Over the years, I have had one debate repeatedly – is ‘solving public problems’ worth anything politically? I think so, and pretty much all of what I think is political in my life revolves around this thinking. I like the idea of solving problems, I believe it excites those who try, and is a real contribution to tackling the problems the country faces. That’s why, day in and day out, I talk about problems and their solutions – especially in cities.
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The argument I have heard the most against this, is that this is not political enough. Winning elections takes something else, and that something requires more than a focus on problem solving.
But we have never given problem-solving a fair chance, politically. Nearly 90% of the people who want change, think it is going to happen after they become politically significant, not before. I don’t believe that. I think it is both possible and necessary to be change-makers whether one is in power or not. In fact, doing good things before one is in power could potentially make it much easier to do the right thing after winning.
We have to give ourselves a better shot at changing the country for good, than to believe that ‘power’ is the essence of such change. While power is certainly alluring, it is also that much more uncertain as an instrument of change. A focus on solving problems, on the other hand, is capable of generating the base of support needed to seek political change too. But we have to invest in this, genuinely, and over a long time. It’s not a quick fix, I admit, but at least it’s a real one.
Off late, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to young people in many cities, and everywhere I go I see the same thing. People want change, and they are willing to work for it, in small and big ways, in their own neighbourhoods and cities. The challenge for new politics is to build scale into this – and genuinely increase the number of problem solvers in the country. ‘Each one a change maker’ is a model we can trust and invest in, both for development and for politics. These are not mutually exclusive.