Delhi’s Bad Air …

Air pollution is reaching peaks in Delhi and the city – citizens and government – have finally started to fight it actively. One major cause for the bad air is of course traffic. In the first two weeks of January 2016 the Delhi government was running “odd-even” –  meaning one day all “odd-mumbered vehicles” were allowed to drive in the city, the next day all “even-numbers”. The campaign achieved a lot of media attention and a website for commute partners was launched by the government.

After the two weeks the environmental impact of the campaign was discussed manifold … political games on all sides. It would be insane to expect a significant reduce of air pollution after two weeks but what the intervention proofed is that the citizens are ready to take action and that the overall traffic situation was extremely relaxed. Everyone I have spoken to said this. There was no one complaining of not having been able to take the car. And most of Delhi’s citizens would do it again … So there is hope on the horizon.

What also became obvious during odd-even is that there aren’t enough measurement points in the city to serve all citizens equally. Now there is some kind of pressure to install more units and also to push the citizens somehow to action. This can only be done when they are somehow actively involved. Knowing about bad air is one thing – doing something actively against it is something different. The streets in Delhi are packed again and odd-even is almost history in this sense.

I’ve wirtten earlier on this blog that I am involved in an environment open data project which actually would close exactly this gap. While I was in Delhi the last 10 days I took the chance and spoke with Mrutyunjay Mishra (M2), co-founder of Juxt Smartmandate, a data analytics company based in Delhi and Hyderabad, and driving force behind the India Open Data Association – a non for profit company which believes in the open hardware and software movement and is promoting “open” as the secret for success to tackle the massive environmental issues in  Delhi and the rest of India is facing.

With M2 I’ve talked about the status of Open Data in India in general, about potential open data business models and what it takes to make a real impact – meaning not only collecting data but also creating communities and drive action. The first 15 minutes are about India in general, the last 20 minutes we tackle the other issues!

(Just click the play button and the audio file will start)


Just this morning I was reading an article featuring a French woman residing in Gurgaon (South od Delhi) who has started going around town, taking photo portraits of common Delhiites, making them pose with masks and X-ray films of a pair of lungs. As a matter of fact the air pollution is heavily affecting people’s health. The numbers of patients with breathing problems and many other symptons of pollution are skyrocketing!


Here is the interview in an abbreviated form:

Ulrike Reinhard: You’ve started this initiative India Open Data Association (IODA). What is it all about ?

Mrutyunjay Mishra, IODA (MM): Our cycle is so to speak Data.Knowledge.Action. We collect data. We make it publicly available in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand way and – knowing what the data is all about – we trigger action to solve problems which are of public interest. Let me give you one example. Our environment project. We started it last year at Kumbha Mela. Back then we’ve tested our open hardware machines for collecting various environment data such as dust, …. . The results of this field test helped us to fine-tune our machines, make them more accurate and sustainable and we optimized our software – meaning sending the data to the server and make it available. The new prototypes were ready for the odd-even experiment in Delhi in the first half of January 2016. There we’ve had the chance to compare at specific locations the measurements of our machines with those cost-intensive machines of the government. And it turned out we were absolutely competitive – not as precise as the high-end machines which cost more than one cruore INR, but within an tolerable variance. Government officials told us this.

Our next step is to cover with at least 40 of our machines more locations in Delhi, send the data to our server and make it available on our website. We visualize the data so that it is easy to understand for the public and we provide it in cvs-format so that everyone who wants to play around with the data can use it. With more machines out there and with more location-based data coming in we can serve the public better and provide knowledge how good or bad the air in Delhi is. We assume once people know how horrible air quality at their own place is and how it affects their health – they will chance behavior. This is when our cycle Data.Knowledge.Action. is completed.

So the India Open Data Association functions as a platform …

MM: Yes, I’d like to call it a platform. Because its role is to connect ideators, makers, financiers and users. We’ll be able to very clearly show that Juxt SmartMandate, which is my existing business and one of the founders of IODA, led the role of the ideator in this environment project and also brought in some seed funding. We connected with makers in China, where we bought the open source hardware for the machines and we found makers in India who assembled the hardware and designed a handy box. A new start-up is selling these boxes out of Gujarat. Other makers were working on the software and developed a mobile app which users can download to receive real-time environment data of various locations. So this model is working. What we need to do now is to scale it. For this we need more money … but we believe we delivered a strong proof of concept.

… and IODA is setup as a membership model, a non–for–profit company. Why have you chosen this structure? Why would a for profit company join?

