A Model School For Rural India

The model school concept is one of our most ambitious projects at Janwaar Castle. If successful, it will transform schooling for the kids and slow down rural/urban migration.

An honest look at schooling in Janwaar isn’t promising. A badly equipped school, miserably trained and motivated teachers practicing outworn teaching methods in an authoritarian style. And no questions allowed. But that’s only one part of the story. The other is that parents don’t encourage their kids to go to school, they much prefer to let them work in the fields or in the house. And most of the kids aren’t even eager to learn because the benefits from schooling aren’t obvious, and it’s way too strict and boring as kids are made to sit quiet for hours. The midday meal might be the only inducement which makes school attendance worthwhile. The outcome of such a system is unacceptable. The kids can hardly read and write – they’ve never been encouraged to find out what they are good at and are unprepared to tackle the challenges of village life. They will either be unemployed or continue to do what their parents and grandparents have done! A few might migrate hoping to find a “better life” in the cities.

So the outlook is cheerless and dark. That’s the situation in Janwaar.

What we lack is a school which suits the needs of the millions in rural India. A school which provides fun, empowers the kids to live better lives and allows them to do very practical things which make daily life easier and which might even become a source of income. What we need is a school which is kid- not teacher-centric, cherishes diversity not uniformity and prefers emergence to authority. Based on our work in Janwaar and with the help of partners, we’ve started such a school and put it into practice. We learn and improve as we move forward.

Our school has five pillars. The first pillar is our government school where we focus on enriching the official curriculum with learning labs, we improve teacher quality, introduce better ways of learning and make the classrooms more appealing. The learning labs are organized in small groups, off the regular school schedule and are very hands-on. A lab is only created when kids articulate interest. It’s designed together with the kids. Sometimes they last a few hours, sometimes a few days, depending on the subject. Currently they are small in number but they’re easy to scale. To the mark sheet we add a detailed evaluation for each kid, describing in what the kid is good and not so good at, and how she/he has evolved over time. We’ve done workshops with the teachers trying to replace ex-cathedra teaching with interactive methods; group work was introduced and theatre plays performed. We’ve taken the kids on trips where a lot of informal learning happened. We’ve built two libraries in the village with open access to books for all. And the school has finally got electricity and fans.

Our major partner in all of this is Prakriti in Noida. With their help and expertise we also design the learning labs for the other four pillars of our model school. These pillars include subjects the government school does not cover and our kids love them: sports, the arts, farming and a maker space. Our main sport is skateboarding. All kids are self-learners and they’re among the best skateboarders in India. The sport labs include repairing and maintaining skateboards, and eventually building them. Some of our kids are ”hidden” artists. At Art Ichol’s ceramic center they learn everything about clay. They create tiny little skateboards which every visitor loves as a souvenir from Janwaar. This has become a source of income for Karan, one of our elder boys. In creative labs the kids design postcards out of plastic garbage, paint skateboards to auction them as “artboards” and they learn how to take photographs. In our Kisan labs – 90% of all the villagers are farmers – we build kitchen gardens and set up a community compost heap for organic waste. The manure which can be made from this helps to grow the kitchen gardens and the trees we plant. We also run experiments to enrich water. Our labs are MAKER labs – the kids literally build things. This way they learn how things function and immediately see the outcome of their work and its benefits. Very often the labs happen in our maker space, the Bamboo House, right next to the skatepark.

The model school provides a 360 degree learning experience – it starts in the village and comes back to it – and broadens the kids’ understanding of what learning is all about. Learning can be fun and is NOT restricted to textbooks and classrooms. The kids explore and experiment without the pressure of exams. This empowers them to become more complete human beings, to build a stronger village culture and to make a decent living in their own village.

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If you want to learn more on our activities at Janwaar Castle, please have a look here:

A sandbox.

I am currently involved in a couple of projects which I’d consider being sandbox projects. Not sandbox in a way that these projects aren’t mature or professional. No. When I say sandbox I mean it in it’s very original way.

You set-up a wooden frame, put sand in it – and make it accessible.
You don’t define any outcome, it’s an open process.
No projects are pre-defined.
You just provide and facilitate the set-up.
And let the things which are going to happen emerge.
Maybe you adjust a bit here and here.
Some little nudges at the frameset … But that’s it.

sandbox

Maybe an expression which comes close to it is Tim o’Reilly’s usage of the word platform. When Tim speaks about government as a platform he is e.g. talking about open data provided by the government – free of use for anyone. Citizen, companies, institutions – everyone can use the data the way they want it and the way they need it – within a clearly defined frame (legal, technical, economical, social). This way government doesn’t have to think about all the thousands and thousands of possibilities the data could be used – it simply will be used when there is a problem for which it provides a solution. This way government fosters innovation and participation. It enables others to built on government’s work and by doing so its impact is multiplied. Things emerge. Just like inside a sandbox.

Besides the sandbox that I’ve created by my own – Janwar Castle, the first learning camp with a skateboarding park in its core in rural India – I am working on three completely different sandbox projects. One is an open data project in Delhi, aiming to set-up an open data platform which provides realiable data about the air quality in India’s capital. It’s said that it is among the worst in the world, if not the worst. It’s planned as a joint venture of citizenery, companies (Indian and Chinese – and this before Modi went there;-) and government. The data will be provided for free and anyone is invited to make the best out of it – whether it is to build applications, to change habits or whether it is to pass appropriate laws.

