Sparking India’s rise with a cultural movement

Posted on 1st Dec 2011 by Kate Pennington in Blog

Stop by a chai (tea) stall anywhere in India and you can join the customary conversation about the oppressive heat, the crumbling infrastructure, the struggle to get your children a good education. There’s little faith that the government will step in and catalyze change.

Yet Indians are renowned as some of the most enterprising people in the world: a nation of 1.2 billion entrepreneurs. So what’s stopping them from putting down their teacups and doing it themselves? Can this indefatigable spirit be released into the broader economic and social sphere as well? Where’s the bottleneck?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the past two years working at Mahindra, a $14.4 billion Indian MNC. At first blush we may seem an unlikely candidate for unleashing positive change in India. But in January 2011, Mahindra articulated a new brand purpose: to build products and services that enable people to Rise. Our philosophy is that people possess the will and ability to improve their own lives; we just need to offer them the tools.

This brand promise is what drew me to Mahindra in 2010. I’ve seen how the private sector can be a fast, efficient, and sustainable force for improving living standards. My favorite example at Mahindra is a small tractor called the Yuvraj 215 that’s revolutionizing rural India by making mechanization as affordable as a pair of bullocks.

Is a similar lack of tools all that’s holding people back from driving widespread change? What would it take to help entrepreneurial people tackle job creation, better infrastructure, quality education— in short, the nuts and bolts of economic prosperity? We started by examining the barriers to this sort of innovation: disillusionment, a sense of powerlessness, lack of funds, and isolation. And we crafted Spark the Rise to set off a movement for positive change in India, entirely driven by ordinary people.

Spark the Rise is a platform for people with action plans to broadcast their ideas, attract donations, and recruit volunteers. It lays a few bricks to fill in the communication void between entrepreneurs isolated by geography or the lack of communication technology, and links people with similar ideas and complementary skills to co-innovate.

The idea is to build a community—to facilitate the movement that already exists, that derives from the basic human will to build a better life. People with ideas can submit projects for posting on, either online or offline through a mail-in form available across rural India. And anyone can get involved by following a project, offering advice, debating development issues on the discussion board, or voting for projects they think should receive a grant from Mahindra.

More than 5,000 ideas have poured in over three months. We do not need to wait for the government or an NGO or anyone else to offer us a better life. People are rising to take responsibility—and action—for India’s future.

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