Ending a vicious cycle:
If recent events have demonstrated anything it is the resolve to end corruption that is rampant in the Indian society. Coming up with a solution is what can sometimes be tricky.
For Dhruv Sarin, an Indian student at the American University in Washington D.C a big part of this problem is that our youth lacks faith in politics; we have little inclination to participate and so corrupt officials get elected again. It’s a vicious cycle between voter apathy and corruption, which Sarin and his team are working to end.
During a casual conversation with his friends, was when the initial idea was born: Know Your Vote.
Know your vote:
“Know your vote is a non-partisan youth organization that looks to get the Indian youth more involved in local politics and make more informed decisions about voting” The slogan is simple: “Make noise. Be heard.”
“26/11 was a big turning point,” says Sarin, as it was a time when the scope for change really became evident and revealed how bad things were. “We wanted to tackle that.”
In the city of D.C. where he studies, the youth are actively involved in politics. Lots of high school and college students spend their summer working on political campaigns. Observing these differences also pushed Sarin to launch this campaign.
A unique approach to voter apathy:
The initial idea was to have a database with information on candidates running for elections, which is where the name came from, literally “know the people you’re voting for.”
Sarin and his team started talking to people in relevant fields, and conducting research on other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had undertaken similar initiatives.
“We realized there is so much information online, he says. “It’s not the lack of information that’s the problem but that nobody is interested in it”
So Know Your Vote decided to take a unique approach this problem of voter apathy, with the long term objective of getting people interested and involved in politics.
The business model it adopts is unprecedented. “Everything else that has been done is smaller in scale or an independent campaign around the time of elections” says Sarin. “Nothing has been sustained on a long term basis.”
Thinking big for the future:
Know Your Vote currently consists of just 8-10 students on the main business team and 200 members on the facebook page, that is right now the single platform where information on current political events and other things are disseminated.
The team eventually plans to set up Know Your Vote chapters in colleges and schools, first across Mumbai and then nationwide. This month the team took their advertising a step forward and visited the Malhar festivel at Xaviers College in Mumbai, where it distributed badges, brochures and spoke to other college students about Know Your Vote.
“People are interested when we pitch the idea,” says Sarin who earlier this year received a $1000 grant in seed money from Ashoka Youth Venture.
The grant has been rewarding not only financially but also in terms of long term expansion plans.
“We were looking at 50-60 colleges in 5 years,” but after winning the grant, the Ashoka panel told the team that they were thinking too small. “Now we are planning to go nationwide in 5 years,” he says.
Struggles of a young entrepreneur:
On asking Sarin of the challenges he faced along the way, he says that bureaucracy is a major obstacle to getting things done in the city of Mumbai. “Often people like the idea but don’t want to take further action,” he says, especially while trying to set up chapters in colleges and schools, which is the next step forward for the campaign.
“I’ve waited 3-4 days to talk to someone who only ends up being free for 5 minutes. It’s a challenge to get recognised by colleges because no one’s willing to be the first one to take it on”
Yet, the key is persistence. “You have to keep going at it,” says Sarin who has also started talking individually to college professors, to try and reach out to people at different levels.
“There’s only so much you can do,” he says, but seems positive on the whole.
Believing in yourself:
“Keep trying. You’re going to fail again and again,” he says on being asked to impart some words of wisdom.
But perhaps one of the more valuable lessons is to not get influenced easily and simply listen to people because you think they have more experience.
“There are a lot of people who give you good advice, but some people might try and change your concept,” he says sharing an anecdote from his own experience in approaching people and corporations to get funding.
“Believe in your own idea,” he says firmly, as someone who has followed instincts, carried out his own vision and idea, which he hopes will become an inspiration for the youth of India in the years to come.