Redefining Leadership with Rajpreet Sidhu

Sep 21, 2022

Rajpreet Sidhu is a community organizer around gender based violence, environmental justice and radical planning and a Redefining Leadership Fellow at Platform.

Rajpreet graduated in April 2021 from the University of Toronto Scarborough with a bachelor’s in International Development Studies and Human geography. While there, she completed her co-op in Nepal. The nonprofit in Nepal dealt with mostly issues around women’s access to different things like land as well as barriers including child marriage. After feeling like the experience wasn’t for her, she made a switch to more place based work in Tkaranto.

During her undergraduate studies, Rajpreet got involved with Scarborough Studies Collective, while also working in transit advocacy, sexual violence work with the student union, where she was eventually hired as a Communities Program Coordinator. There, she was able to start building their own Workplace Anti-Sexual/Gender Based Violence Policy. She is currently working with agriculture and food justice in Southern Ontario in a few different avenues.

Learn more about how Rajpreet is redefining leadership in this Q&A!

1) What inspired you to push for the work you do? How did you get started in community organizing?

I felt a very big gap between the people who were in the conversations and the people who were experiencing it. Everything I got involved in, was really personal to me, which again, is the real basis the personal is political. Something like Scarborough transit, I felt really comfortable doing this work, because I’m the one who takes the bus every day. And I have things to say. So I was looking at different advocacy channels that I could use and then funding mechanisms to get there.

I think feeling comfortable in the work that I’m doing is key to me. How do you build on solidarity? And same thing with sexual gender based violence on campus. I was like, “how do I experience these things?”

2) What does community work look like to you now versus when you first got started?

As a young person, I definitely felt very constrained by the means of an institution, which at that point was the university for me. I was really approaching it like a student. Instead of someone who was going to events or talking to people outside of the university. I think one of the things that started changing for me was community partners. You start to meet the same people and see the same faces when you’re like, Oh, I got this. I think with community, you need to be fixed somewhere. I probably thought about this too, because I read around a fair bit. When I lived in Scarborough versus what I like that’s sort of like: “Oh, that was the place that I’m fixed within”. This is a community where I see myself changing. But recently, I’ve actually moved. So now I feel like where’s my role? Or where do I like to sit? I think a lot of my guiding principles are place based.

I think putting my apples towards really hyper local issues, and getting to know people in that community as well. I think I’ve learned the lesson to be really intentional with my time because it’s a lot of unpaid work most of the time. I think it’s okay that the community work is unpaid. So you have to be really intentional with what you can do. What projects am I intentional about? What things am I going to actually follow up on? I’ve learned that if you don’t follow up, it’s kind of a reflection on you, but it’s also not the way to do good work.

3) What is the most meaningful leadership advice you received? How do you implement that in the work you do?

Valuing slowness is something I’ve really thought of. What unnecessarily pushes us to be fast workers in building these movements?

The message is intentionality. Why are you in this space? What can you do in this space? What is your role? And what do you offer? I think I’ve really thought about that over the years as a leader. What are my skill sets? What do they offer? What can I bring? And what can I share with others? I think it’s really nuanced in the way people have protested: was leadership only your work in a team?

4) Which project stood out the most to you? What kind of community impact did it have?

The work I did at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union was creating their first workplace Anti-Sexual/Gender Based Violence Policy. I ensured the work listened to survivors and was trauma informed, as the policy would impact student survivors.

I felt alone in that work.

I’m really proud of and I think it was meaningful to a lot of people to have resource pages and conversations around consent. We did a lot of different programming, like trauma informed yoga, sexual health awareness week and promoting a bursary for survivors. Unfortunately, the experience felt lonely due to the pandemic and the lack of follow-up or care for this work in student organizing spaces. It was really difficult to build meaningful partnerships with community organizations during the circumstances as well.”

5) What can you tell someone looking to get started in organizing, or looking to do better and more meaningful work?

Before you go off on your own, I think there’s a lot of value in people who have their own organizations and things like that. But if you have an idea or passion, there’s probably an organization already doing it; I would look for the grassroots organizations doing it.

Also, not spreading yourself too thin I think is key and something I really wish that I did when I started. I would tell myself to pick one thing, one organization or one campaign that I wanted to get involved in and put all my time and youth there, and see how that goes. It’s really trial and error.

6- What do you think is/are important when engaging in anti-racist/anti-oppressive work?

I think having a strong sense of what your value is, but also being flexible, and adapting to new people’s opinions and thoughts. A strong sense of where to put your time, energy and anti-racism, anti-oppression work, because I’ve always really thought that like, and I think this is the general consensus now. Fighting with people in comment sections or engaging with racists has always been a waste of time. Think of it as kind of like a balance book. It’s not necessarily my job to convince the privileged men who don’t listen to listen. I’d rather spend my time supporting survivors, or marginalized people in funds and resources instead. How are you supporting your own community? 

You can connect with Rajpreet on Linkedin.