MM: The organizational structure allows us to have maximum 200 members – these can be individuals and these can be organizations who are really interested in the open data ecosystem in India. To become a member you pay an annual fee and the one-time joining fee which is very nominal – I think it’s 5000 INR one time and 10.000 INR annual. So it is affordable for many. And because the legal structure only allows 200 members we’ve created one additional layer called “associate members” which allows us to include more if needed. Members have one voting right. So the structure is a more democratic one. We’ll see how it evolves. Initially we are looking for academics who are working in this field. We are looking for organizations and open data enthusiasts who have been doing groundbreaking work. We are looking for mentors, people who can guide us in this whole initiative. So there is a set of initial 15-20 members coming in. Hopefully also some financiers who provide a small fund to initiate projects. That is the answers to the first part of your question.

The second part – why would a for profit company join? We truly believe in the power of networks and in the power of many. The problems which we are planning to address and hopefully solve – as I said earlier – are problems which are relevant for the public. For all us. These are BIG problems like air pollution, waste, network-coverage – problems which can’t be solved by a single company, a single maker or even a single government. They can only be solved when we collaborate and co-create in a transparent manner – the ideaters, makers, users and financiers. And this is why we’ve chosen exactly this structure – it’s for us the best existing legal structure to achieve all this. That’s our basis. So now suppose you are the ideator of an open data project – and “open” is the premise – and you run your own private for profit company. Just like my company Juxt SmartMandate does in the open environment project. You define the skill set needed to make this project possible. The goal is that within IODA you’ll find the makers who are interested in your idea, you’ll find scientist who evaluate your data and so on. If the idea is good enough it will be translated into a product and/or service and we’ll find funding – meaning all the people will get paid. Everyone is working for profit. So the people who are making this project happen are all for profit. But the frame set in which all of this happening is a non-for-profit entity – it provides the basic management and the platform. So it’s a fairly good structure that way.

Where are the potential revenue streams for a company?

MM: For us at Juxt SmartMandate we see various revenue streams. Our core business is data analytics – so for us it’s business to analyze big data streams, to reduce complex data and translate the emerging patterns into easy to understand graphics and visualizations (meaning not losing any information while reducing the complexity), we structure data and provide downloadable data-packages and we might even develop desktop or mobile applications for the end-user. The person who developed the environment monitoring kit for our first project started meanwhile his own business and sells these boxes. So there are plenty of revenue streams … I am sure.

You were also saying that everyone can use the data – meaning also people/organizations who are not member of IODA?

MM: Yes, that’s true. We’ll provide all the data we are collecting on our internet platform in cvs-format. Everyone can download the data packages and play around with it and explore and build. All the data collected in any of the IODA-projects will be published under the a Non Commercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license, which allows the data to be shared and adapted as long as the appropriate credit is given to the creator and all the changes made are clearly mentioned. Commercial usage remains with those who initiated, collaborated and funded the project.

What is the current status of IODA?

MM: Regarding IODA as an organization I can say, that it is registered under Indian law and ready to practice. The bank account is opened and we can now invite the first members to join. We’ve already spoken to a few organizations and people and we are happy to announce our first members soon. Our website with the basic information is ready for launch.

Juxt SmartMandate will bring in the environment project I was talking about earlier. The status is that 40 boxes including the software are ready to be rolled out all over Delhi. The project website is ready for launch and the mobile app can be downloaded. For a successful start it’s crucial to increase the number of users.

What other projects can you envision ?

MM: I can only speak for my own company. We are planning to bring in at least two more projects once the environment project is up and running. One is the crowdsourcing of network coverage problems and analyzing the main reasons why in India the network is so fragile in order to achieve a more stabled infrastructure. Another one is the mapping of crimes let say in the city of Chennai. The data is publicly available but it is provided in a way that it is basically of no use. We are planning to visualize it in a way that let’s say women can see on a map which areas in Chennai are known for which kind of crime at a certain time of a day. So they simply can avoid going there. This doesn’t mean that they can’t become victim in a crime – but it can certainly increase the chances NOT to become a victim. I am sure other people / companies have many more ideas … I am really curious to see IODA taking off.

Truth untold

Fukushima is just another story where governments and media try desperately to hide the truth … and so are all the EU governments … do they tell us anything about the perils? Nope.

Just watch and see what the future will bring because the present is a lie:

Campaign: Free Bassel

I added the following comment to Hisham’s post (global voices) regarding


My comment:

Dear Hisham,

thank you for your blogpost.
I believe it will bring a smile on Bassel’s and Noura’s faces.

I just came back from Syria and I met Noura, Bassel’s wife and we’ve had a long conversation. Noura is a very brave, warm and intelligent woman. Bassel can be very proud of her. They see each other twice a week. The Syrian government has lifted her travel ban – but she will stay in Syria and take care of Bassel and many other political prisoners for whom she volunteers. Bassel himself seems to be in OK condition regarding his physical and mental health. For now.