The second one is Mindkiss – a different way to present and deal with art. I’ve just written about it here. It’s basically a new modell for art and culture – an open process during which certain projects evolve.

And the third one is the sandbox Kumbhathon – one of my favourites;-) I’ve been following this endevour since its beginning at inkTALKS in Kochin two and a half years ago and I participated actively in the last workshop held in Nashik in January 2015. I was mentoring the students. For me this is a very interesting platform for many reasons:

  • It aims to find solutions for a real world problem: How to handle a city and deal with the issue that 30 million people come in.
  • It brings together various stakeholders: city officilas, companies (local and multi-nationals), external institutions, citizens and students from all over India.
  • It’s an open process within a given frame.
  • The MIT Media Lab brings in new methods to innovate and to co-create solutions.

In this sense the Kumbhathon is truly a sandbox out of which many things will emerge. We’ve already seen new applications and products solving Kumha Mela problems (housing, mapping, infrastructure); I am sure we will see more. The people involved are embracing this new way of solution finding – so it will last and stay in Nashik. Meaning there is an impact on this level as well. And – for me the most important thing – the locals and more than anyone else the local youth has understood, that they themselves can deal and handle the upcoming problems and provide adequate solutions. The process so far was all about enabling, encouraging and co-creating for Kumbha Mela.

As a long term outcome I expect this process to become a role model for an innovation center with multiple  stakeholders committed to solve social problems. So it’s not so much about running very specific projects; it is much more about how to drive innovation and how to find solutions for existing problems in a collaborative way.

And it makes me very happy and shows a lot of respect for our work in Panna that Ramesh Raskar, one of the initiators of the Kumbhathon and professor at the MIT Media Lab asked me to set-up a “little Panna-Park” (a small Janwar Castle) during Kumbha Mela.

So there are many reasons to look forward to the next Kumbhathon gathering in late June/ early July in Nashik!

Storytelling

The last couple of days I thought a lot about storytelling and how to create a message best. It’s a story what people remember … no matter when you talk about yourself, your product or your company. Here are two sources which I found very helpful … Maybe they will help you as well.

One is a presentation by Gary Vaynerchuk

… the other one is an interview with Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba. Almost each of his answers included a story …

Both of them are excellent story tellers.

Iran – How to deal with Khamenei’s open letter to the youth in the West?

On January 21, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei wrote an open letter addressing the youth in the Western world. He invited them to read the Koran and to go to the sources to achieve a better understanding of what Islam is all about. The letter – I think – has a perfect tone and language.

A few hours after the letter was published I’ve received an invitation from my friends in Iran, whom I travelled and worked with last April during our Peace Pilgrimage to Syria (via Iran), to answer a few questions regarding this very letter. Mmmmhhh, what to do? I was somehow in a double windmill – I love the country, it’s beautiful and the Iranian people are warm, welcoming and very well educated. I always sense a kind of education in the humanities and classic traditions we in the West have almost lost. And for all of this I love this country. I also have to say I like the way Iran and its leaders act in the current Middle East conflict zone – in comparison to the U.S and the West they do have a strategy and position – whether one like it or not. Iran took its stand and is acting wisely. But there are also things I really don’t like about Iran – high among them the way they treat women (women need permission from a male if tehy want to travel!!!), the way they “force” foreign women to wear the hijab, the way they practice freedom of expression and the way they censor (there seem to be a decline in censorship these days as well) and especially the way they treat people who do exactly what Khamenei is asking the Westerners to do. Double-dealing?

So I didn’t want to offend them but I also thought one should support this initiative to reach out and understand each other better …

To make a long story short; I didn’t answer but I decided to publish a letter Amir Maasoumi wrote to one of our delegation members of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – Amir was asked if and how one should reply to this letter … below is his answer. I’ve chosen to publih it because it’s reflection the same tensions I felt … So please take Amir’s take instead of mine!

Amir is born in Iran. He is now living with his family in Montreal. He is a peace activist and intellectual.

Thanks Amir for having giving permission to re-print this.

supreme-leader-waving-to-crowd
Khamenei addressing Iranians

Very dear …

Thank you for your kind e-mail.

I have read your exchanges with …

I’m not at all surprised by this reach-out of Khamenei and the efforts and initiatives being made to gain support for it – especially support from well-known international peace and social justice activists; the prominent Western celebraties. I also know that they’ve contacted other friends and colleagues. A clear-cut answer to your question is “Do you think it would be helpful if I wrote something on this development?” is not easy to give!

I’ve read the letter of Ayatollah Khameneii the moment it was published. It’s a very good letter with a truly surprising invitation, thesis and approach. But the important question in this context is not related to any good words or wishful thinking. Unfortunately the experience has taught us that beautiful words and ideas do not go very far in the real life of the Iranians. There is a “double discourse”; soft speaking and harsh acting are the very nature and deeply rooted in the identity of the Iranian pragmatic politicians.

