done that. On these groups, the communities shared steps to follow—from getting referral of a child to securing the final adoption order. Some even shared a checklist of things to carry when going to bring the child home. There was also general conversation on books and movies on adoption. The WhatsApp groups would buzz on referral days when CARA would match children in the adoption pool with parents in the waiting list. The PAPs would often guess when their lucky day would arrive based on their date of registration. Under the new system, parents would get to choose zones—east, west, north or south— instead of states. The age bracket and gender that parents mentioned as an option also added to the waiting period. For instance, for those who had ticked the age-bracket of 0-4 years had a longer waiting period—almost 3.5 years.

As we hit the three-year mark of our registration, my husband started charting referral dates of PAPs (as shared on the WhatsApp groups) on an Excel Sheet to codify when we would receive ours. But during some weeks, the CARA referral algorithm (which nobody has been able to crack) would throw the Excel formula off.

Anyways, just when my husband had convinced me that in any scenario, 2023 was perhaps not the year we would get our baby, my phone rang on Wednesday, 13 December 2023, around noon. I was almost not going to pick up the call from an unknown number, thinking it must be telemarketing. The man on the other side informed me that he was calling from the Specialized Adoption Agency (SAA) in Gujarat, where a child had been matched to our profile. I couldn’t believe it as I hadn’t received an email or SMS from CARA regarding the referral, which was the protocol. But the caller urged me to log into my CARA portal. When I did, it was indeed there: the passport size photo of the child, Medical Examination Report (MER) and Child Study Report (CSR). 

I hadn’t heard my heartbeat clearer: Our 48-hour window to accept or let go of the referral had begun. I frantically called my husband who was travelling for work. We got on a Zoom call, quickly shared a moment of disbelief and excitement, and opened the list of pediatricians we had prepared to send the MER to. And so, by the end of the window, we hit the ‘accept’ button on the portal. We booked our tickets to fly to Ahmedabad the following morning and drive a couple of hours to the agency to meet ‘our daughter’. Needless to say, I was restless throughout the journey.

At the agency, when they brought her to the administration area to meet us and the petite damsel in oversized, mismatched clothes locked eyes with ours, we knew she was the piece in our hearts that was missing. We might have written in our HSR that we make our decisions by weighing the pros and cons of all scenarios, but here was a no-brainer. 

(Read the article on Mint Lounge here!)

Read more…

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Social Media Marketing


I undertook social-media marketing (both strategy and execution) for Gram Vaani from April to October last year. Here are some of my top insights and learnings from the experience:

  1. If your organization’s accounts already exist on social-media platforms, audit the previous posts to gauge the tone and language that is set and also what kind of posts garner better engagement than the others. As much as possible, continue with the elements that work well for your brand so that the transition is least jarring for your followers.
  2. Good content will do well organically. While promotions may bring those exponential spikes; the only sustainable approach is to create quality content consistently that connects with your audience at an emotional level.
  3. Represent all your stakeholders in your social-media posts including donors/funders, partners, team members from CEO/founder to junior-most employees. And tag their correct account handles!
  4. Social-media management requires a balance between content that’s current and that which is planned beforehand. While you can plan for communication on important days of the year for the thematic-area/s you work in and other posts which are not time-sensitive, there are many external events/news that will come up that you could not have accounted for when you charted the social-media calendar (for example, organization’s participation in a conference, an award conferred on founder/CEO, reaching an impact milestone etc.). Be agile.
  5. Inculcate diversity in types of media accompanying posts from posters to short videos as well as in content buckets from human stories to big-picture impact numbers.
  6. ‘Social’ comes first in ‘social media.’ Social media is not just about posting content about your organization, it is also about responding to other’s comments on your posts and engaging with posts of people/organizations in your ecosystem.
  7. Maintain the spirit of your organization and its work on your social-media. Don’t feel forced to adhere to sensibility of the platform (For example, Instagram is a casual platform but you have chosen to be present on the same because your audience/s are on the platform. You don’t have to create reels using playful filters and effects if that does not align with the ethos of your org). This also does not mean that your content/design has to be uncreative :)
  8. No typos please. Spelling/grammar mistakes in your design copy and caption reflect poorly on the organization’s image.
  9. Clean design in form of a relevant poster that conforms to your brand colours/aesthetic and communicates the message of the post succinctly or a short video or an infographic will help capture that fleeting attention span. Social-media (unlike email) is a very visual medium where people scroll as opposed to perusing every word.
  10. Increase in the number of followers is one metric of success but what’s more important is who is following your account and what they’re doing with your content. Ideally, you want people/organizations in your TG to follow you and follow through your CTAs.

Are you an NGO, social enterprise or CSR that needs help with your social-media strategy and execution? Reach out at smitapkothari@gmail.com

Read more…

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Annual report for Akanksha Foundation


A few months ago, The Akanksha Foundation took a bet on me to create their annual report for 2021-22. But I didn’t want to submit another PDF that just checks off the compliance box and that no one wants to read.

 
So I turned all notions of a usual annual-report upside down:
 
A typical annual-report relays information about the year gone by. I wanted to employ emotive storytelling and so we had a real Akanksha student give the audience a tour of the year at her beloved school.
 
A “normal” annual report is stuffed with exhaustive details about all the events that take place in the year. However, lengthy text is difficult to digest given limited attention-span. So I pushed for sharp bite-sized content sans jargons and edited it brutally to the point that each piece included was uber-essential.
 
A conventional annual-report, in its vertical scroll, often contains photos to give the viewers a window into the org and its work. I wanted to offer an authentic experience of visiting an Akanksha school digitally via horizontal design. The elements and backdrops you see in the report are all re-created based on actual photos of Akanksha school & classroom and so is Dhanashree – the Akanksha student who walks you through the report (literally!).
 
After several doubts, content drafts, and design-challenges: we produced https://annualreport.akanksha.org/introduction
 
Kudos to leadership at the organization for supporting an idea as radical as Akanksha itself!
 
Annual-report is such a powerful communication tool to showcase the happenings of the year to all stakeholders. Why should it be boring? What are some cool annual reports you have seen lately?

Read more…

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Impact story workshop (training/capacity building)

 


These happy faces made one of my weekends last year!

A diverse cohort turned up for my impact-story workshop on a Saturday evening in late 2022 from :
🌏 Varied geographies like Canada, Australia, South Korea and of course, India
πŸ’Ÿ Different cause areas from education to livelihoods to special needs
πŸ‘©‍🏫 πŸ‘¨‍🏫 Representatives from non-profits, CSR and foundations

We discussed what an impact-story template/structure looks like, best practices to follow while writing the case study, how to customise your story for different audiences/stakeholders and more!

At the end of the session when I asked the participants to share their aha moment/key takeaway from the last 90 mins, one of them said that the entire session was an aha moment! That was my aha moment:)

Read more…