What drives activists?
Published 27th October 2009 - 10 comments - 1152 views -
If I ever had to use one word to describe myself, I would pick ‘Entrepreneur’. My definition of an entrepreneur is not somebody who takes advantage of a business opportunity. An entrepreneur is somebody who solves problems, if she/he doesn’t like something they go ahead and attempt to change it without waiting for somebody else to do it. So I’ve previously founded a microfinance company to provide loans to the poor, started a rural women’s cooperative to provide them with supplementary income and been part of numerous other failed startups. I see myself as a leader and a problem solver.
As a businessman I see incentives to be the driving force of every action. Human beings need incentives to make them act. So every time I meet somebody I try figuring out what their incentives could be, I’m not judging but just wondering what makes them do what they do, since you are defined by your actions.
The flaw in my theory lies in assuming that every human being is rational and is unconsciously acting to maximize his benefits. I already knew that all reason is suspended for a person in love, but I’m also realizing that this theory doesn’t apply to activists either.
I always wondered if I had been born during India’s freedom struggle, what section of the society I would have fall in. Would I be the arm chair intellectual in the likes of Rabindranath Tagore or an intellectual who would take radical action like Subash Chandra Bose or a moderate intellectual like Jawaharlal Nehru or a businessman like GD Birla doing his bit for the nation by increasing its wealth? I would have probably been the businessman, lost in the annals of history.
Image from Ruchi Jain
The past few months I’ve for the first time ever come in close contact of activists, people who take to the streets and are the loudest people in the room. In fact you might say I’ve even become an activist myself. Today I would gladly take the street calling for the government to act for climate change or even give up food to make a point. If you know me a bit, you would realize how much out of character doing so is for me. I’m the silent leader; I don’t make statements or try to change people’s way of thinking. If I have to do something, then there better be some benefit for me in it. I act on incentives.
All this has happened because of I’ve been closely involved with the Indian Youth for Climate Network. IYCN has some of the most exceptional Indian youth I’ve ever met. Everybody seems to be over dosed with unbridled passion for climate change. These are people who get tattoos to show their commitment or travel for months across India in solar powered cars or wait for hours outside offices of ministers or give up food for 40 days. Their passion for climate change has infected thousands on other Indian youth to make IYCN the largest youth organization for climate change in the world. In fact my journey in the renewable energy sector began when I met one of the founders of the network two years back at a conference. I can positively say that meeting changed my life.
Check out 350.org’s homepage of pictures from across the world. Tens of thousands of people decided to stand up and make a statement. I’m fortunate that I can say that some of them were my friends. But a year back I would have wondered, who are these crazy people? I study at a highly selective university but I don’t see any of them ever acting out of their passion for climate change. They instead focus on developing technologies that decrease emissions or starting businesses which do so. If you are an activist, you would find it hard to understand that I really didn’t know any activist from my university or among my close friends. So it is hard for me to understand activists.
I decided to write about this after I read Climate Justice Fast, which is a 40 day fast for climate change. I don’t see how it would make any significant contribution to saving the world, but people have their reasons and will not eat anything for 40 days. It sounds both stupid and brave.
What makes you an activist? Why would you decide to give up so much for something that few other people care about?
About the author
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