Together with Bassel there are currently 30.000 (estimated number) political prisoners in Syria’s government prisons. The prisons seem to be not necessarily controlled by government, the prison security apparatus has become an institution of its own during the war. And arbitrariness is what we see. Hardly anyone of the detained is facing a trial, many of them disappear – and no one knows where. The number of requests sent to the officials is countless, relatives very often have no idea what has happened to their loved ones.

It is very, very difficult to identify those in this system who need to be addressed in order to help and in order to achieve something. This is hard and above all long lasting work. And you never know what the outcome will be. But this is THE crucial point. Without them nothing will be achieved.

It can’t be done over night. And it can’t be done with campaigns who don’t reach into this system. And just imagine if they would be heard within this security system – what would be the effect? Frankly speaking – it’s hard to imagine that the effect will be a positive one for the specific person. Unfortunately.

So what can we really do ?
What will have a positive impact on Bassel’s situation?

We were discussing this on a panel at re:publicca14 where two Bassel campaigners from San Francisco presented Bassel’s case. And I’d like to take the chance here with this audience to discuss our options … and I hope you will allow this.

The most promising option from our discussion was to create a win-win-situation for all sides involved: the government, the security people, the prisoner. Imagine a delegation of “high Western officials” would travel to Syria handing over a list of prisoners’ names to government / security officials. If the prisoners would be released everyone would become GOOD PRESS … positive media awareness. Could be one way … still the question remains how to identify those who are really controlling the prison.

Any ideas, comments, suggestions are welcome … !
Please start this discussion and keep up your great work. It is essential.



Additional remark: What came into my mind after I posted the comment (which is waiting for moderation), that if one would look deeper into the process of reconciliation in Homs, Syria, one could learn about strategies how to approach this complex issue, how to set up a network which could launch an effort.

Lattakiah – A day in pictures and video

Hours after we arrived in Damascus from Tehran we went on to Lattakia – a 330 km bus ride.

mapThe road was surprisingly good – no major destruction. There wasn’t much traffic and the streets around the highway were empty. Everything seemed to be quiet. The entire highway is under government control and we felt absolutely safe. Every 10-15 km we had to pass a check point which slowed down the journey. We easily doubled the estimated three hours drive by Google.

Only now and then we saw some destroyed houses – it almost felt like picnic ride to the sea. When we turned west in Homs and drove down to the Mediterranean Sea, all of a sudden spring was there. Everything was blooming – nature “re-loaded”. Hopefully a sign for entire Syria.

The Governor of Lattakiah, Mr. Abdel-Qader, was welcomed us with tea, coffee and delicious sweets … extraordinairy cookies;-) While most of our group was listening inside to the Governor’s words I went outside and connected with the people in the park. It didn’t take long and I had a bunch of kids and parents around me and we had a great time giving away the peace cards Indian and Pakistani young students had made for the Syrian kids. While I was reading out their messages (luckily translated by a friendly visitor of the park) the kids started to sing and write messages back to the Indians and Pakistanis… A beautiful intermezzo ….

Me and the translator handing out the peace cards

Inside the topic was much more serious. Governor Abdel-Qader told our delegation that the Syrian people are facing with steadfastness an international plot against their country. He pointed to thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters that swarmed across the Turkish border on March 21, 2014, with Turkish military support to attack Christian Armenian Syrians north of Lattakiah. Eyewitnesses reported that 50-90 residents were massacred, others taken into Turkey against their will, and a large number sent in flight to Lattakiah. We visited some of these refugees, who were staying in an Armenian Church.

Inside the courtyard of the Armenian Church in Lattakiah

Outside the church Father Dave and Salomom, two Australians from our delegation, were running the “alternative program”: boxing. The boxing priest, 6th degree black belt and social activist (a real character I can tell you) and Solomon, a real boxing champion from Nigeria (now living in Australia) rocked the street;-) They carried the “equipment” all the way from Australia with the vision to start sport activities for Syrian children to bring them back to “normal life”. They’ve had several meetings with the Sports Ministry in Damascus and various clubs. Hopefully something will come out of it!

The “warming up” phase: Father Dave and Solomon

It didn’t take long and the kids took over …

Our next stop inside Lattakiah was a refugee camp where people from Haram, near Idlib, Syria, found shelter. They told us horrifying stories (watch the video further down). Over a year ago hundreds of foreign fighters had crossed from the nearby Turkish border, kidnapped over 300 people and brutally killed another 150. Many had fled and were afraid to return to their area, seeking instead to live in as refugees in Lattakiah. They also reported that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters received support from the Turkish military, and launched cross border artillery, tank fire and missile attacks against not only Syrian Army positions but at the civilian population of Lattakiah. (Some Syrians told us that Turkey has evolved into a major military operational base for a NATO backed invasion of Syria.)

