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.

A Role Model for Rural India

Akbar Khan is a farmer in Jodhpur (Kaman), a tiny little village in the Mewat, Rajasthan. He cares very much about education and has managed to educate his children in an extraordinary way – from the village to university back to the village. A completely different approach from what other farmers in the villages do. Usually they keep their kids at home and let them work in the fields … Akbar Khan is a true role model.

I am really looking forward to cooperate more with him and his village – especially on girl’s education.

My friend Yogesh Sen (16 years old, from Khajuraho) translated the interview. Thanks to both of them.

Open Journalism

Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, shared ten ideas about “open journalism”. We at we-magazine work very much like that – I guess;-)

  1. It encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response.
  2. It is not an inert, “us” to “them” form of publishing.
  3. It encourages others to initiate debate. We can follow, as well as lead. We involve others pre-publication.
  4. It helps form communities of joint interest around subjects,issues or individuals.
  5. It’s open to the web. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web.
  6. It aggregates and/or curates the work of others.
  7. It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest.
  8. It aspires to achieve, and reflect, diversity as well as promoting shared values.
  9. It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end.
  10. It is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition. – the seedmatch process is a Berlin based start-up – I interviewed Béa Beste, one of their founders last year. toolabox – a subscription model – surprises every month children (3-8 years old) and their parents. The basic idea: learning can and should be fun;-) It’s all about creativity, imagination, play, exploration and collaboration.

The team around Béa Beste delivered the first box in October 2012 and in the meantime they send out 3000+ boxes a month, they have 40.000 likes on facebook and they just closed a very successful crowdfunding campaign. Instead of looking for VCs or private investors the tollabox team decided to use the German crowdfunding platform for start-ups seedmatch. In less than 4 weeks they achieved their funding goal of EUROS 600.000.

In the following interview Béa gives insights into the process and why they decided to go with the crowd …

Chinese Mafia is taking over in Venice

(a little more detailed fotopedia story on this you find here)

The Chinese mafia has invaded Venice, bringing a “favela” modality into the city in a way which no Venetian have ever dreamt of, says Fiora Gandolfi, an old Venetian lady, the embodiment of Venice. She is ready to stand up against the mafia.
She says that the Chinese gangs are making war amongst themselves – they compete in making fast and easy money (slot machines, counterfeit Italian fashion merchandise), and they don’t care about the history and culture of Venice.

They are breaking the windows of their neighbours …and they sink boats during the night.

The Venetians say “no”.
The citizens of Venice do not want more casinos and gambling places to be open. They are proud of their casino in the beautiful Palazzo Vendramin Calergi – where Wagner lived and died. That’s enough for them! At the cities’ balconies and windows you see billboards and messages painted on bed sheets saying ‘NO to gambling rooms in San Lio! Thank you’ ‘Stop the Chinese mafia!’, ‘No Russian mafia!, ‘No Turkish mafia!’ …

The Venetians want to preserve their identity and culture in its purest form – there is no need that senseless money making tourism and short term goals dominate timeless traditions. Venice is being destroyed by the enormous amount of boats that are eroding the foundations on which our palaces are built. We need to get rid off the unscrupulous foreigners who are interested in emptying the city of its unique culture – simply to make money.

Fiora’s daughter Luna made this statement (it’s in French) on these developments. Sorry for the poor video quality; we did it via SKYPE and I was on a bad internet connection in India …

Where co-creation begins …

4 weeks ago I went for the first time to Partha, a small small village in Uttar Pradesh, 45 km away from Mahoba. Beautiful landscape – a mixture between India and the Serengeti. Stunning.
Everybody there is depending on agriculture. The area is one of the poorest parts of India and a typical example for what it looks like when rural India is left behind urban development. The poor are the victims.

Standard house in the village of Partha, UP

Antonella Zurina (Geeta is her given Indian name), who is running Kabir Foundation in Khajuraho, took me there. For a very simply reason. One of the villagers, Hakim Singh, wants to donate 2 acres of farmland for building a school. And her idea was (still is) that we build a we_school there. When we arrived at least 30 of the villagers were waiting for us! It was such a warm welcome!