We – you and I – are the people who celebrate peace and dialogue. And we live up to it. Therefore any occasion to establish the contact between them and us will reduce the tensions, will build the bridge and encourage the dialogue towards durable peace. It is the most welcome for all of us. But a real and genuine dialogue, a dialogue based on respect for one another is something different. A dialogue with clear objectives and not a dialogue which is exploited for political means while in reality life as usual continues, it sometimes even gets worst. Or did Israel’s continuous talk about dialogue, negotiation and peace with Palestinians change anything in the daily lives of millions of Palestinians? No, their horrifying tragedy, the occupation, massacres, apartheid and ethnic cleansing are going on – in fact it’s getting worse. And everybody knows it, sees it – but nothing stops it. Or do the same warmongering attitudes of all other US, EU and NATO’s ‘’human rights and peace lover’’ leaders make any sense?

Please allow me to be more clear.

You know that I’m working in this field since more than 3 decades. In the aftermath of 9/11 early 2000 when President Khatemi (a “reformist” who is actually almost banned in public, muzzled and practically in danger in Iran) made the “dialogue among the cultures and civilizations” the central axe of his foreign policies, it was then when I asked him in an open letter: “Why do not we start at home, in Iran, the inera-Islamic dialogue with our Sunni minorities, the Sufis (the mystical dervishes) … and the inter-religious dialogue with others such as Bahaiis, different Christians denominations etc … ? I do not mention here the cultural dialogues, the relations with cultural and linguistic minorities within the country … Why do not we start this dialogue at home?” For instance more than two million Sunnis in the mega city Tehran do not have one Mosque and are not allowed to build one. They are Muslims as well. And they are by far the largest minority in this country. At that time the supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameneii and his powerful institutional and individual supporters were totally against Khatemi’s policies. Against any kind of dialogue! And now – at least officially – they take the same stand.

At the same period, I received an invitation from the U.S Senate Foreign Policy Comity as well as the General Consulate of the U.S in Montreal to help to build the relations and create “dialogue groups” with Muslim communities in the U.S and Canada. My answer was simple and clear: “A genuine dialogue is based on mutual respect amongst equal partners. It starts by and materializes in concrete actions. Dialogue is much more than sitting around a table and chatting. And it is definitely not possible when at the same time one side is persistently looting and burning Iranian homes, killing Iranian families and destroying our countriy…!” I also remember, at the very same period, G. W. Bush manoeuvring repeatedly with the same rhetoric of “dialogue with Islam and Muslims” in his speeches and declarations … Well, in order to address all these recuperations, these empty discourses “on dialogue” aiming particularly to thwart a real desire among the peoples for a genuine “dialogue in action” and as the alternative to permanent confrontation, to the “global wars” based on lies and manipulations. I published several papers and gave numerous lectures on the minimal requirements of a reel dialogue. Unfortunately they are all in French. Please see an example here.

As to me, I do not have any problem to inter in dialogue even with my “enemies”. But I do not want to be manipulated. I do not want to “serve” and become the instrument of the agenda of others which has nothing to do with “dialogue and rapprochement”. In contrary it very often goes in opposite direction. Thus, before saying “yes” to their invitation I would like to ask several simple questions why these notorious and persistent “opponents of dialogue” became so suddenly the new apostles of it – but only with the foreigners.

How come the regime expresses its wishes, its warm and irresistible desire for a constructive dialogue with the Western youth but it refuses to do so with its own? In Persian, we have a very good expression. It says: The lantern which is needed at home is not even allowed to be given to a Mosque!

How come, they invite and ask the Western youth to read the Koran and discover the true meanings of Islam without any intermediary, without interferences and influences of the negative propaganda or violent readings and practices of some groups … , but when the Iranian youth or Muslim intellectuals do the same thing, they go to jail, to exile, or they will be tortured or executed?

You know why?

Because they are not honest! Because for them, the only “authority” who has the right to talk about Islam is the clerical establishment, and the only authorized readings of Islam are their readings. Not even the readings of all other clergies out of th einner circle of power, even the most prominent once like late Ayatollah Montazeri; the designated successor of the “leader of the revolution” Ayatollah Khomeini, was discarded from power and died in house arrest. This is a very disgusting hypocrisy. The last young intellectual has been executed only four months ego, simply for his innocent interpretation of a very anecdotal Koranic verse, without any social or political implication, was Mohsen Amir-Aslani. He is one among the almost five hundreds executions since the new president Rouhani (so called moderate) has been elected – more executions than hardliner Ahmadi-Nejad had in the same period of time.

Well, if some Muslims among these “young Westerners”, after their own quest for the true meanings of Islam, reach the conclusion that Islam it not a convenient spiritual path for them and as the result they decide to convert to another religion or simply become atheist, what will be their sentence? Are they considered as “apostate” or “abjurer” as the case may be, with “capital punishment” applicable to them as demanded by Iranian so called “Islamic” based laws? If not why do not they abolish these inhuman and archaic “sacralised” jurist-opinions-of-another century and release all “new-Christians” and other conscious and faith based prisoners from Iranian jails? Why is the “freedom of conscious” only reserved for others? Why do they continue to apply these inhuman punishments to the Iranians?

Most of these young Westerners are very joyful and happy! They love to listen to music. They love to dance. Will they be questioned and eventually punished for doing what they love? If not, why are these simple activities judged as a crime when Iranians do it? Why must the Iranian youth pay such a high price for doing the same things? Being happy, dancing in private, film it and eventually share it on YouTube?

