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23 October 2007

Coffee, tea or me?

There is a new ad for a tea brand here in Mumbai at least. In the ad, there is the average guy who is drinking tea and approached by a neta presumably canvassing for election and he asks him questions such as age, qualifications, track record etc. After an annoyed and flabbergasted politician/ candidate leaves, the byline says- wake up India!

I thought, it is rather a stretch for a cup of tea, but different from the run-of the-mill refreshment positioning and good corporate citizenship by the company as India and it's cities are waking up to electoral reforms. Urban centers more so because of the many implications under the JNURM manifesto. So there is a "danda" (stick). The carrot is of course, better cities free of corruption systems.

But how effective are top-down initiatives of change? Other than the leadership it provides, and the resources that come with it, any real and lasting change that is to be of value, has to be bottoms-up and in the case of electoral reforms, if it means the large urban , educated, middle class segment- at least in Mumbai who reported a less than 40% turnout in the last local elections.(Mumbai Matters blog has more on this). It goes without saying that the distribution of free TVs and mid-day meal programmes won't do it. How much time and effort does this segment profile have to spare? With the average man/ woman running to catch the train, come home and cook/ take studies, spend some time with kids, manage in-laws, vacations, boss, home-repairs, loans, unwind with some TV, social climbing, bonding, worrying about teenagers, religion- it never ends. A segment fairly that is fairly "value concious" Think "Happy Price" menu and you get the picture.

So you see, make it social, make it fun, make it about food and the turnout is high! (Source, again Mumbai Matters). The lessons are there staring in the face, if only one is willing to learn. Ah.. that painful process...learning.....which starts by saying, I do not know, tell me, I'd like to adapt.

That is why I like the tea ad. Because medium such as humour, advertisements, films, radio etc have so much potential for being used as tools for change, by making that learning fun and as good as not having made the person go through the pain of any learning at all.

Conducting change with such segments will require patience,innovative methods and deeper committments than mere manifestos. Any organisation does not merely exist in its manifesto booklet (or vision statements). The ones who have tried have eventually perished. In reality, it is only humans/people who make or break issues, reputations and organisations- wether business companies or other organisations. People before Products is probably the only really good book I have found on the topic.

Unless handled in sensitive and strong measures, the change that takes place may be one only in name or ineffective. Or change will take place, but very slowly, very painfully and probably at the cost of many sections of society such as poor,weak and vulnerable. And the what is now called middle-class, because by which time they would have disappeared/merged into the poor or rich segments.

And while India struggles with these issues of elctoral reforms, once again ICT comes to the rescue in other places.


Independent Electoral Commission, South Africa: Using ICT to support fair and open elections, from registering voters to quickly and accurately recording and tabulating national results.

Determined to conduct free and fair elections, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) used ICT to register voters and collect and tabulate their votes quickly, with integrity and transparency. The IEC made effective use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for the creation of a multitude of spatial management reports required for election planning, logistics, registration, and results processing. The IEC also effectively applied call center technology, including an 800 number for the public with where to register details, illustrating the importance of combining computer and telephone technologies to address the realities faced on the grass-roots level. A GIS application helped desk operators pinpoint the exact location of a voting station for registration purposes by referencing the municipality name, suburb and cross-streets as supplied by the voter.

Recognizing low literacy levels (and other information access problems in South Africa), this facility assisted the voter in identifying the voting station within his/her voting district by merely making a toll-free call.The geographical database compiled for election purposes is a national asset that can be used by various state departments and private organizations for spatial planning. For example, the GIS can be used to spatially determine the best location for a clinic based on the proximity of young children and people over 60 years of age in a particular area. :
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Tab tak ek cup chai ho jaaye? You read, while I go make a cuppa.

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