We delivered parts of the two tons medical aid and toys we brought from Iran and we tried to cheer up the kids at least for a little time by making music for them. And again a boxing session took place.


Tobias Andreas Dracoulis, another Australian in our delegation, playing for the kids

It was already dark when we arrived at our hotel in Lattakiah. A few of us were too tired to attend the last sessions of the day – an official dinner in some restaurant 10 minutes away from the hotel. We stayed at our place and had a lovely dinner with delicious Syrian food and local red wine! A long day came to an end …

Peaceful morning in Lattakiah (view from my hotel room)

Just before we left Lattakiah for Homs, I did this interview with Paul Larudee, an American born in Iran, now working for various NGOs on Middle East issues. He summarizes pretty well our experiences in the refugee camps.

Downtown Damascus April 2014

Here are two videos I have taken during Holy Week 2014 in downtown Damascus – it shows almost “life as usual”. We were on our way from the hotel through the old Souks of Damascus to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in which Patriarch Gregorios Laham celebrated Palm Sunday.

It’s bizarre … “life as usual” accompagnied by the constant sound of the missiles … may be the only way to live through such an era of unrest and war.


The following blog post – a bit longer as usual – is a “report” written by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire on April 24. She sent the piece out to all the delegates of the pilgrimage. Mairead is also a founder of the Peace People. The Peace People began in 1976 as a protest movement against the on-going violence in Northern Ireland.

As an intro to Maired’s text I’d like to add the interview I did with her during our stay in Iran:

But now, here is Mairead’s text:

Ann Patterson and I were honoured to participate in the International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria via Iran, from 5th – 14th April, 2014. During an international delegation to Syria last year, we had both promised to return to Syria, and we also fulfilled a long-held intention to visit Iran.


We arrived in Iran on 5th April, and joined an international delegation of 14 from Lebanon, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, the UK and Germany. We were invited by the Unified Union of Unified Ummah’s, who organized this peace and humanitarian mission via Iran. Although Iranians are themselves suffering economic duress from some of the same nations oppressing Syria, they choose to show solidarity with Syria by sending large amounts of aid, purchased with the individual contributions of thousands of caring Iranian citizens.

We spent four wonderful days in Iran, where we visited Tehran, (for the main meetings and conference), Isfahan (a centre for Iranian and Armenian Christians), and Qom (a religious centre for Shia Muslims, where we met with Shia scholars). There was also a major event at Tehran University, where we spoke to students, and children sang and presented toys, including their own, for Syrian children. We also met with the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and other political representatives.

I was deeply moved by the warmth and friendliness of the Iranian people, and was particularly impressed with the youth. We asked some women students about their hope for the future of their country and they replied that they feared an attack by the US or NATO, but hoped otherwise. We found this sad, as these young people are eager to travel and make friends in other countries, like most young people.

The cities we visited were modern, and the Islamic architecture magnificent, as was the Armenian church. I would encourage people to visit Iran to meet its people and experience its beauty. Indeed I believe this is the only way to peace – people to people and country to country. Foreign women are encouraged to wear the headscarf, out of respect for Iran’s tradition.

During our visit we also met with an Iranian friend, who shared her story of imprisonment and abuse, due to her human rights advocacy. There is no doubt Iran needs to show greater respect for human rights, but many said that it is moving in the right direction.

It was a great inspiration to visit Iran, and I look forward to visiting again in the future. I would like to extend our deepest thanks for our Iranian friends for their wonderful hospitality during our visit to their country.


On 10th April, forty people, including 24 of the most highly respected and well-known cultural and religious Iranian leaders, together with 16 internationals, flew from Tehran to Damascus. We brought medical aid (co-ordinated by Iranian Red Crescent) and also toys and other gifts, all collected with donations from people of Iran and the international visitors.

We were welcomed in Damascus by Dr. Ahmed Khaddour, Mother Agnes Mariam, the Mussalaha organization, Dr. Declan Hayes, and Mohamed Quraish. I would take this opportunity to thank them for their central role in conceiving this project and bringing it to fruition. Other pilgrims joined us from Lebanon, the US, Canada, and other locations.

During the next four days our delegation visited the Great Mosque, Chapel of St. Paul, the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, (in the words of the Iranian Imam, ‘a dream come true for Iranian pilgrims’). It was a great privilege to join and pray with our Muslim and Christian friends.

