The Bombay School of Social Work
Our analysis / approach @ Blue Ribbon is what we light-heartedly (and with a sense of self-importance) call the “Bombay school of social change”
I’ve been in Mumbai most of my life, imbibed its energy, speed and some of its’ spirit. There have been long periods of feeling apologetic about being a city-dweller, but eventually (particularly reading a little bit of Tagore) allowed me to embrace my middle class-ness with all its privilege.
While there are several different agents and several individuals acting in different capacities to negotiate power, the manifesto for me represents a beacon, a pole star that we can use to guide our actions. It need not be accurate and can even move here and there, become sharper or blurred as long as it is doing its job of giving us a general sense of where our actions must be directed to.
Having said that, we see large corporations as power holders (in them funding elections, extracting resources and infusing capital to direct our energies). Hence, the biggest ‘challenge’ to a direction like this is could come from them (even if layered and hidden behind governments or media)
Now while this is already being opposed and resisted in several ways, I see ourselves as children of the post ’92 era and ‘beneficiaries’ of it. My own education as an MBA and corporate work has also made me very intimate with the ways of big business (and I must confess, created a lot of empathy for the people there). Some of my money is also invested in these companies as a shareholder.
Working with youth, we see Blue Ribbon happen over coffee at cafe coffee days (and hot chocolate at Grandma’s cafe). (We also meet under flyovers and in public gardens and homes). In a world of such stark and painful realities, we’ve explored various ways of living including the very frugal and simple ones. Yet, this seems to be a workable equilibrium for us.
From this space of paradox, the way I see middle class engage is through being active / conscious consumers, activist share holders, diffident employees all of whom constantly negotiate to reign in corporate power (which they themselves are a part of and beneficiaries of).
Doing this, we try and connect, network and sync up with various other collectives, organizations and movements across socio-economic classes (and even the political ideological spectrum) to co-ordinate our efforts with the larger movement towards the direction of the alternatives.
There is a certain middle-class ‘rot’ that seems to have set in because of using discount coupons every day, glancing at sexualised hoardings and retreating into the screen rather than face to face contact. At the same time the possibility of organising ourselves is immense given the economic, social and intellectual capital that is present. So that is the attempt at BRM.
As “Bombay School” the approach is pragmatic (working with what works), appreciative of power in equal measure as critical (almost to the extent of appearing pro-power) and essentially values the fun, human connection and opportunity for spiritual growth that today’s times and challenges provide us.
While we are far from a People’s manifesto, at BRM we’ve been experimenting with sarva-anumati (moving only with full consent) and collective ownership of the organization….soon some of our economics will also start moving into the domain of the collective….from this space, articulating a manifesto will be more solid, integrated, robust perhaps….
Waiting to see how it all unfolds…..