In 1991 Living Cities was established as an informal partnership among seven foundations and an insurance company, with a synergised mission to help improve under-invested urban neighborhoods and local community development organisations.
More than 20 years later, Living Cities, comprising 22 large foundations and financial institutions, has become the world’s largest philanthropic collaboration dedicated to improving the lives of people in various under-developed urban settlements and has catalysed over US$16 billion in urban investments.
Closer to home in Asia, the city of Bangalore recently saw citizens forming a similar collaborative known as Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC). With an objective of “making Bangalore an economically strong and world-class city”, B.PAC focuses on engaging the public in political processes to facilitate “good governance, greater accountability and better transparency within the government”.
“During the recent Karnataka Legislative elections, B.PAC embarked on a voter registration drive with its partner SmartVote and successfully registered over 600,000 new voters. The success metrics was demonstrated with Bangalore recording a 58% voter turnout compared to 47% at the last elections”, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, President at B.PAC, said as an example of its commitment to encouraging more middle-class citizens to exercise their right to vote.
However, B.PAC still has some way to go and faces key challenges such as:
- Legitimacy – Issues such as solutions that are not grounded in reality, persistent lags in conflict resolution within teams and a lack of accountability are hurdles to groups like B.PAC’s ability to build confidence and make an impact.
- Participation – True change requires a higher level of active participation in the political sphere. It should focus on building on collaborative efforts that would involve itself in the legislative process. It should also endeavour to sparking debate on social and political issues.
As a first step in addressing these challenges, B.PAC publicly endorsed 14 candidates, who B.PAC believes to be supportive of the mission it leads. This endorsement came with a promotion of the candidates over social media and a funding of about US$ 9,000 towards the election campaigns of each of the 14 candidates, irrespective of the political party they represented or the constituency in which they were contesting.
“Five of the 12 constituencies saw endorsed candidates win”, T. V. Mohandas Pai, Vice-President at B.PAC, said. He explained that B.PAC will work towards “more investment in infrastructure, [and] improve public transportation, access to water and access to more public services” in the future. With the help of its members “who are accomplished and from varied areas”, Mohandas Pai believes the B.PAC can make a distinct impact.
We ask some of Bangalore’s prominent citizens on how they perceive B.PAC would perform in the future, what the challenges would be on its way forward and how collaborative action can improve the chances for a working solution. Excerpts from their responses follow.
“If [B.PAC] can achieve the goals it has set, including proper governance with citizen inclusion and accountability of civic bodies, Bangalore will be a new city. The challenge—will the political communities listen? In order to get them to listen, B.PAC needs a large base of involved citizens who are talking, connecting and doing. In the past state elections out of the 14 candidates supported by B.PAC, five won. Elections in India, unfortunately, are not won on merit alone. So for political change to actually happen, B.PAC will need more citizens involved in the political process so that good candidates without deep pockets can win elections. The good news is that B.PAC is a collaborative start where citizens are coming together to effect political change. If it can grow, it can be a force to reckon with.” – Dr. Sunita Maheshwari, Chief Dreamer, Teleradiology Solutions, Bangalore.
“There is, no doubt, a lot of skepticism concerning the legitimacy of the members’ commitment to equitable development and environmental justice given the high corporate profiles they occupy. In this context, it will be fitting to see some intelligent decision-making at the grassroots level. That the BPAC has chosen to initially act through elections shows a hitherto unseen commitment to political involvement—a noteworthy development that deserves praise. Collaborative action is typified by interdisciplinary knowledge processing. In [B.PAC’s] Agenda for Bangalore this is significant because it is a democratic way of working that acknowledges the importance of various viewpoints. In theory, collaborative action is an excellent tool to arrive at comprehensive and holistic solutions. However, in the absence of well-defined roles, communication protocols and comprehensive planning, collaborative action can and will fail.” – Naresh V. Narasimhan, Principal Architect, Venkataramanan Associates, Bangalore.
“[B.PAC] is very much in keeping with the idea of an ‘enlightened’ Public Sphere, where citizens debate extensively on social and political issues and thereby are in a position to enable progressive legislation. Such collaborative efforts need to be lauded, as it seeks to bring together people from various walks of life. This kind of collaboration will only strengthen the edifice of democracy in this nation. The idea is a very noble one. However, one must strike a note of well-intentioned caution. The noted personalities who are behind the initiative must enter into the field of politics themselves. It is often easy to sit back in a ruminating mood and comment acerbically on the shortcomings of politics. B-PAC must make this transition if they wish to be taken seriously by their fellow citizens.” – Arvind Radhakrishnan, Faculty Member, School of Law, Christ University, Bangalore.
“Platforms that foster multi-stakeholder collaboration play an important role in bringing scale to any effort. These platforms face the challenge of representing a balanced view of all stakeholders and creating awareness. Bangalore has always been at the forefront of creating such collaborative platforms to usher change. This culture augurs well for the long-term benefit and progress of this wonderful city. The impact of these efforts was visible in the recent state elections when the voting percentage of the city had seen a rise compared to earlier years.” – S. D. Shibulal, Co-Founder, CEO & Managing Director, Infosys Ltd., Bangalore.
B.PAC is a unique platform for driving change in a once prosperous city that has been vexed by unstable governments, corrupt leadership and poor infrastructure, especially during the last eight years. However, the aforementioned challenges may need to be tackled with a strong commitment to the purpose of this collaboration. If the initiatives so far are any benchmark to go by, B.PAC with its able leadership and strong corporate funding could well be on its way to becoming an effective movement like Living Cities, exemplifying the power of collaboration to bring about more than what the sum of individual efforts could.
This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.
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