Our delegation also travelled to Lattakiah and Homs. We saw the damage and spoke to Syrians who were unable to live in their homes and have suffered unspeakable crimes committed by rebels against them. Outside our hotel in Damascus we heard two large explosions that killed a soldier and three civilians in two cars. They were the result of random mortar attacks that plague a city otherwise apparently under control of government forces. Even the wife of the ex-president was killed in her home by such an attack whilst she was cooking breakfast.

In Lattakiah, Governor Abdel-Qader told us that the Syrian people are facing with steadfastness an international plot against their country. He pointed to thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters that swarmed across the Turkish border on March 21, 2014, with Turkish military support to attack Christian Armenian Syrians north of Lattakiah. Eyewitnesses reported that 50-90 residents were massacred, others taken into Turkey against their will, and a large number sent in flight to Lattakiah. We visited some of these refugees, who were staying in an Armenian Church.

We also visited refugees from Haram, near Idlib, Syria. They told us how over a year ago hundreds of foreign fighters had crossed from the nearby Turkish border, kidnapped over 300 people and brutally killed another 150. Many had fled and were afraid to return to their area, seeking instead to live in as refugees in Lattakiah. They also reported that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters received support from the Turkish military, and launched cross border artillery, tank fire and missile attacks against not only Syrian Army positions but at the civilian population of Lattakiah. (Some Syrians told us that Turkey has evolved into a major military operational base for a NATO backed invasion of Syria.)

In Lattakiah we met with Lilly Martin, an American immigrant to Syria who has lived there permanently for 24 years. She told us that missiles are fired daily into Lattakiah from Turkish territory, upon the civilian community, and often killing many people on the streets of the city. She said that Syria was “neither in civil nor sectarian war” and that the crisis that began in March, 2011 in Deraa, Syria, was not a popular uprising, or a revolution but rather a foreign funded and foreign planned attack on the Syrian government and its civilian population, for the express purpose of regime change. When asked, “What do you see as the solution for Syria, and whom do you want to hear this message?” Martin replied, “The solution to the crisis in Syria will come when the United States of America will make a public political decision to stop aiding and supporting terrorism, and specifically the Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates who are killing Syrians daily. I want President Obama to hear my message and the message of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, April 2014.”

This is an interview, I, Ulrike Reinhard, conducted during our stay in Lattakiah with Lilly Martin

In Homs, where the Mussalaha movement began with Mother Agnes Mariam as one of its leaders, and where its members continue to work for peace and reconciliation, we met a group of ex-fighters who have accepted the Syrian government offer of amnesty (the 5th such) and stopped fighting. Some are now working with the Mussalaha movement for a peaceful solution in Syria. (Before leaving Damascus we learned over 100 rebels had agreed to give up their guns and that this is happening throughout Syria.)

We also met with six registered opposition parties. They said that internal problems, such as marginalization of a big part of the Syrian society, was part of the conflict, but that Syrians could deal with these problems, without foreign intervention and internationalization of the crisis in order to implement foreign agendas.

During a reception, the religious leaders, including Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun and His Beautitude, Patriarch Gregorios Laham, shared their message that Syria is united in its diversity, and their belief that Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and resolve their differences in a national dialogue and without the use of guns. They believe in a Syria that is created by Syrians and not by outside forces. Like most Syrians, they are sure that if other countries will stop the flow of arms, fighters and other interference in Syria, the Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and rebuild Syria together. We were also informed that they all support the planned elections in spite of the fighting.

Our delegation left Syria inspired by and hopeful for the Syrian people, for peace in their country, and we ask our countries and indeed all countries, to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Syria.

To all those who have lost loved ones, we extend our deepest sympathy. We thank our hosts and the Syrian people for their kindness and hospitality and assure them of our solidarity as they rebuild their country, which has suffered so very much.

PEACE PILGRIMAGE TO SYRIA VIA IRAN  5-14 April, 2014Further Links to our Peace Pilgrimage:

Syria Solidarity Movement

Conversations in Syria

Father Dave’s blog

It’s not PRO Assad but AGAINST takfiri

I am not a high profile christian but I was with them on the peace pilgrimage;-) Father Dave, a great “priest” character who is crazy about boxing, and John Shipton, Julian Assange’s father, both great travel companions, in an interview with RT in London. I can only agree with what they are saying – here are the three major points they are making:

  • Syrian people take their destiny in their own hands and successfully start reconcilliations in their local areas …
  • Bashar Assad is stronger than ever. One CANNOT say the Syrians including the opposition are pro Assad, but they are most definitely AGAINST the alternative: Takfiri and foreign fighters.
  • The tragic role Western and Arabic media was and partially still is playing in this war.

