“Many a time, as development practitioners, we see the problem through the narrow lens of our own expertise and competence. It is like the famous saying: a man with a hammer will only see nails everywhere. We tend to see development as a mere provision of education, health, livelihood, water and sanitation, etc. We limit our understanding to providing for man’s basic physical needs without understanding the deeper requirements for the human heart, mind and soul.”
These are few lines from the book, ‘I, The Citizen‘, authored by Dr R Balasubramaniam. ‘Balu’ has dedicated more than thirty years of his life to the development sector, by living and working with remote tribal communities in Mysuru district of Karnataka, with the aim of bringing their voices to the forefront.
Balu is a medical doctor by pedagogy, who embarked on his chosen path of rural and grassroots development at the dawn of his medical journey, after being heavily inspired by the teachings of the great leader and philosopher, Swami Vivekananda.
Drawn from Dr Balu’s personal experiences in tackling poverty, education, healthcare and corruption, ‘I, The Citizen’ gives one an insightful understanding on how leadership, development, true democracy, and most significantly, citizen engagement play elemental roles in making communities and eventually, nations succeed.
Today, the book is globally acclaimed, and widely quoted and cited by academicians and researchers from the development sector across the world. It has been republished by the prestigious Cornell University Press, USA as an international edition.
But very few know what went behind pushing the book to such a high pedestal. For example, the funds for publishing ‘I, The Citizen’ had been entirely crowdsourced.
“As the book was an attempt to understand citizen development and engagement, I wanted to engage the citizens in its publishing as well, which would ensure their involvement in propagating ideas like the power of citizen engagement and strengthening democratic participation in rural echelons. It had been a slow process. But as word spread on, we managed to not just raise enough funds for publishing the book but even more to reprint the book within the first year itself,” says Dr Balu, speaking to The Better India.
Accepting donations only up to ₹50,000, Dr Balu had then relied solely on his friends and academic circles to spread the word along, besides teaming up with ‘Rang De’, a low-cost microcredit crowdfunding platform.
A significant chunk of these funds was routed to the Grassroots Research And Advocacy Movement (GRAAM), a public policy research and advocacy initiative founded by Dr Balu in 2011 that focuses on research incorporating grassroots perspectives and policy advocacy driven by empirical evidence through a collaborative approach and dialogue.
That was three years ago. Today, Dr Balu is ready with a new book titled, ‘Voices from the Grassroots’, and intends to employ crowdfunding again to make it reach people across the world.
In a journey spanning three decades of Dr Balu’s travels across rural Karnataka, the book navigates through real stories and accounts of the grassroots. The book, as the name suggests, aims to make the voices of ‘the common and the ordinary’ people break free and be heard.
“This time, it is a much more powerful narrative that comprises portraits of indigenous communities and their anecdotes. ‘Voices from the Grassroots’ essentially reveals the values and essence of India through the voices of its citizens, surpassing barriers of cultures and generations. And just like ‘I, The Citizen’, I want my new work to bring together people across the country in not just hearing these voices or understanding that these need to be heard, but more crucially, help these stories reach a greater audience,” he explains.
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Unlike the last crowdfunding campaign, Dr Balu has demarcated a limit for the contributions — ₹250 to ₹25,000 only.
“This would give more people an opportunity to donate willingly, no matter how big or small the amount is. Ultimately my aim for crowdsourcing the book is to instil certain ownership amongst the contributors as well, making this not just my mission, but all of our mission in making the ‘Voices From The Grassroots’ heard. I feel proud to share that women from some of the rural SHGs with whom I’ve been associated, have pitched in ₹10-25 and if they can, why not you?” adds Dr Balu.
To help Dr Balu realise his dream of making Voices from the Grassroots heard, you can contribute to the account details given below:
The book, ‘I, The Citizen’ is available on Amazon and you can purchase it online here. You can write to Dr R Balasubramaniam at email@example.com.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)