I sat down with them and the first question which came up from the villagers was: What are your plans? When I told them that I had no plans at all and that I am only here to see and to listen all the blood in their faces went into their feet. Pure despair remained. I felt pretty uncomfortable since I only realized by then how high their expectations were.

Tons of cow dung >>> fire, cooking

They told me about all their daily problems. We went through the village and they showed me the 2 existing schools and other buildings which one might use for community activities, and they showed me the land Hakim Singh wants to donate. They were very proud. And I could feel how much they want help and how much they are willing to support activities once someone starts them.

Before they invited me for dinner – my stomach still refuses any kind of local spicy food ;-( – I told them that I would think about the entire situation and talk to Mehmood Khan, a social entrepreneur and game changer of its own. And I promised to come back to them within 2 weeks.

“Group photo with madame” – just before I left Partha

2 weeks later I went back – together with Mehmood Khan. They welcomed us with drums, flowers and the most delicious chai. This time probably 50 of them. We sat down and discussed the options. At the end we agreed to do a 2 day workshop – early in May – where all the stakeholders in the village are involved: children (girls and boys), teachers, farmers … At the first half of day 1 we will discuss their most pressing issues, the second half of the day is reserved for local administrative and political people who address their point of view. At the second day we will work in groups with the villagers trying to identify workable solutions and in the afternoon we prioritize the solutions and write down an action plan. We expect at least 500 villagers to join the workshop!

The villagers are still a bit hesitating – they simply would prefer a ready made solution. But somehow they understood the idea and they trust us. And they work for this idea …We believe that the villagers themselves need to be made stakeholders in the development process. And this is what we are going to do with them.

And this is when co-creation starts.

Only then the village and its people will experience a transformation they all like, everybody is committed to and everybody will be working on. That’s the only way to make change sustainable!

Mehmood Khan and I after our second meeting, before late dinner – in the “guesthouse”

And to close this blog post, here is an email I received from the villagers after our meeting …
Nothing else to say!

Dear, sir/ madam

as you know according to the last meeting on 21/03/13 ,we want to informe you ,that

we have arrenged the meeting on saturday then we have notify 75 active member with there all type of responsbilties.

so please, we want to your time dated on as 25/03/13 on monday,

please gives some point how will you manage your journy

thanking to you

your ,s All villagers

Right to Information

The Right to Information Act (RTI) in India is all about bringing information to the citizens. It was introduced in 2005 and mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information. It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. It’s used heavily by Indian citizens even though the portal itself is far from being what you would consider user-friendly.

Mid March I’ve had the chance to chat with Raja Muzaffar Bhat from Kashmir on this topic. Muzaffar is one of the foremost Right to Information activists in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, focusing his attention on raising awareness and use of the RTI. He was a co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Movement (JKRTIM) which he left in 2012 to spearhead transparency as member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Muzaffar has rejoined JKRTIM after resigning from PDP on Feb 9th – only after 5 month – in protest against the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru.

It was a kind of tough and tricky to keep Muzaffar “away from Kashmiri politics” and focus on RTI – but at the end we more or less managed pretty well;-)

Thanks Muz for your time!

Learning by Playing

Last week Egon, my co-founder at we_school, and I visited Béa Beste, founding partner at, a Berlin based start-up. toolabox – a subscription model – surprises every month children (3-8 years old) and their parents. The basic idea: learning can or should be fun;-) It’s all about creativity, imagination, play, exploration and collaboration. A tollabox is always focussed on one specific theme and usually includes games, tolla stories, various materials to build something and additional learning materials regarding the topic. The team around Béa Beste delivered the first box in October 2012 – and they are still nudging here and there to optimize!

The learning concept behind it is Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences. At tollabox these intelligences are “translated” into four characters: Nao, Kess, LumLum und Pi.

We at we_school are proud owners of 3 tollaboxes and we are looking forward to unfold them in February in India! – learning by playing – we’ve only just begun;-)