Both of them went directly from Damascus to London to see Julian who is living now for almost 3 years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Please take your time an watch these 12 minutes:

Official start of the Peace Pilgrimage – Today

After 3600 km on the road – all the way from Delhi – I arrived this morning via bus in Teheran. WOW, what a trip so far. I got stuck twice but I made it just 3.5 hours before the official start;-)

And yes, I will follow up with some blog posts later including some nice pictures from incredible Balochistan.

On my way to Teheran many people have been asking me: Why are you doing this?

Basically I have two major reasons:

Firstly, I do believe that it is very important to show the people in Syria that I not only think about them, but that I really care and be there. It gives them hope. And hope is simply all they have. I know they will happy to see me – even without giving aid – it will show show them: they are NOT forgotten. A very simply basic human desire. I carry about 150 peace cards from students in India and Pakistan with me which I will give the Syrian kids.

For me it is a question of priorities. It is not that I can easily afford this trip (which is partially funded) or that I do have the extra time doing it. In every free minute I work on a project back home in Germany and I continue my work for we_school in India. Virtually, with a huge amount of online time. I do it because I am convinced it is the right thing to do. Each border I have been crossing so far on this trip wasn’t a border between “friendly countries”. The tensions between India and Pakistan are high (Kashmir); the American influence in Pakistan is stretching the nerves of the Iran-Pak relations and crossing Balochistan (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran) is a layer on top of all: They are neither friendly with the governments in their countries nor are they in freedom with themselves. Tribes, warlords and foreign interests (India, USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia … ) keep the unrests going. There is no honest interest in peace. And then there is the Pak-Syria connection: The highest number of jihadists in Syria are coming from Pakistan!

Secondly, I am really so tired and desperate about our “Western” attitudes. I lost confidence in our media and our politicians. One of the reasons we started we-magazine a few years ago. I see capitalism running against the wall and destroying the last ethics and morals in politics and economics. What we witness in Syria is  THE playground in the world of money and political interests. None of the countries involved cares about the Syrian people. Nor did they care about the Libyans, Iraquis, Afghanis, Pakistanis … you name it.

By joining this Peace Pilgrimage from the “East” doesn’t mean I do not say Assad and his government is right. No, not at all. Friends of mine are suffering in Syrian government jails. What I am saying is that there needs to be an end with our “Western Imperialism” which is only interested in money and   What America has turned into after 9/11 is a mess. And I feel ashamed that we in the West don’t have the guts to speak up against our allies when they violate over and over again international law. It’s high time to do so. The world needs a conversation among EQUAL partners – equal in its purest sense. It needs an honest conversation and politics should strictly be seperated from money!

And last but not least there is curiosity and some kind of adventuresome spirit which keeps me going;-) No doubt!

So, here we go Peace Pilgrimage: This is our “official” logo and our common statement …


Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, is a civil movement of peace activists for providing humanitarian aid to Syria and strive to bring peace in the country as soon as possible. This movement has eminent personalities and peace activists from all over the world. This caravan after its presence in Iran will move towards Damascus on 9th April, with humanitarian aid which mainly consists of medical and pharmaceutical aids, to help and meet different groups of people and distribute the relief to the war stricken people of Syria. This convoy includes activists from countries such as Britain, Canada, Germany, Lebanon, Australia, Pakistan, India and Iran and they declare that:

This convoy is not affiliated with any of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict and it emphasizes on supporting peace and opposes violence in Syria and explicitly expresses that peace can be only achieved in Syria by dialogue and negotiations.

  • Any foreign intervention in Syria is condemned and only the Syrian people without any pressure from outside decide their own future.
  • Crimes committed in the name of religion by Takfiri extremist in Syria on religious minorities is condemned and we consider it necessary for governments of the region to stop sending arms and financial aids to parties and group involved in the violence.
  • In the end the members of this convoy invite other governments and people movements from various countries try to do their best so that relief reaches the war stricken people of Syria in every possible manner and in the shortest time frame.

5 April 2014 / Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

And for those of you who speak Arabic and/or Farsi, here is the trailer.

The Pulse of India

AAP is definitely a game changer in India. Not a days goes by without the AAP making the headlines in India’s news industry. While Delhi’s political and intellectual elite couldn’t have dreamt of AAP winning the Delhi election last December and rarely gave them any “airtime” – many of them were laughing about AAP efforts only month before their take over – now they blame AAP for riding a dangerous wave, a “wave of anger” as one senior journalist put it in India’s left liberal Tehelka. A wave that could get out of control.

To think about controlling networks and to compare the situation in India with Germany in the late 1920ies reflects a lack of understanding of what the networked world is all about and what its implications are for politics and governance and ultimately for democracy itself. One CANNOT look at AAP WITHOUT looking at self-organisation, participation, connectedness, transparency and complexity. If you exclude this broader view, you only get half of the story.

