Student Life

United Initiatives

By Silvia Ecclesia

United Initiatives: in the last few months you may have heard of this term. They’re the group facilitating the building of coalitions for several issues, such as the distribution of sanitary products, the distribution of free menstrual cups during the Women’s week, and the Welcome Packet. 

United Initiatives (UI) is a project started in the Fall semester 2020 as a cooperation between the GISA Board, the Feminist Collective (FC), QISA, and the Welfare Committee (WC) with great participation from other initiatives and independent students. 

UI is a platform open to everyone within the IHEID student community for organizing, sharing ideas, building synergies, and collaborating for the achievement of advocacy goals. The idea of UI is to give students a space to voice their concerns and create a shared strategy vis-à-vis the administration. United Initiatives meets two to three times per semester to facilitate the creation of working groups around different topics. The current working groups are advocating for sanitary products, decolonizing the curriculum, Comitée du Développement Durable, scholarships, and two new issues: the consent workshop, and food precarity and mutual aid. 

I talked to Gaya Raddadi and Tobias Drilling, two of the members of the core team and founders of the project, as well as, respectively, advocate members for the Feminist Collective and QISA. 

How did UI started? Where did the inspiration come from? 

Gaya: I have this image in mind: us together with Monideepa (ed., Welfare Committee President), Alexa (ed., former GISA President), Elizabeth (ed., former Welfare Committee President), and Matheus (ed., former Vice-President of QISA) sitting around the table in the back of Picciotto Common Room, discussing our common advocacy goals. I remember thinking ‘This should be a regular meeting, we need to work together.’ There was a gap that needed to be filled for all advocates to come together. The GISA Board does a lot by themselves, but there is space for students to get more involved.  

Tobias: I have the same image in mind [laughs]. Our shared passion in that moment was very inspiring. That’s where United Initiatives started and the GISA Board was very supportive because they have been wanting to do something similar for a very long time. Now we had the resources thanks to our active student body. 

What was the situation of advocacy at the Institute before? 

Gaya: In the last couple of months advocacy started to pick up. Last year there was a shift in the Institute’s culture. With the change of the board, COVID, and the Black Lives Matter movement, there came the need to create a space for activism and re-center students at the core of the Institute’s life. There was this idea that because we are a graduate school, there is no need for advocacy, however there is still a lot of work to do! 

Tobias: There was the need for a platform. The GISA Board made a lot of efforts to make UI visible and a lot of students now are getting super involved with a wish to change the Institute. Both our advocacy positions were created by the beginning of this year based on exactly the desire to bring positive change within the Institute and advocate for our diverse student communities. 

What is the main objective of UI and what would you like to see as the main outcome? 

Gaya: The objective was to give a platform to the student body to discuss their advocacy goals, find common ground and support each other for the achievement of these goals; any outcome belongs to the students. The sustainability of this model is what we want to see. Being used as a space to join efforts and bridge that gap between the student body, the GISA Board and the Administration. It’s not about just one student who engages through word of mouth, but to provide an established platform with a much wider reach. We would like to grow.  

Tobias: It’s about creating a space to use the experiences that people already have, make best use of their resources, so they can actively contribute to the discussion, and empower them to use their abilities towards achieving advocacy goals. UI is the motivational driver but in the end it’s about students doing the work and advocating. That’s the strength and at the same time the biggest challenge for the sustainability of the model. The future of UI is defined by the engagement of individual students. 

From left to right, Monideepa Mukherjee, Tobias Frederic Drilling and Gaya Raddadi, United Initiatives’ core group

What are some challenges you are facing as UI and as advocates for different issues? 

Gaya: Working with the Administration is not easy. The support of the GISA Board was very important. They helped us grow by sharing their experience and their platform. Still, visibility is a challenge: some people in the initiatives knew about us but we would love to see everyone participate. We’re not another initiative! UI is a platform for students and initiatives. 

Tobias: With the Administration, often it is challenging but there are also some positive surprises. There are some people within the Institute involved in advocacy who are already  working in line with our goals. It is beautiful to see their efforts and involvement, some members even sign QISA petitions. One of the challenges UI faces is to go a step further from just meeting and start properly working and organizing within the working groups. To move  from the facilitated space to a space outside of UI where students meet and work on their shared advocacy goals. It worked super well so far but it can still be challenging sometimes. There is the need for some people to take the lead and drive the change. 

We now know how UI works and what is its mission, however, what would you like to see UI become in the future? Do you think it will survive to be a pillar of student’s life at the Institute? 

Tobias: UI will survive for sure, it is on us to make it survive; not on us as individuals but in our roles as student advocates and the next students who are going to take on these roles and become the new advocates. Much of the success also depends on how known UI becomes at the Institute; the more people that know about it, the more join and advocate with us. Every new person brings different ideas to the discussion. The students participating now are often already involved in advocacy but it would be nice for UI to be a platform that is complementary to initiatives and where every crazy ideas and utopian visions are welcome. 

Gaya: There are always gonna be people striving to make our community better in many ways. This sounds an awful lot like MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, but it is something I feel deeply: there is always going to be that positive force for change. What I wish to see for UI is to become institutionalized in a similar way as GISA. Be that bottom-up force for change within our community. 

United Initiatives is a student platform for advocacy. It will meet again soon. See their shared drive here or join them on slack at 

Photo by Silvia Ecclesia

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