About Shilpa

Shilpa Shah

I am a Community Empowerment specialist working across disciplines. I support change-makers in the community development, campaigning, education and health sectors to build healthier, more equal group working relationships.

I work through three interconnected rolesfacilitator, community-builder and singing leader.

My work has been described as ‘gently radical’. I help clients to build kinder, more curious and courageous connection with themselves and others – and to fully embrace the change created as a result.

What this might look like in practice:

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shilpa shahMy Story

Sometimes I’m singing in South London with elders with breathing problems or with children at school. At other times supporting front-line workers in Manchester to explore power in their organisations, or travelling to facilitate an international strategy workshop for 100 environmental justice campaigners. This variety reflects my own journey and growth from an activist, to a community builder, facilitator, and song leader, with each of these roles informing and strengthen each other. 

A relationship begins with stories. So here is mine.

I am the daughter of Kenyan-Indian parents, whose community-mindedness brought people of all nationalities passing through my childhood home. I watched my parents de-mystify complex form-filling, foster teenagers who needed a home and stand up against unfairness in local groups. I sang bhajans one moment and danced the Locomotion the next. I folded samosa for the local fete and also threw tantrums about women having to do all the work in the kitchen. I felt sad and scared about poverty, pollution and racism. And grateful for the abundance and care I grew up with. I learnt to speak Gujarati with my Ba’s (grandmas) and BBC English with my White friends and school teachers. I was too English to be Indian and too Indian to be English. When I was young I just wanted to be normal. Now I realise this in-between experience is a blessing.

There is never a single story. Living on the margins of different groups has helped me see the usefulness of bridging between different stories, communities and methods. The work I do aims to help people tell their story and to listen to others with respect and curiosity.

As a young idealist, I went to the World Social Forum in Mumbai – thousands of activists from around the world gathering under the banner ‘Another World is Possible’. It was wonderful in many ways, yet I left feeling heavy. I observed how Western activists (in comfortable hotels) and local Indian activists rarely spoke with each other. I saw how the meetings were packed with too much information and rushed. How people burnt out over the course of the week. I could see we were creating inequality and poor health in the way we organised.

The question ‘how do we create a better kind of change?’ led me to explore a different way of working. And brought me into contact with many others asking the same, from many different fields of experience.about page

A Learning Journey

I studied an MSc in International Policy Analysis and took to heart the call to ‘Think Global, Act Local’. I saw the most powerful change-making happening in the margins of UK society and committed myself to working alongside those whose voices and needs are not valued by the powerful. Akashi, a creative action-research project to challenge the exclusive nature of environmental justice activism was followed by leading the Rights and Justice Community Empowerment programme at Friends of the Earth.

I learnt community development methods with FCDL, had a big ‘aha’ moment learning about radical pedagogy and received a six month mentorship learning participatory methods at the Institute of Development Studies. These gave me a grounding in education and community building principles and methods that can create transformation rather than replicate our current power structures. I realised that these methods are useful when facilitating large meetings in organisations, not just in local community settings – helping us to be kinder, more trusting and powerful with each other. 

Sometimes we need more than words to connect heads with hearts, bodies and spirits. Community singing helps me and others express our diversity and common strengths with stronger voices. I have learnt how singing develops good health and wellbeing and how it can support those who have experienced trauma. Singing with others is an essential part of my self-care. The practices of breathing better, body awareness and voice development, as well as the supportive connection with others, help to sustain me in my work.

As a freelancer since 2013, I blend learning from the different approaches and groups I work with in a flexible way.

Shilpa ShahThis journey has been characterised by precious connections, deep joy, painful mess-ups and constant learning. At the heart has been a desire to understand how our inner change journeys relate with interpersonal change and change in the world. And a love for learning and sharing that learning on. My work is the product of many gifted and generous teachers. 

I like being in nature and with family. I like cooking, growing veg, dancing to Bollywood music, swimming, writing and taking photographs. The photos behind the quotes on each page are taken in North London.

 

Practical details

I live in North London and travel in the UK and internationally for projects. I prefer trains to flights (for journeys less than 12 hours) to reduce environmental impact. I charge for my time on a sliding scale according to the size of your organisation – please contact me to discuss how I work and receive a quote. I do some voluntary work, prioritising women and children’s organisations local to me and groups working for migrant rights.

If you think my skills may support you in your work, please contact me here to explore how we might work together