AAP introduces a complete new system of democracy.
It’s about participation, transparency, openness and empowerment.
Political leaders and political parties in a complete NEW role.
It’s nothing less than a paradigm shift.

Welcome to the 21st Century!
Welcome to the networked world!

For the existing two party system and all its affiliates AAP MUST be disruptive.
Yes, indeed.
But disruption sets the stage for change.
And neither the Congress nor the BJP are capable of guiding the transformation process India’s citizen are asking for.
Both of them have lost their credibility.
Both of them are stuck in the old paradigm.

If India and its elite tackle AAP as a chance and not as a challenge, India can become a role model for the world.
India’s citizen will see the WILL for change and they will take their chance to participate.
Especially the young people.
By 2020, 500 million Indians will be under the age of 30!
This is a dangerous wave if they don’t find jobs and if they can’t feed their families.
For many of them the principles of the new paradigm are like the air they breath – being brought up with the Internet. Which means that they DO understand participation, transparency, openness and empowerment.
It’s them who are asking for a fair share.
Plus India’s new middle class, especially in the cities, which so far has not been addressed by the existing parties.

No matter where you look – politics, economics, society –
fundamental change hardly ever comes from the inside of an existing system.
It always starts on the edge, almost outside the system, and goes mainstream the moment it proves its competency, efficiency and capability.

The political system in India so far has been dominated by BJP and Congress.
They provided plenty of reasons for letting a new system emerge.
Emerge from the edges.
Just as AAP did.
BJP and Congress really seemed surprised when the AAP tsunami hit them.
The AAP tsunami is even going nationwide.
And of course the establishment is scared.

And what do the visionaries and intellectuals who care for the country’s future do?
Just like BEFORE the Delhi election when they didn’t give the AAP any serious thought – they now blame the AAP for making mistakes instead of exploring and trying to understand the ongoing paradigm shift.

Since AAP is something completely NEW it’s pretty much to be expected that mistakes and failures will happen. But what we also see is, that networking systems are much faster in learning than hierarchical and patriarchal systems ever were. And that multiple equilibria can beautifully co-exist.

I’d love to see that the Indian elite which is setting the tone in this context is at least trying to understand what the transformation the AAP is driving is all about!
Even its performance is not yet perfect.
Just think how perfect BJP and Congress are!

Here are three basic principles you should consider when talking about AAP. These principles set the frame of the new paradigm. Basically it’s the move from a container to a network! I don’t mention explicitly openness, transparency, participation and collaboration as the main anchors … all of them are somehow included in the following:

Inclusiveness over Exclusiveness
Let people participate. Respect their input.
From what I’ve learnt in rural India, most of the people are aware of their problems and even know about solutions.
However in the existing system they are not empowered to provide their solutions.
Solutions which will be accepted in their environment because people take “ownership” of their solution.
So we need to provide adequate platforms and forums, online and offline.
Remember RTI?
The idea of writing a manifesto per constituency is definitely a move in the right direction. Include people in the process of finding ideas and defining solutions. Take them into responsibility. Try to figure out where network intelligence is needed and useful and where hierarchy is required. A smooth shift between these two modies is essential.

Emergence over Authorities
It’s no longer about who is “important”, who is the “authority” – it’s much more about the people on the edges and outside the systems (= inner circles) who come up with new ideas and who are disobeying.
Build structures which allow disobedience … only if you push existing boundaries, will innovation happen.
Reputation in a networked world – in the kind of system AAP is trying to set up – is based upon doing things right for the network. If you put garbage in, you only get garbage out. Reputation has to be earned over and over again – it no longer comes with any kind of guarantee. It’s highly dependent on each single project.
The problems we are facing today in each single sector are so manifold and complex that their answers have to equally manifold and complex (see Ashby’s Law).
The patterns and structure will then emerge. The people should be able to bear the complexity, and the system will organize itself.

A 360° Cycle
If you want politicians and parties who create solutions and services that have a use, that can be “sold”, you have to answer the question: Will the citizens accept and “buy”?
And this is what AAP is working on: to close these loops completely – to connect it to each and every citizen. To create this 360 degree. So no matter whether it’s a technology program or an agricultural program, an idea for the water or solar energy – for each of these ideas this loop needs to be closed. And interestingly with many things you can close the loop in the villages/cities/constituencies themselves. This is where politicians can step in. And this makes the system scalable.

 Basically the entire work of the AAP is nothing but innovative management methods. It’s about imagining what India could look like. It’s experimenting, co-creation, collaboration. Co-creation is done by the citizens themselves. Collaboration takes place with the expertise that comes from technology providers or domain experts in any kind of field.
 We live in the 21st century and I do believe that no single politician or a single party can do it on their own. But all together we can do it! And this is the AAP approach.

