Leaders of Change Form Communities of Action

Looking behind the gloomy macro-economic numbers, a new picture of leaders is visible - a picture which gives more hope, a picture of fireflies arising, pens down Arun Maira, Author, Transforming Systems and Former Member of Planning Commission of India.
Leaders of Change Form Communities of Action
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The sputtering of India’s economic growth is ringing alarm bells. Though attracted by the potential of India’s market, investors are turned off by the difficulties of getting things done in the country. Projects are stuck in tardy processes for approval and snarled in inter-departmental tangles. Processes of releasing the finances stranded in stuck projects are also getting stuck in institutional wrangles.

India is churning. Young people are becoming desperate for sources of secure and adequate incomes. The economy cannot muddle along much longer. Meanwhile our leaders continue to repeat that India is destined for greatness, as indeed it is. And that India’s long-term prospects are attractive, as they are. The risk is, as Toni Morrison said in the ‘Song of Solomon’, “If we don’t create the future, the present extends itself”. India’s citizens and its well-wishers are concerned about what the future will bring. They hope for the best, though many fear, may be worse.

Leaders of Change
The views of the leaders at the helm of institutional pedestals and advertisements of their bold actions are taking up more space in the media, crowding out voices of people at the bottom. Looking behind the gloomy macro-economic numbers, another picture of leaders is visible — a picture which gives more hope, a picture of fireflies arising. These fireflies are individuals, in villages and in towns, women and men, some with little education and some with post-graduate degrees, who are bringing about remarkable changes in their lives and those of the community around them. They are leading efforts to harness their communities’ water resources, solving problems of waste recycling, increasing incomes of tiny enterprises, and helping people to improve their local systems of community governance. These fireflies are leaders of change, who with their own energy and passion, are bringing light into the lives of others too.

Bring Into Action
India must multiply the numbers of fireflies around the country—leaders on the ground forming communities of action with local stakeholders to produce outcomes. A common criticism of this approach to change is that it cannot produce results ‘at scale’. The changes are too small, critics of this approach say. Therefore, they say a big organization is necessary with a leader on top to ensure that poverty is removed in all India’s villages and cities, and ensure that environmental degradation is reversed everywhere. This model of change and leadership wants to impose big solutions from above. It smothers the fireflies below.

Multiply the Fireflies
India is too diverse, democratic and entrepreneurial, to be changed by any authoritarian leader. The role of India’s elected leaders must be to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of people and reduce their dependence on big government and big business. India’s strategy for change must be to multiply the fireflies. Let their stories be told to inspire others. But this will not be enough. The strategy for change must also bring people together in networks, to collaborate, and combine their energies, to scale up outcomes into larger pools of light.

(This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

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