From a “theological” point of view the Ayatollah’s proposition, as I said before, is even more interesting. It has high significance and implications if it’s real and not only for short term political marketing operations or cosmetic purposes. Recognizing the legitimacy of everybody’s right to go directly to the “sources of Islam” and having his/her own understanding of the sacred texts – which is a basic principal of Islam. A principal that Iran is insincerely denying in the name of Islam since centuries, implies de facto that the entire clerical establishment (especially the Shiite branch of Islam) is nothing more than a guardian of the traditions without any “divine” power, without any specific authority to guide or control forcefully the lives of other believers. It implies that they don’t have any monopoly of the Islamic discourse or privilege access to the “unique and true sense of Islam and its texts” as they always pretended to have. In this case, the position of the “Supreme guide”, justified by the theological assumption that he has direct link and “connection” to the “last hidden Imam” and ‘’ his representative on the earth, with all his divine authorities, doesn’t have any base nor any raison to be. Therefore and in order to be coherent, at a very first step, these people must amend the Iranian Constitution and simply abolish the “Supreme guide’s” position with all its disproportionate and despotic powers. Even further, they must rewrite and reform the theological and ideological corpus of the theory of the “Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists” – the very core of the regime and the system.

On the other hand, how come that the famous Iranian philosopher and theologian Abdol-Karim Soroush (we can see him also in some episode of the “Salam Iran a Persian letter’”, a film based on my life) who suggested exactly the same ideas more than fifteenth years ago – has to live in exile? I’m neither talking about “radical pluralistic anti-clergy theologians and thinkers” nor about the human rights activists, leftist students, lawyers, dissident intellectuals – no. I’m talking about Soroush, a semi-liberal Muslim thinker who was for longtime amongst the “collaborators” and official intellectuals of the Iranian regime. Well, if the Iranian regime is really ready to accept this simple point or at least having a serious dialogue about it, then why they do not start this dialogue with people like Soroush? With Shirin Ebadi and many many others?

How many Christians, Baha’is, Sunnites, Dervishes even Shiites and among them the Ayatollahs with deviant readings of Islam and Koran have we in Iranian jails? Is it not better to start first or at least at the same time the respectful and constructive dialogue with them as well?

The two Candidates of the 2009 presidential elections: Mir Hossien Moussavie (with his wife), the “beloved” PM of Khomeini in the eighties and Mehdi Karroubi, a clergy and ex-president of the Parliament, also very close to Khomeini are currently under house arrest. Since 5 years, without any charges or leave alone a trial. Each one backed by millions of voters and supporters, especially by the youth and women. So, why not release them and start a dialogue with them and by doing so addressing the Iranian youths who massively voted for them?

I could go on and on and on …

Dear …, as I wrote to you and Shirin Ebadi in last April, after our second humanitarian and peace missions to Syria via Iran: “(…) This schizophrenic duality, this institutionalized hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, generally progressive and defendable in foreign policies but very repressive, reactionary, autocratic and violent within its own boundaries, this unimaginable inhuman and paternalistic contempt towards its own people must stop! Iran can’t continue to pretend to be a part of the “axis of resistance” against U.S imperialism and Zionism on the one hand while on the other hand doing the same things, acting with the same logic against their own people. Exactly the same way their “opponents” in the opposite axis are doing to other peoples and nations. …

… the respect of human dignity and human rights in general and the rights of women and minorities in particular lacks dramatically in Iran. Millions of men, women, especially the young generation, have paid with their lives to achieve the minimum of respect, dignity and freedom. And the sacrifices are going on. As I told you before, in this country apparently the freedom of expression and choice exist but the freedom of “after” expression and choice, does not! And this is not a funny rhetoric game. It’s an unbearable reality of daily life in Iran! One must live in this country to understand it. One has to feel it!(…)”

I firmly believe that these guys are manipulators – very clever and skillful manipulators (The Persian Vizier!). And we have to be very careful in dealing with them. I think the idea of a respectful letter to the Supreme guide in support of “his initiative” is a good thing but in my humble opinion this letter must include at least the crucial and basic questions mentioned above. And it should include as well the issues of the fundamental rights, discrimination and apartheid against women, minority rights, politically controlled and arbitrary judiciary system, executions, torture, freedom of expression and “after-expression” – among many other issues. Otherwise, we are an instrument of the propaganda and manipulation of the regime who will not hesitate to use the gained credibility it has gained to accentuate the repression against its people.

With my best wishes.

Amir

The Gritty Height of Irony

I never thought that I would ever dream of seeing Bashar al Asad winning an election. But frankly speaking – today I do. For the sake of the Syrian people.

During my last visit to Syria in April 2014 I had two meetings which confronted me so badly with the gritty height of irony we are facing in Syria. It hurts. It makes me feel desperate and angry. What can WE the people achieve against this bulwark of power and money?

The first meeting was with Nourra, Bassel’s wife. Among many other things Bassel is a social activist. He has been detained 2 years ago. And Nourra, his brave and courageous wife is fighting for his release. No accusation. No trial. A political prisoner. I wrote about it earlier. The situation is a mess and it is getting worse and more unpredictable every day. 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. Actually one need to admit that Nourra can be “happy” with the situation … Hard to imagine, but this is reality!

My second meeting was with a young student at Damascus University. Feras is his name. He attended a presentation of the Iranian delegation of our International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria. A group of scientists and artists – all very well-known in Iran. Here is Feras’ reaction:

So why were these two meetings so abounded with irony ?

