Finding Opportunity in Crisis: New Rise Up Leaders Reflect on Virtual Accelerators

As Rise Up adapts to deliver our Advocacy and Leadership Accelerators virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reflecting on the challenges and opportunities created by this shift. We asked some of our newest Rise Up Leaders from Mexico and India to share about their experiences so far participating in our inaugural virtual Accelerators. Read on to hear what these new Rise Up Leaders are learning, what they find challenging and rewarding, and how they are adapting and staying motivated during these difficult times.

Leader responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Mariana Juárez Moreno,
CEO, Apoyare, García Cedillo Foundation, A.C.

Marina participating in the Rise Up Accelerator at home. Photo provided by Mariana Juárez Moreno.

“At first it was a challenge to take the sessions online, because I was not used to it. It was difficult for me to connect emotionally with other people at first, since I am very used to taking workshops in person. Little by little I got used to it, and now I feel that I can connect with all of them, even though each one of us is in our own home.

What has been most gratifying to me is being able to meet wonderful people who share the goal of improving the lives of girls, youth, and women. I have learned a lot from the experiences of others and from the methodology of the Rise Up model. It has led me to rethink a lot about the work we are doing and to approach it in a new way.

It has helped me a lot to question where the roots are of the problems we are trying to solve and to think of new solutions that we had not imagined. One of the most important points I have learned is to use political advocacy to create lasting changes that will continue to benefit more girls, adolescents, and women.

I try to do all my work before the session, then dedicate myself solely and exclusively to the workshop. Each session leaves me with many lessons learned it is one of the moments I look forward to the most of the week.”

Maria de Lourdes Moreno Estrada
President, Santa María de Lourdes, A.C.

“Being a Rise Up Leader is very gratifying for me and for my organization. The training has been very interesting and comprehensive, so it is very important to continue in the process and I greatly appreciate having been selected to participate.

I have learned about how to give feedback. I have learned that advocacy is political and about human rights, gender, feminism, and how to engage girls in advocacy. Recently, I learned to use the problem tree to properly understand the causes of problems and their effects, in order to create viable solutions.

The same cause that motivated me to found my organization — fighting for the political rights of women so that their voices can be heard in all spaces — keeps me inspired, even in these times of confinement due to the pandemic. And in these circumstances, it is especially important that women occupy decision-making positions, so they can improve their living conditions and those of their family. Ensuring that they can do so and live free of violence drives me to keep going every day.”

Urenda Queletzu Navarro Sanchez
Research Professor, San Luis Potosí Autonomous University

“The most important learning I have had in the Advocacy and Leadership Accelerator so far is to think of advocacy as a strategy to generate changes and transform realities. This requires thinking about how to engage a diverse group of actors to make these changes possible and thinking of our projects as joint and intersectoral actions.

I am motivated by the thought that the advocacy project that I am currently developing could impact how the university community addresses a problem as deep as sexual harassment, which primarily affects young female students.”

Minerva participating in a Rise Up Accelerator session at home. 

Minerva de los Ángeles Gallegos Dávalos
Project Coordinator, Promoción Social Integral A.C., Colonia Juvenila (Youth Colony)

“Suddenly, everything now revolves around this crisis and our ‘new way of life’ has negative impacts: our health and jobs have been put at risk, the plans and objectives we had for the future have changed, and we have seen how inequalities grow from day to day.

I want to share two things that motivate me in this period; first, learning and sharing experiences with others has helped me stay creative and connected to the mission for which I work; second, it inspires me to think that from this great collective crisis, perhaps the greatest one that I will have to see, I have a great capacity to create, put these new learnings into practice, collaborate, be empathetic, seek new solutions, and see and build the world in a better way.

The Rise Up Accelerator has not only made me aware of issues that are vital to my life, it is educating me and motivating me to be a small piece of the solution, so that more girls, young people, and women can, like me, see an opportunity in this crisis.”


Srijita Majumder
Research and Documentation Coordinator, Right to Education Forum

“The year 2020 started on a positive note when I was selected as one of the participants in the Rise Up Accelerator program. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seven day residential program had to be shifted to weekly online sessions. While it is definitely challenging to keep pace with weekly assignments for the workshops, along with regular work and other responsibilities, I am rewarded weekly with two hours of highly energetic and vibrant discussions around issues that I am deeply passionate about. The design of the program, which begins with concepts like gender and sexuality and eventually moves towards advocacy and how to frame projects around it, creates a comprehensive understanding of gender equity, which will help me in my work with girls and women.”

Srijita (third from left) working in the field before the pandemic began. Photo provided by Srijita Majumder.

Avik Dey
Program Officer, India Country Office, Girls’ Education Program, Room to Read

“Looking at the world around me — where people are starving, struggling for jobs, have no shelter, no livelihood, are departed from their families — I feel more responsible and I feel I am fortunate to have regular meals, shelter, a job, and a family to take care of — this makes me feel motivated. Besides that, I personally feel this is the time to actually do something — innovate in programming, reach out to the unreached, and bring some positive changes — I am constantly motivating and inspiring myself with all these thoughts.

Sidharth Chopra, Program Lead, Samarthya

“The fact that the entire program had to shift online unexpectedly because of the pandemic is a little discomforting for me, because I love attending programs in person. It is more difficult for me to connect with people virtually. At the same time…since the sessions are happening virtually, we also get to meet various leaders from different fields and geographies, which might have been difficult if these sessions were happening in person. Interactions with my fellow Rise Up Leaders are also full of learnings and inspiring both during the sessions and beyond.”

Venu Arora
Co-Founder/Executive Director, Ideosync Media Combine

Venu (center) conducting a focus group before the pandemic. Photo provided by Venu Arora.

“The pandemic has thrown up many challenges both at work and at home. However, the Accelerator sessions are rewarding because they enable an exchange of ideas and learning with peers who are equally passionate about bringing social change and transformation. It is rejuvenating to build new networks and find new co-travelers. Additionally, the sessions force me to make time to think constructively and in a structured manner to plan for the advocacy goals I want to achieve.”

Reena Banerjee
Founder and CEO, Nav Srishti

“Although I have been working with many networks and forums for a long time, by participating in the Rise Up Accelerator I am now learning in-depth how we can do advocacy smartly and effectively, including what tools we need and whom we need to reach (officials, politicians, media, etc). Virtual sessions have many limitations which is a challenge for us. The reward is that I find my confidence level has increased and have had vast learnings on issues like women’s empowerment.”

Sushmita Mukherjee
Director of Gender and Adolescent Girls at Project Concern International, India

“It’s such a vibrant, resourceful platform and I always itch to learn more. That’s rewarding. The rich discussions are rewarding. Seeing our U.S. colleagues wide awake [during sessions which take place late evening Pacific Time] with energy and enthusiasm along with all of us in India – that’s rewarding. I am falling short of words to describe how rewarding it is to be part of this platform.”