Saturday, 16 January 2016

How We Got Here - Sanjna Kapoor & Sameera Iyengar

In this column we feature Founders/CEOs of organisations who have come a long way from the time they founded the cause. Meet Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar who founded Junoon - A stage for theatre

Sanjna (left) & Sameera (right)
 We founded JUNOON because…we wanted to share the deliciousness and richness of the arts with people across India, and make it a part of our daily lives; because we believe that a world infused with the arts is a world that embraces possibility and takes joy in living with each other.

Our one learning has been…the power, reach and beauty of true sharing and collaboration, which allows us to collectively achieve in rich ways what none of us could have every achieved alone.

Challenges along the way...developing the structures, systems and organisational culture that allows us to keep the free creative spirit alive and vibrant for ourselves and for our collaborators; funds (of course!);

learning to lead an organisation as a duo leadership

Our work has come a long way because…we’ve had many people from different walks of life believe in us and our vision, we have an amazing network of artists who have just stepped forward to take up any experiment and challenge, we have been lucky to pull good people into our team who work and contribute with passion and care.
Sanjna Kapoor

Funding for any organisation… is always a tough call. You just have to believe you are going to get the funds. The challenge is not to become someone or something else as you seek funds – the temptation is often there and you have to have the strength to stay anchored in your vision and say no to funds. That integrity and credibility is extremely important in any socially relevant work.

Social Impact according to us is…transforming lives, one person at a time. Infusing people with a sense of possibility so they can imagine and reach for their own individual and collective futures. This means you care about the impact you make in each individual you touch, you see people as people and not as numbers, you try to reach as many people as you can, but never at the cost of the people themselves.

Our thoughts on scaling up…Scaling needs to balance deep impact with reach to numbers. We keep striving for clarity on what level of impact is deep enough for the larger social transformation we desire by connecting people to arts. Scale is also achieved through collaborations, sharing of resources and data, and through building and making available models and approaches that others can adopt. The point is to touch and make a difference to a lot of people – it does not matter if we do it or if someone else does it.

If we could change one thing about the social sector, it would be...we take ourselves less seriously and do our work with more joy in ourselves and others.
Sameera Iyengar

We believe in collaboration...completely! None of our projects would have been realised or had the impact they have managed to have so far if they were not conceived and run in collaboration with like-spirited people and organisations.

The non-negotiables for any collaboration would be…trust, integrity, willingness to work through differences and misunderstandings, investment in each other as people, acknowledgement and celebration of everyone’s contribution, sharing of credit across the board.

Challenges in a collaborative effort are…really sharing ownership of a project. This has to be done consciously and with genuineness. The oversights we inadvertently make are often the most costly mistakes – they can break trust, they can make people or organsiations feel used. We have to be ready to address this, if and when it comes up, with true humility and care.

Cross sector collaboration (bw companies & NGOs) is …necessary, but we need to be clear that what we want to achieve does not get lost in the companies’ agendas. This requires alertness and a willingness to walk away from money, if it affects the overall aim of our work.

In my free time we... “I like hanging out with my dogs, reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, swimming but best of all I like meeting people and chatting and basking in their company.” (Sameera)
“I like to dive into a delicious book, read to my son, getaways into the jungle and scuba diving into the deep blue, balming my soul!” (Sanjna)

If I wasn’t at Junoon, I would probably be… “I have no idea – I’d probably come up with something else that has meaning for me. If India had a better infrastructure for sports, I may have entered the sports world and not the arts when I was younger. But the arts deals with people – who they are, and that’s where I like to be.” (Sameera)

“I would find some work in the field of education, some way of staying connected to children and their holistic education through creativity.” (Sanjna)

About Junoon - we seek to weave arts experiences into the fabric of society. Working closely with artists from theatre and allied arts fields, we strive to build a world imbued with the spirit of the arts, a world where imagination, inquiry, possibility, rigour and empathy are collectively celebrated, nurtured and valued. Our ongoing programmes include Mumbai Local, which offers regular monthly addas with artists and scientists across Mumbai, and Arts at Play with schools – an immersive 5-day arts programme in schools where children get exposed to professional arts practice, engage and interact with artists, attend arts workshops and end up creating a mad wonderful exhibition that transforms spaces in their schools with their expression. We are also a Managing Partner along with the India Foundation for the Arts with SMART (Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre), a 5-month course in theatre management to equip theatre groups to strategically plan and manage themselves more effectively.

This article is from CAP's Quarterly newsmagazine Philanthropy (Sept - Dec 15 issue). To get your printed version of the magazine, write to

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