Nourra and Feras, among other young Syrians, confirmed that in April 2011 people all over Syria went in the streets. Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt. Frustrated with Assad’s dictatorship, its lack of fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech and censorship. They’ve said maybe a few hundred went out in Damascus, but never ever thousands. And they’ve said, that their “revolution” has been stolen, stolen by foreign powers who have an interest in Syria and who’ve brought foreign fighters into Syria to overthrow Assad. An intervention as we’ve seen it in Irak or in Libya is still an option for the West.

Having said this, the irony become obvious:

  • Those young people who fought for the values the West used to stand for turned against their former ideal.
  • For most Syrians, including those who went out into the streets for a regime change, Assad is THE only one who can re-stabilize the country and protect it from foreign powers. He is stronger than ever.
  • The Syrian youth doesn’t see a near future WITHOUT Assad and they are convinced that he will use pretty ruthlessly the failures of the West against his own people. Meaning more censorship, less human rights … more military.
  • The Syrians have lost their nation. Their country is destroyed.
  • And the Syrians never accepted the SNC – heavily supported and dominated by the West and the Saudis – as their representatives.

So, what has been achieved in Syria?

Another destroyed country in the Middle East. Millions of refugees – the UN speaks about the biggest human desaster nowadays. In Syria more than anywhere else the dirty game of war, power and economic interests became transparent for the worldwide public. The opposition – supported by the West – got “out of control” and today with the weapons of the West they fight against the West. The fear that jihadist – trained by the US and UK – return into their home countries and attack their citizens is bigger than ever before. The number of fundamentalists is growing rapidly and the entire region is far from being peaceful. In Irak the war is escalating. Today many more people die on a daily basis than during the war. The government can’t control the country. Same is true for Libya. And Yemen – were silently a US drone war is going on. In Egypt a new general was sworn in as President – a Western and Gulf puppet who when dressed in his uniform always reminds me of Gaddafi . Sisi was elected by less than 50% of the Egyptians! Is he a people’s president? In all countries the economic situation is a mess and the youth has lost its hope.

If not this, than what is irony?

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And here is a piece written by Rick Sterling, a founding member of Syrian Solidarity Movement, who joined our “International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria”: Why are They Afraid of the Syrian Elections?

This article was first published by COUNTERPUNCH, May 30, 2014

The Presidential Election in Syria takes place next Tuesday, June 3. With a revised 2012 Constitution, Syria is no longer a one party state and there are multiple candidates for office. Running against Bashar al Asad are former communist and legislator Maher al Hajjar and business person Hassan al Nouri.

The election has been vehemently opposed by the so called “Friends of Syria” (NATO members Turkey, Germany, France, UK, Italy, USA, plus the Gulf monarchies UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia plus Jordan and Egypt). Since 2011 the “Friends” have met periodically to coordinate funding, arming and training the rebels plus trying to promote and consolidate a credible outside political leadership. According to the pro opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the result of this externally supported uprising has been over 62,000 dead Syrian soldiers and militia, plus another 80,836 dead civilians. Many of the civilians were killed by rebels. Just looking at the number of dead Syrian soldiers and security forces, can you imagine what would happen if 10% that number (6,000 soldiers and security) were killed in the USA?

Given the extent of the violence, the well publicized fanaticism of the most active rebels and evident difficulty to manage the political operatives who were supposed to be anointed “leaders”, one might wonder whey the USA and others persist in trying to force regime change in Syria.

But instead of viewing the multi-candidate election in Syria as a step forward, they are viewing it as a mortal threat. “Assad’s staged elections are a farce,” Kerry said after the so-called Friends of Syria meeting in London on Thursday May 15. “They’re an insult. They are a fraud on democracy, on the Syrian people and on the world,” he added.

France, Germany, Belgium and the Gulf States have all prohibited voting in the Syrian election. Syrian Embassies in the US and Canada have been forced to close, removing the chance for Syrians living in these countries to vote.

Why are Kerry and the “Friends” so upset and fearful of Syrian elections? If they are such a farce, then much of the public will not participate in them. If the vote is seen by the public as meaningless, then voter turnout will be very low such as in Egypt this week.

As to the issue of holding an election during a time of conflict, this was done right here in the USA. The 1864 election which re-elected Abraham Lincoln was held during the midst of the extremely bloody US civil war.

Another group afraid of the Syrian elections is the Syrian American Council (SAC). This well funded lobby group claims to represent Syrian Americans. They have launched a twitter and Facebook campaign decrying the ‘Blood Election’. They have professional marketing and public relations, paid staff and support from neo-con and zionist interventionists in Congress. Still, their real support across the country seems thin. Last August and September 2013, they were promoting a US attack on Syria. They were not concerned with the massive bloodshed that would have resulted from that. Ironically they are decrying blood now when Syria holds a peaceful election.

In sharp contrast with SAC, alternative organizations such as Arab Americans for Syria (AA4Syria) and Syrian American Forum (SAF) are speaking with growing strength against our US tax dollars being used to destroy their homeland. As a measure of the depth of feelings, over 25 members of AA4Syria are flying to Beirut then traveling by land to Syria to vote in next Tuesday’s election. The same thing is happening in other countries which have prevented Syrians from casting a vote. Syrians who live in the Gulf are traveling all the way to Syria to vote as a sign of their commitment.

