In Conversation With Ubuntu 2019’s Fest Secretaries: The Diversity of Learnings!

Edited by: Kartika Puri (UG 19)

Recently, we celebrated the second edition of Ashoka University’s cultural festival, Ubuntu. The festival is an opportunity to experience a culturally enriching experience. It brings together food, music, dance, talks, human libraries, haats and so much more! Here’s a conversation with the fest secretaries for this year, Nivedita Nandakumar and Absera Mekonnen. They talk about the vision they had for Ubuntu and their experience in organizing it.

Q1. Ubuntu’s message of ‘I am because you are’ is a beautiful one and this message manifests itself in the festival and its aims and objectives. As this year’s secretaries, what did you hope to achieve with the festival?

  • Nivedita: Ubuntu as a concept is very unique. Its main aim is to celebrate the different cultures that exist around us. I was a part of the first Ubuntu and for me, it was a revelation! I was under the impression that I was adequately informed of the diversity around me, but I had no idea as to the actual extent of it. That is something you can know only if you experience it. So this idea manifested itself in my aims for what I wanted to do with Ubuntu this time as well. I really wanted to replicate that amazing experience of exposing oneself to the richness of different cultures for everyone that is a part of the fest this year and for everyone who is going to attend it.
  • Absera: As I see it, Ubuntu is more like a platform and we are just the means for all these people who are representing different nations to come together and well, have a good time! There is so much to share and learn and it creates an enriching experience. We just want to create that platform. That is really my wish. Also, to repeat what Nivedita said, we wanted to say that there is more diversity out there and there are people from different backgrounds and there’s a whole out there that we need to explore.

Q2. How was the festival different from the previous year?

  • Nivedita: This time we were definitely tried to make the festival bigger. We reached out to a bigger audience and were expecting a greater footfall. We also managed to raise a lot of funds, almost twice the amount raised last year. We also diversified the events we held.
  • Absera: Yes, in terms of logistics, we almost doubled the participants that we have been expecting. We had over 300 participants. In terms of diversity, we had more people coming from different parts of the world. Even the team that we worked with was more diverse in terms of the academic years and talents.

Q3. What have you learnt during the process of organizing it?

  • Absera: Oh, we’ve just learnt so many things! It’ll probably take hours to list it out. But to keep it short, there are many kinds of people that we’ve had the chance to work with. Everyone works and responds differently. So there’s a lot to learn with regards to dealing with people. And obviously, we learnt a lot about dealing with the administration which in itself is a valuable learning experience.
  • Nivedita: I’ve been organizing events on campus since the first semester but I’ve never been at the helm of something like this before. This is the first time that I have been responsible for the operations of an entire fest. This has been both burdening and liberating at the same time. It is also something that sparked confidence in me to apply for the cultural minister. My biggest learning from Ubuntu, however, is that there is more to the world than meets the eye. Meeting new people who are possibly very different from you is super enriching. I don’t know who said this but diversity is the mother of creativity. I’ve just become more aware of the fact that there are more people than just people like me. That’s important learning. And obviously, from a leadership aspect as well, this has been very helpful to me. Another important learning is that to function as a cohesive unit, you need to think of yourself as more than just co-workers. We see each other as family. This learning is something that I’ll probably take forward into any other ventures that I go on to participate in.

Q4. There has always been a lot of confusion around Ubuntu with regards to what actually happens at the festival. Many people on campus seem to be at a loss when it comes to explaining the sort of a festival it is. How did you try to address this issue and what do you think should be done to address it effectively?

  • Nivedita: This is a recurring problem and we have tried several things to address it. We have tried to explain the idea and concept of festival mainly through our events. The previous year, we held town halls to introduce these to the Ashokan community.
  • Absera: There are still some people who confuse Ubuntu with AUISA [Ashoka University International Students Association]. And there are some others who are under the impression that Ubuntu is a club or a society on campus. We’ve also heard people calling it a mini-Banjaara [the college cultural festival). But honestly, the best way to know what Ubuntu is all about is to attend it.

Q5. What was the most challenging thing about Ubuntu?

  • Absera: Firstly, the people who we worked with and target are part of a very niche community. Our audience too is a very niche and finding access to this target audience required us to go through personal contacts, which was part of the challenge. Another challenge is that since we have a very broad theme attached to our event, finding sponsors was difficult.
  • Nivedita: Apart from these, another very important challenge was getting people excited about the event. Even though we’ve attempted in multiple ways to convey what Ubuntu is, there’s still a lot of ambiguity attached to its concept and what the fest really means. That has been the most challenging part in a way. Getting people engaging with the idea of Ubuntu in Ashoka and getting them as excited as we are about it.