Student Efforts Drive Pro-Development Movement in India

May 17, 2011
by Esten Perez, Institute of Politics

As a native of India, Ghanshyam Tiwari MPA 2011 is all too familiar with poverty, economic inequality and the forces that drive a wedge between the privileged and the poor in society, and he came to Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) to explore ideas to change that dynamic in his home country.

Seeking initiatives that could bring about positive change, Tiwari found an extraordinary opportunity during the 2010 general election cycle in Bihar, an impoverished eastern state in India with nearly 103 million people. Tiwari believed such an initiative was backing the re-election bid of Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who he admired for strong “leadership and a development track record” and credited for “turning the state around in five years.” However, there was one major obstacle: Tiwari had no political connections or experience in Bihar to speak of. Further, he was unaware of any precedent for such a project in Bihar or the rest of India.

Undeterred, Tiwari hit the ground running in Bihar and eventually secured a meeting with the state’s Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Modi, who liked Tiwari’s enthusiasm and asked him to return in the summer of 2010 to work on the “Bihar Leadership Project,” an effort to support Nitish and his pro-development political agenda and foster greater public leadership in the state.

He couldn’t do it alone, however; Tiwari needed to assemble a team to assist Nitish in campaign strategy and organization building, and in the process, improve the quality of public representatives in the region and the country. Most importantly, Tiwari thought his team would need to constantly “be thinking on our feet…and working relentlessly in our mission to make development the popular narrative of the state politics.”

Tiwari returned to HKS to assemble his team and begin exploring avenues to finance the project. After receiving a recommendation of support from HKS Professor Archon Fung, Tiwari was able to secure $4,000 from the Schools’ Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. In addition, Tiwari received a commitment of $3,500 through Harvard’s Institute of Politics’ summer campaign stipend program, which supports HKS students each summer making on-the-ground contributions to active political campaigns. By May 2010, Tiwari had assembled a team of more than 15 students and professionals– including Vinod Yadav, a fellow HKS student – to undertake innovative initiatives designed to make significant impact, act independently in Bihar and engage fully in the Fall 2010 elections.

Tiwari and his team aimed to utilize innovative methods and effective campaign management techniques to make pro-development campaigns the focus of the 2010 election. The team ran an independent pre-campaign project called “Bihar Development Summary” and created a report containing a three-page development narrative for 40 constituencies across five districts in the state. Tiwari’s group also created www.FriendsofBihar.org, a unique online portal where supporters of Bihar’s development from across the world could join, collaborate and share ideas on the state’s future and proactively engage with the state government towards implementation of the best and brightest ideas. Tiwari reports that, to date, more than 800 people have joined the online community aiming to make transformative growth the main agenda. These efforts helped Nitish win successful re-election last fall by a wide margin, which Tiwari believes “has transformed Bihar into the epicenter of pro-development leadership in India.”

Inspired by the mission of public service in a state that desperately needs it, Tiwari’s successful experiences in Bihar – covered by MSN India and The Indian Express – have encouraged him to return to the state after graduating from HKS and continue working to improve public leadership in India and strengthen the democratic process at the grassroots level. “With a relentless passion for development of Bihar, I will continuously find new ways to leverage this platform and drive development in the state,” Tiwari says.

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Photograph of Ghanshyam Tiwari

Ghanshyam Tiwari MPA 2011

“With a relentless passion for development of Bihar, I will continuously find new ways to leverage this platform and drive development in the state,” Tiwari says.

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