The reason is that many Syrians, both inside and outside the country, see voting in this election as a sign of support for their homeland at this difficult time.

Voting by Syrians living abroad has already begun, with voting yesterday May 28 in Lebanon, Jordan and a few other countries. The turnout in Beirut was massive, with tens of thousands of people marching, chanting and singing through the avenue and along the highway to the Syrian Embassy compound east of the city center. Look at the video and judge for yourself whether these people are being “forced” to vote or cheer for Bashar al Asad.

The voting in Beirut has been extended due to the huge turnout. This is in ironic contrast with Egypt where the government is desperately extending the voting hours and days, trying to boost the voting turnout.

If recent history is a guide, there may be some kind of spectacular media event or atrocity in the coming days. The Syrian opposition and their handlers have executed PR stunts at critical times. If it happens here, the purpose will be to distract from the strong Syrian participation in the election and to attempt to renew the branding of Asad as “brutal dictator”.

But the branding is wearing thin, those who are most affected by the crisis know the truth and even those who have been influenced by the immense propaganda may be starting to wonder: Was it ever a genuine “Syrian revolution”? What kind of “revolution” is financed by corrupt monarchies and former colonial powers? Is the “brutal dictator” really as bad as they say? The scenes of thousands of Syrians waving his poster, chanting his name and youth expressing love for him are not what they wish us to see.

Next week we can look at the videos, photos and stories from Syria. Hopefully there will be some reasonably unbiased reports. John Kerry and other “Friends of Syria” did not want it to happen, and there may still be violence and bumps on the journey, but the election in Syria is going ahead. Let’s see what Kerry and company are afraid of.

Iran – The Revolution is alive! Is it really?

These days I received an email from Amir Massoumi (see pict below), a human rights activist based in Montreal, who was traveling with us on our “Peace Pilgrimage to Syria” a few weeks ago. He is Iranian … he has fled his country in 1984 and came back only once so far … I’ve learnt a lot from him about Iran, the Shah and Khomeini’s return during our travels. Here is what he has shared with us:

Maireead Amir plérinage Paix Avril 2014 Syrie
Amir with Maired Macguire at the Tehran Peace Museum

“I was greatly surprised by the unexpected positives changes that I saw in my country. I was amazed by the inspiring youth and all that energy and dynamism. This makes me believe that the great Revolution of our generation and its aims: ‘’independence, freedom and human dignity’’, are not dead. It proves that the Revolution is still alive and running, despite of all the attempts to divert it from its path and objectives, after all these repressions, betrayed hopes, sacrifices and destroyed lives, despite of all violence and crimes committed against it and against the Iranian people by the illegitimate clerical establishment and its archaic ideology who took power aftermath of the initial and primary victories against the monarchic regime …. I’m so proud!

This has been said, the issues of the respect of the human dignity and rights in general, women rights and minorities in particular, social justice, equality and freedom are still remaining central and dramatic in this country. The generations of millions of men, women, especially youths, have paid heavily by their lives for a minimum respect for their dignity and freedom, and the sacrifice goes on…. As I said before to you, in this country, apparently ‘’the freedom of expression and choices exist’’, but the freedom of ‘’after’’ expression and choices, no! This is not a funny rhetoric. It’s an unbearable reality of everyday life! We must live in this country, as millions do and for a while, under this suffocating atmosphere, to understand this. To feel it!

This schizophrenic duality, this institutionalized hypocrisy of Iranian regime; generally very progressive in foreign policies but very repressive, reactionary, autocratic and violent in its internal practices, with unimaginable inhuman and paternalistic contempt toward its own people, must stop! They can’t continually pretend to be part of the ‘’axis of resistance’’ again imperialism and Zionism but doing the same things, acting with the same ‘’logic’’ toward their own people. Exactly on the same way that their ‘’opponents’’ in opposite ‘’axis’’ are dong to other peoples and nations.

At the same time, we must remain vigilant. In the ‘’real world’’, the human rights issue is highly instrumentalized, particularly by the must criminals of this world. As you know better than me, the ‘’human rights’’ is now becoming the instrument of war, justification for aggression. And we know that Iran is in sight, since longtime ego. Therefore, while we are working for peace and pushing for resolution, by peaceful and diplomatic means, of all differences between Iran and other countries, while we are opposing strongly to any aggression and military intervention against Iran and Iranian people, we must support, at the same time, the Iranian people’s aspirations, resistance and struggle for their rights, for a free and better life, for a better future.”

I myself experienced Iran again “en passant”.
It was my 7th visit.
First time all on my own – at least for the first days.
And my feelings, impressions and experiences were not always in line with Amir’s words.

IMG_7074Mountains north of Tehran, just a 20 minute drive from the center of the city

I crossed the border into Iran at Taftan/Zehedan, leaving behind the wilderness and beauty of Balochistan, Pakistan. The border of which the German Consul in Frankfurt told me: “I am not sure if this border is under government control!” I wrote him in an e-mail later, that it isn’t.

I was still in Balochistan, the Iranian part of it.

Spending the last (cash) money I had, I bought a bus ticket and went straight to Mashad, Iran’s holiest (the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims – Iman Reza – was martyred here and so his shrine was placed there) and the second largest city of the country (2.8 million).