There are still some missing links like financing for example – which doesn’t work in the old system either – but this can be solved as well.

Some of these principles can already be found in democracies. Take a look at Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Tunisia. None of them is as far or as radical as the very pragmatic approach taken by the AAP. But they all do point in AAP’s direction. What makes AAP so attractive and complex is the fact, that the AAP provides a path – which might be still unpaved in some sectors – where all of these principles COMBINED co-exist. They aren’t separated from each other. Theirs is a truly democratic system with social responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking at its core (for a discussion of this see theinterview I did with Mehmood Khan in February 2013. Mehmood is one of the founding members of AAP).

It’s high time to have a closer look at it !
It’s much more of a chance than a threat.
Get the people ready for it instead of telling them AAP is “dangerous”.
Find ways to explore and experiment.
Get rid of outdated obstacles.
Explain the paradigm shift.
Open up the doors for a greater WE.
And let the borders of the inner circle become permeable.
Think for your country.
And drive the change.

Even though the AAP and citizens don’t have all the answers yet, India will be much better off riding the wave than staying stuck in the old rutt.
Fail; but fail fast.
Explore possibilities and learn by doing so.
Make the processes transparent.
Accept that you can’t control the entire movement.

India’s democracy can only grow by walking this path.

And the children and grand children of the 70+ today will love their elders for doing so.
So what are you waiting for?
Get ready and walk your talk!

India’s new political party ready to disrupt politics-as-usual

Almost exactly one year ago I’ve had dinner with Mehmood Khan in Delhi. It was November 26. He came from the launch of a new political party: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Common Man’s Party. He is one of the founding members – mostly engaged “behind the scenes”, a strategist and a person who strongly believes in the power of open networks. November 26 – by the way – is also the anniversary of India’s adoption of its constitution in 1949.

The birth of the AAP was pretty “loud” – media wise. Mainly because of two issues. First the formation of the AAP resulted out of a conflict between their current leader, Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, a veteran Gandhian social worker from Maharashtra, who led the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement in India. Both, Kejriwal and Hazare were leading figures in Team Anna, a non-political Indian group that lobbied against corruption. Hazare wanted to keep this movement non-political, Kejriwal wanted to politicise. On Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, 2012, they decided to split and move on on separate ways. The second issue media jumped on was the tremendous financial support the newly formed party achieved within its first days of existence. They raised millions of USD from a broad range of people.

Then they basically disappeared from the media scene.

Now they are back in media.
And how!
Here are a few statements:

“For the first time, Delhi will see a three-way contest in assembly elections, thanks to a political party that is only 11 months old but is already making waves.” (= AAP), NDTV

“Surveys predict AAP will sweep Delhi elections: Arvind Kejriwal.”, Business Standard

“Aam Aadmi Party: The Incorruptibles?”, Tehelka

“With separate manifestos, AAP focusing on local needs”, Hindustan Times

So it’s all about the upcoming Delhi Assembly election in December.

I only know little about Indian politics; I watched the inner circle from a short distance over a few month as a house guest of a well-known journalist in Delhi, but I never felt attracted to it. It seemed just like back home – only the actors were even older and the system itself in a different way corrupt. I learnt about the two big parties, Indian National Congress Party (a somewhat confusing name, I think) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that’s basically it. But AAP – not only because of Mehmood – caught somehow my attention. And I followed them over the last few month trying to find out what make them different. And here are a few things I find at least remarkable – and I assume these points would suit any new party in the West as well …

  • The AAP candidates are young people. They are mostly in their 30s. They are also a mixed bag: a former NSG commando, social activists, a business management graduate, an auto-rickshaw driver and an IT professional.
  • They set up an amazing network of Indian students from universities from all over the world including names such as the MIT,  Berkeley University and others. These volunteers organize google hang outs, they donate money and promote AAP online very authentically. It is NOT campaigning or promoting, it is much more fighting for their causes; meaning fighting corruption and finally giving the youth a voice!
  • AAP is not directed by a program. They are borrowing from the left, they are borrowing from the right or the middle – what ever helps to define a solution. The party seems to be much more solution driven than focused on a paradigm.
  • This together with the fact finding approach of local manifestos makes them really attractive for the people. Together with the people in each single constituency local manifestos are written which define the people’s needs – and those become the program/agenda for this constituency. It’s binding for the candidates. And it’s binding for the people. So it’s NOT a top down approach; no, it’s truly a grass root act. And each manifesto is different in tone and issues being raised. It’s about taking ownership and responsibility.

All in all very interesting to observe.
Are the winds of change tangible in Delhi? I hope so. Time is ripe.
Let’s see what Dec. 15 will bring.