Is democracy important? The populace, at large, would agree it is. However, does the citizenry understand the crux of the word? In simple words, democracy entails an active participation by its citizens, inclusive of duties and rights, in bringing about the change they wish to see. Public policy making and implementation form the basis of this change initiation; however, public policy serves different perceptions.
Robin Sitoula, co-founder and executive director of Samriddhi Foundation, has designed and implemented several research, educational and advocacy programmes in the areas of entrepreneurship, economic policy reform, and democracy. For him, the definition of public policy is as varied as the choices of profession to the air that serves as our breath intake. So, if this is so vital, then so will the contribution of a nation’s citizens be. Says Sitoula, citing Nepal (he is based here) as an example, “The degree of freedom depends on the stage of democracy offered’, and the ‘rules’ by which it is practised. Nepal has largely remained a ‘free to express’ country over the last several decades. Even the big political changes we have secured in the past are a product of this. However, in recent years, due to the rising ‘control’ being exercised by the government, this space seems to be shrinking.
“Government censorships are beginning to penetrate even private realms, right from social media activities to private property. The current generation is, in that sense, facing the toughest test in defending freedom, as a citizenry.” Samriddhi Foundation’s beginnings are rooted in the political and economic context of its time of inception. The second People’s Movement in April, 2006 marked a major political transformation for Nepal ~ leading the country from monarchy to a Federal Republic, paving way for a new constitution, and an overall expansion of political freedom and civil liberties.
“However, the country’s political movements have also grown out of the expectation of deliverance of economic prosperity, ending the country’s long and constant struggle with poverty. The founders were inspired to act by the realisation that if democracy did not deliver tangible positive outcomes in people’s daily lives in economic terms, another conflict was imminent,” emphasizes Sitoula. He goes on to suggest that passion, instincts and common sense are just ignitors.
However, he said having a formal education or “systematic training” in the related field of policy-making is essential, for it helps build movements and achieve the desired change more efficiently and effectively.
is currently Fly vice-president, Policy and Partnerships at Bridge International Academies, besides having initially headed the School Choice Campaign at the Centre for Civil Society. Her passion for education stems from her personal journey and belief in the power of transformation education offers. For her, public policy has always been about an opportunity that has a powerful potential to deliver change and impact at scale.
Talking about the delivery of effective PPP models and the role of the citizens in the domain of education, Sujatha Muthayya provides the example of the organization she works for: Bridge International Academies which is a social justice movement: “Through education, we seek to break the inherent intergenerational transfer of poverty and ensure that every child, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, is able to access high quality education. We are aiming for public system transformation and we do this through partnering with parents, community leaders and governments.”
Bridge works with a number of governments across Asia and Africa strengthening and supporting teachers, headteachers and education ministry systems to deliver technology- led, data driven learning gains in more than 1,500 (mainly state) schools. She says, “Consultations equally indicate that governments are willing to engage with citizenry and non-state actors to adapt and innovate effectively not least because political cycles are finite and leaders need to effect change quickly and sustainably to secure political recognition for their policies.”
Yugank Goyal received his PhD in Economics and Law from the University of Hamburg, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the University of Bolognaas Erasmus Mundus Fellow. He is the founding faculty member of O P Jindal Global University and faculty at the newly established Indian School of Public Policy. For him, public policy and citizenry complement each other.
“Citizenry is an important component of public policy…this has always been, but less than one would expect in India,” he contends. “Scholars give a number of reasons for this, but to me, the most important one is path dependency. We care more about our microcosmic world. This continues till date.”
Goyal teaches economics, a significant part of which engages with policy making, its benefits and perils. Economics today, according to him, has become more rigorous at the cost of relevance. He focusses on changing this though through his work.
“Formal education in ‘some’ field is beneficial I would say, but not necessarily in the ‘concerned’ field. When we set out to ‘bring the change’, we must be aware of the general environment in order to build our instincts and common sense. Unless we want to be academics building scholarships through academic journals, which requires you to study the same discipline, we can study anything and be the changemakers in any area,” opines Goyal.
Abhishek Thakore co-founded The Blue Ribbon Movement. Besides being a gold medalist from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, his corporate stints have been varied, including consultancy with the Hay Group and the Boston Consulting Group, where he worked across diverse sectors. Thakore has represented global youth at the United Nations in New York, besides participating at the World Youth Congress (Turkey), Youth Encounters in Sustainability (Japan) and Dialogue on Science (Switzerland).
Thakore’s definition of public policy is poignant and concise: public policy is a policy that is service to the people, and not something that is disconnected from reality. He goes on to express his disappointment with the citizenry of today that seem to be, according to him, more in a state of inertia, with minimal or curtailed freedom of expression. A powerful voice, according to him, is one that motivates the birth of a future that matters; his association with The Blue Ribbon Movement stems out of a sense of hope for the better.
“I feel the youth of today are more balanced, and less experimental. The predominant social media culture has resulted in a more individualistic tuning-in,” Thakore felt. “Having said this, I feel the need to bring about change is the first level in initiating change ~ the feel for the need is what leads to possible pathways. However, it is not necessary to ‘restrict’ oneself to one school of study. I have always believed in deriving the best from different wisdoms, being open to learning, comprehending, understanding and accepting that each school of thought brings with it an approach that is rooted in a thought process, that in turn has seen/withstood change. As long as change is for the greater good, it has a lot to teach, and we have a lot to learn.”
(Sarah Berry is a consultant in outreach, communications and public diplomacy. She is currently with the Indian School of Public Policy)