I arrived at one of Mashad’s so clean and opulent hotels – build for the Arab pilgrims coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuweit, Bahrain … and for Iranians who live abroad in exile. I probably looked a bit “inappropriate” after having spent 4 days with the Balouch tribals in their villages and traveling with them to the Iranian border. When I told them at the reception that I didn’t had have any cash on me and that I need to figure out how to receive some, I doubted that they would ever check me in. But they did! Unheard of in the West.

Because Iran is banned from the international finance circus you can’t get any money with your credit card and you can’t pay with it. So carrying cash around is your only option. And my cash was gone. I ran out of it because I got stuck for more than a week in Quetta, capital of Balochistan Pakistan. The only place where you could stay was the very nice Serena Hotel – but it had its price. And none of Quetta ATM machines was working … So here I was. Cash-less. But the very friendly and open-minded staff trusted me.

After a long refreshing shower I went online to connect with my future host in Tehran. I was surprised by the speed of the internet – and I was surprised how quickly the Iranian government could track my VPN and shut it down (I wasn’t using TOR). So I played the cat and mouse game … And I was enjoying it. Most of the VPNs are blocked for download in Iran … Much worse than in Pakistan, where only Youtube and a few other sides are blocked, but VPNs are available. But nevertheless all young Iranians are connected via SKYPE, Twitter and Facebook … So I found Roohulla, my host, on SKYPE and told him my situation … He laughed and said that in the afternoon a friend of his would come by and pay my hotel bill and provide me with some cash. I’ve never met him before, we’ve only SKYPED so far … but there he was willing to borrow me 350 USD. Unusual I thought. For the second time. In the afternoon his friend came by, we’ve had a cup of tea and everything was set. Networking at its best. Lucky me.

After a long sleep and another shower I went off to explore Iman Reza’s shrine, Iran’s holliest place.

IMG_7013
Inside the shrine

It was a 20 minute walk from the hotel along the Emam Reza St, Mashad’s promenade. Early spring, sunny skies, slightly fresh air and many people in the streets. I was ready to compromise and wear “my” chador – or at least I was trying to wear it – but wearing it properly does take some practice. So walking down the street I was a bit struggling with this long shawl, but I thought I’d managed O.K. But surprise, surprise!
I wasn’t even close to the inner heart of the shrine when an old woman approached me and without saying a word, she put her hands into my face and was trying to tighten my chador and put my hair underneath. I asked her to stop. But she didn’t. Again she tried. Again I said no. The third time I caught her hands and put them down. This should stuck with me during my entire stay. For most of the Iranians it wasn’t enough to show respect and trying to wear the chador as best as one could – no, there was this constant pressure and demand from all sides to wear it right. One-sided respect – I felt. And I didn’t like it.

From Mashad I took an overnight bus to Tehran – packed with young Iranians returning back to the capital after having visited their families back home for the New Year celebrations. I was surrounded by a bunch of young women in the bus, their English was as good as my Persian. Therefore our conversation wasn’t very “fluent”, but it was nonetheless interesting. We managed and we’ve had fun. I found out that all of them were studying. With the permission of their father or their eldest brother they were allowed to do so. It felt very normal for them to ask for permission, I assume they even don’t have the idea NOT to ask. They shared their food and water with me and explained every village/city we were passing by. They were very proud of their country and happy to meet a foreigner.

Two hours before the official program of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria started, I arrived at the hotel and met with all the other participants. 4200 km all the way from Delhi land over! What a trip so far!

Before I continue with my travel report, let me add some remarks to Amir’s observations. Yes, it is true that among the Iranian youth there is a good spirit … just like we can see in Europe, the US and other parts of the world. The internet has brought the world together and there are many common causes – especially among the young people. No matter if social media tools are blocked or not. They share it with their own unique spirit and the Web, including mobile, brings it all beautifully together – using its own dynamics. The emerging patterns we see embrace values such as participation, transparency, openness, equality, integrity, (social) responsibility and reputation. In the different countries they may come with a different interpretation and understanding … but the overall direction is the same. This is what makes governments and political leaders so nervous.

I didn’t had the feeling that the majority of the Iranian youth feels deeply suppressed by their government or their religious leaders. They might want to have some things differently, but I’ve had the feeling they know their time will come. Having had the green revolution a few years ago and having learnt from the lost “Arab Spring” – the Iranian youth is just about to figure out their way for “human rights” and a separation of politics and government. They have a playground and they are stretching the boundaries. The winds of change have arrived and the Iranian government is slowly moving. Multiple disruption is evident. The Iranian youth is intelligent, they do have money to a certain extend – and they clearly see and understand the failure of the West. And going along with it their chances. They are proud. They are connected and they know about their situation. They won’t start another revolution. No.

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“Our” Iranian delegation at Damascus University

What I wish to see and this is what I’ve heard from the young people I’ve spoken to, is that Iran uses its intelligentsia wisely – just like Khamenei did when he gave “power” to Rouhani, who wasn’t his most preferred candidate. Iran should use its current (international) up winds – they should (and I think they will) encourage their youth and find a peaceful balance. They should not dominate their local allies. They should protect and help Syria WITHOUT asking “What is in it for me?”. They should proudly negotiate with the West but should NOT fall under western influence. They should extend their English news channel Press TV and cherish freedom of press and speech. They should rather establish tight strings to BRICS than to the Atlanticists. They should strengthen their own Iranian way. They should foster (worldwide) pluralism which is so desperately needed and become another “counterpart” in the most positive way to the US.

