Building Indian Grassroots Movements

Deepti Doshi, C’03, W’03, almost feels the need to defend herself to fellow believers of the free market. Here she is in Mumbai, India, founding and running an organization that some might question as “socialist,” after getting a master’s in how to lead popular uprisings, for all intents and purposes, from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Doshi earlier earned her BSEcon from Wharton and a BA in Psychology from the College.

Deepti DoshiThen again, two of the biggest funders of her organization, Haiyya, are one of India’s largest investment bankers and one of its biggest tech entrepreneurs.

It’s what she finds most interesting about her work—“how to hold both worlds,” she said in a Skype call about her business half and her social mobilization half.

Launched in February 2013, Haiyya has grown quickly. It now employs 10 people across two cities. In its current model, Haiyya galvanizes Indian grassroots support for key public issues, like women’s safety and urban sanitation. Haiyya has partnered with Indian conglomerate Tata to increase voter registration. It is also creating an educational program to teach kids about democracy.

New campaigns begin through an intensive process aimed at building leadership on the street and fighting for social and political change. Haiyya staff first listen to citizens in a community to gauge their current pain points. Then the staff conduct campaign management and field directing steps, building out a team of up to 10 volunteer leaders who are willing to take ownership on the issue. Then they conduct policy research, determine the political players and what positions they take on the issue, and work to sway them. Finally, they take direct action.

“Our fundamental premise is that leadership needs to be distributed,” Doshi said.

What she is applying is community organizing theories and best practices learned at the Kennedy School, where she earned a midcareer master’s in public administration and was influenced by Marshall Ganz, who is credited with designing President Barack Obama’s 2008 field campaign.

This story was first published by Wharton Magazine on May 21, 2014.

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