Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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TECH TALK: Building a Better India: What We Can Do

September 22nd, 2005 · No Comments

If we had great urban visionaries who could think of making our cities wonderful living spaces, we wouldnt have to worry too much about it. But, unfortunately, we are not so blessed. While we do have some good thinkers in positions of power, the execution that we see around leaves a lot to be desired. And yet, amongst us, we have plenty of smart-thinking people who, while not part of the government, could perhaps be willing to contribute some time (and perhaps money) in making their neighbourhoods a better place.

I got this thought while talking to a friend in Bangalore. He and others have helped mobilise enough citizen power to get a public-private partnership to fix the road around where they live. Now, they are turning their attention to a nearby lake. People have even contributed funds where the government has expressed helplessness. This sort of initiative needs to be replicated everywhere across India. Instead of us just sitting around waiting for the government or the municipal corporation (or for that matter the local MP or MLA) to do things, we need to aggregate the wisdom of crowds along with the collective experience and help improve things in the neighbourhoods where we live.

While this will not solve the problem of better roads immediately, I do believe that what will happen is that as we start seeing things improve us, there will be examples set for others to follow. It will also raise our expectations. It will also force greater transparency in the government decision-making so we can ensure that funds get allocated appropriately and projects are monitored closely.

In this context, I am reminded of the broken window theory. Malcom Gladwell wrote in his book The Tipping Point: Broken Windows was the brainchild of the criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.

Lee LeFever adds: In the book, he shows how New York City used this theory to combat crime in the 80s and 90’s. They found that small things like keeping the subways free of graffiti and stopping the fare jumpers helped combat crime because these small actions related a sense of caring as opposed to apathy. It signaled that the city was taking the subway back. Criminals were less likely to act out in an environment that was cared-for — and caring for the subways helped stamp out crime by fixing the broken windows.

This may sound very idealistic, but it is our only hope. We cannot wait for that miracle worker to come, wave a magic wand, and solve all the problems. We have to contribute more than just our taxes and complaints to help build a better India. Luckily for us, the tools are now at hand to help us mobilise and co-ordinate action.

Tomorrow: Tools for Action


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