And I see the Iranian chances are good. The West needs Iran – just think about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Irak … And the Iranian understand this much better than any Westerner does the other way round.


Remarks – after I received Amir’s comment (see below):
If what we see today in Iran are the “effects” of the 1979 Revolution – as Amir has written – then wonderful! I cannot judge this … Until I first traveled to Iran seven years ago I only knew that in 1979 the Shah had fled the country and Khomenei returned and brought back Shia Islam … I have and I still have little knowledge about Iran’s youngest history. But what AMit is saying would proof once again that change can’t happen over night, it takes generations.

No wonder Amir was smiling all day long during our trip;-)

And to see the change happening in a peaceful way – even if it might take longer – is even better! We don’t know yet how long it will take to see peace again in Aghanistan, Irak, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Syria … All countries where the West interfered and still is interfering – and which are rather in a state of decomposition than in boom conditions.

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!

The Inner Circle

I first heard the expression a few weeks ago. It stands for a group of a few 100.000 people who rule and control India: politicians, entrepreneurs, writers, journalists and members of “old” families. Mostly “old” or at least elder people. Living very comfortable in the world they’ve set up for themselves. This is most likely true for any country. What a small group of these people is capable of doing we can currently witness in the US where members of the Tea Party caused the government shutdown.

Within these inner circles you often hear about change.
But change hardly ever comes out of these circles.
The most we usually experience is gradual change.
That might be a very natural things.
Because firstly why would these people drive change if they live so comfortably without it?
And secondly if you really aim for change then you have to change behavior – and this takes time.
Even if you remain within the same culture it takes time.

It is not that these circles don’t understand that change is needed.
And that the people they rule and control are yearning for change – massive change.
In so many areas.
Some of the members of the inner circle come up with the most detailed analyses and often offer great solutions.
But for what so ever reasons these solutions never become executed.
They got stuck.
Or on their way to realization they went through a huge number of “adjustments”.
Or the solution simply no longer suits the needs when it’s finally realized.

I for myself draw the conclusion that you can’t change such powerful systems from the inside.
You have to build new systems which either make the old obsolete or at least challenge it in a way that it has to change.

And we are starting to see this.
There are huge transformation processes on their way.
And they speed up the more we become connected and the more we cooperate.
Connectedness and cooperation are turbo charger for network structures.
And these structures are no longer linear as the old systems were.
The new ones are non-linear. They hardly show any hierarchies.
They tend to be much more complex and much more dynamic than the old ones.
And therefore much more capable in solving complex problems (Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety).

We see these transformation processes in governments. In enterprises. In education. In communities.
And sometimes they are real battles.
Just look at the unrests in the Middle east, the occupy movement or the NSA issue which isn’t only about surveillance but also about journalism.
But we can also see much more peaceful transformations.
Just look at the government in Finland how they have transformed the education system.
Or how Iceland is including its citizens in governance.
Or the entire open government data movement which allows individuals and enterprises to make use of public data.
Or the open source movement, not only in the software industry but also in the hardware industry.
We’ve started to produce products in an open source way.
We co-create with competitors and customers.
Or think about the way Apple has transformed the music and mobile industry with its new business models and the combination of hard- and software.
It made old rigid value creation chains obsolete.
Look at companies such as Cisco and Unilever. Cisco’s CEO John Chambers has turned the company’s management structure from a board of 12 members to a management team of more than 500 – all of them capable of succeeding him as CEO. Unilever has caught up with P&G in many so-called developing markets or even is ahead of P&G because of their innovation strategies which are network-based.
On a smaller level we see more and more schools and new ways of learning become successful which stand in contrast to the existing government education system. And we see this worldwide.

All these examples take time as well, but the process which underlies all of them, is open, transparent and participatory.
And this itself is a fundamental game changer.

So these “inner circles” are challenged.
By new systems.
And by the complexity and dynamics of the environment they are embedded in.
If they remain as rigid and as closed as they are, their time is limited.

Strategy or simple overreaction?

Last week I’ve been working together with Havard Ferstad and Prem Shankar Jha on an interactive timeline for the Arab Spring – it starts with the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia and has an open end, meaning it will be constantly updated. So far we have the very first layouts and the data set. The timeline will be an important part of our next we-magazine which is all about the Middle East.

While working on it some interesting “facts” came into light – I will publish them one after the other. Let’s start with this one here … Conclusions are completely up to you!

October 3, 2012: Mortar shell fired from Syrian territory lands on Akcakale, a village just inside Turkey. Turkey accuses Assad regime and engages in two rounds of retaliatory firing on a Syrian army post over several hours.
Here a few sources on the event: Jerusalem Post, CBC News, Canada, The Guardian.

October 4, 2012: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan secures war making power from Turkish parliament for 12 months.
Hürriyet Daily News, BBC London, Moon of Alabama.

October 5, 2012: Turkish newspaper YURT reports that mortar shell was of a type fired only from NATO launcher supplied to Turkey.
Business Insider, RT.com. None of the Western media caught up on the YURT report.

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