Ananya Chhaochharia is the founder of Paint It Red, an organisation that focuses on menstrual rights, education and awareness. I recently came across her LinkedIn post offering help to anyone applying for a Masters in Public Policy course.
Given her own successful admission to the MPP at the Harvard Kennedy School, it is safe to say that she would know a thing or two about the application process. Which is why I get her to share a few words on Paint It Red, the MPP itself, as well as how to go about the application process.
Before we get to the MPP, could you tell me a bit about Paint It Red? What have been some of the learnings made along the way, and how do you think law students or lawyers can support the movement?
Paint it Red is a non-profit organisation advocating for menstrual rights and reduction of period poverty. The stigmatisation of periods has a cultural and religious history, and we are consistently trying to undo them. We work with young girls to prepare them for their menstrual cycle and to prevent them from developing the same misconceptions as the generations before them.
To create ease in periods, we also act as a channel for providing subsidised, sustainable menstrual products. During COVID-19 we provided over 56,000 cloth pads across six States reaching 11,000 beneficiaries in merely 75 days!
In the short duration of one year, we have developed keen insights on the development sector in India; the challenges are immense.
From stringent funding to the unprecedented pandemic situation, the sector demands innovation and adaptive leadership. We have learnt to communicate creatively, manage scarce resources, and concentrate solely on the bigger picture.
Menstruators and non-menstruators can contribute to the movement, regardless of profession. Menstruation is at the very foundation of human dignity and the absence of recognition of menstrual rights hinders the realisation of several universal human rights.
The movement can only be enhanced if every person makes it their personal mission to create a conducive environment around them. The first step is to break the silence – avoid using euphemisms, stop hiding behind black packets and blue liquids, start asking for basic amenities at workplace/academic institutions, and most importantly demanding accountability from elected leaders.
Given that our readership consists primarily of law graduates and students, any thoughts on how best to introduce the MPP degree?
The MPP degree is an intersectional and practical course which aims to manage all three pillars of public policy – design, execution, and communication. Law graduates could become efficient public leaders if they pursue an MPP degree. The complementary fields only strengthens the attributes of a lawyer – regardless of whether they decide to practice or not.
With your own experience with Paint It Red, how does the MPP fit into your future goals?
I have been a contributor to the social sector for nearly a decade. I believe in long-term transformative change which can only be brought about through institutional measures.
One such avenue happens to be public policy. A restless feminist, I want to advocate for policies which can challenge systemic issues of patriarchy, and the intersectionality of gender politics.
The MPP degree will augment my field and personal experiences to bolster my attempts at being a public leader who represents gender based issues without any inhibition.
And once you had decided to pursue the course, how did you go about selecting just where to apply?
Finding the right University is definitely not a simple task. I started with the macro concerns – country, finances, and general offerings of a course. After narrowing it down to the USA, which offered a more pragmatic approach to the subject, I went on to deep dive into Universities that offered an MPP.
At this stage, my checklist included understanding the focus areas of the school, course methodology, academic ethos, faculty profiles, networking and internship opportunities, and my overall compatibility based on my profile and aspirations.
I took a calculated risk of only applying to 5 top ranked universities with the commitment to put in my mind, heart, and soul into the application process.
Next comes the application process itself – what were some of the most challenging aspects of the application? And how much time do you think one should set aside for the entire process?
The application process is as much about applying to your dream school as it is about introspecting on your vision and mission. Writing about yourself, your aspirations, your life’s challenges, and vision is a mammoth task.
On several occasions, when draft after draft of essays were rejected by my mentor, I found myself losing hope. It required several rounds of reliving my own story and being able to relay that with the same emotion that I had felt then.
Another challenge is finding the right referees. Your references can make or break your application. I was fortunate to have the most supportive and nurturing referees and I highly recommend that every applicant spends adequate time on this part of the application.
It is rather difficult to pin point a time frame for applications. If I am to generalise, a working individual (full-time job) should start nearly 6 months in advance – this includes taking GRE, college research, and consulting referees/mentors.
Ideally one should be done with GRE and/or IELTS/TOEFL before the application goes live in September.
Am sure you get asked this a lot, but how easy/difficult is it to receive financial aid? Apart from University grants, are there any other avenues that prospective applicants ought to look at?
Grants and scholarship opportunities are myriad. Every University has an internal funding portal which may or may not be linked to your application. Additionally there are external funding opportunities for MPP students. It is, however, an extremely competitive space and one should plan their finances well in advance.
Lastly, any advice for Indian graduates who are considering a master’s abroad?
Most of us come from a place where we obsess about marks. When applying abroad, do not get stuck up on your graduation marks or GRE scores. One should concentrate on ensuring that they have a strong overall profile and adequate experience that shines through as life lessons in the application.