Understanding Pakistan Project Team August 17th, 2007
Study Circles as Instruments of Grass Roots Democracy
The idea of Study Circles to promote “informed” community participation in decision-making originated in Sweden in the 19th Century. Today, study circles are used around the world in a host of different setting ranging from a collaborative “self-education” device to motivate learning and learning from each other, to a to means for working on complex community projects in a participative manner, to creating grass-roots awareness of and practice deliberative democracy. The concept of Study Circles is not new to Pakistan, or its politics either. While we’re not among the most “intellectual-minded” of the nations, study circles have been used in religious and political contexts before. The Mahajir Qaumi Movement (for instance) uses study circles to create political awareness among its members on issues that matter to us. What we propose to do here is, however, a little different.
The purpose Understanding Pakistan Project is to help Pakistanis around the world enhance the understanding of their country and become ”informed” citizens who could actively and meaningfully participate in the democratic process. We Pakistanis often gripe about the lack of well-informed and well-intentioned participation of the more educated out of us in our democracy. In our desperation to find an alternative to despotic military regimes or corrupt civilian rule, we often ask ourselves a question: Is there a third way? Can we create an alternate political force that can rise above the petty politics of the day to steer Pakistan towards its destiny.
The Third Way in Pakistani Politics?
We, at Understanding Pakistan, believe that there is an alternative — a third way. That third way is for all of Us–Pakistanis in Pakistan and around the world–who have so far stayed on the sidelines of Pakistani politics and democracy–to educate ourselves and get involved into the politics of our country. We have often maintained that Pakistani politics–dirty as it may be–is what we have made it to be. If all good people would move away from politics, what would be left would be self-serving opportunists and “professional” politicians who have only harmed our country thus far. There is no higher calling for a patriot–that all of us claim to be–but to educate ourselves and get involved with our country’s political scene.
With that aspiration in mind, Understanding Pakistan is taking one step further than merely serving as a web-based tool to ”inform and educate” ourselves and take it to the real-life. We’re hoping to launch Understanding Pakistan Study Circles over the next several months in major cities of the world to empower Pakistanis–and Friends of Pakistan–to educate and get to know each other and build a community committed to taking on the difficult task of engaging with, reforming, and rebuilding Pakistan through the underlying principles of the Understanding Pakistan Project. This, we believe, is the surest way to creating decentralized and grass-roots democracy in Pakistan.
Why Does Understanding Pakistan Represent an Opportunity?
We, at Understanding Pakistan believe that this project presents an ultimate opportunity to put the concept of grass-roots, informed, deliberative democracy into action. Here is why:
From June 4, 2007 to August 16, 2007 (today), over 2300 people have visited the Understanding Pakistan website, for a total of over 3600 times spending, on average, more than 10 minutes per visit. 64% of these visits have been new visits while 36% have been repeat visits. Readers of Understanding Pakistan Project come from 458 cities within 56 countries across 6 continents. This is a great start for a project with as serious an aspiration as this one. There are no bells and whistles in Understanding Pakistan. It is powered by our passion and desire to learn and become well-informed and useful citizens of our country–a nobel desire indeed.
What is also interesting is that this geographical coverage and level of interest provides us with a springboard to take the aspirations of this project to the next level. The following figure provides a snapshot of:
- Top-11 cities by number of visits (the most “linked cities”) with Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, London, and Los Angeles being the top-5, and (Top-Figure below)
- Top -12 cities by number of repeat visits (the most “hooked” cities) with Bletchley (UK), Salzburg (Austria), Hull (UK), Thames Ditton (UK), and Las Vegas (USA) being the top-5 (Middle Figure, below)
While there are some overlaps, the picture is clear. Understanding Pakistan has already created communities of interest–though, unbeknownst to each other–that form a critical mass of Pakistanis necessary to begin rolling the process forward. These cities thus can become the starting point of a movement to bring grass-roots, informed, deliberative democracy to Pakistan and Pakistanis. In fact, there are already a number of potential champions spread throughout these cities and across the world. Consider the following:
- More than 100 individuals visit, on average, more than about twice a day
- More than 150 individuals visit, on average, about once a day
- More than 225 individuals visit, on average, about once every 2 days
- More than 300 individuals visit, on average, more than twice a week
- More than 390 individuals visit, on average, about once every week
There looks like there are a lot of Champions (Bottom Figure, below) out there that need a little of bit encouragement and support to take their passion one step further. It is time that we spread the learning wider and reach out to those around us. Creating aware about our country and its democracy will require a sea change in our attitude towards our country, its politics, and its future. This change will only happen one person at a time. By spreading your passion around and taking the next step, you can be the Champion of that change and play a more constructive role towards your country. This is clearly not rocket science. What makes this exercise unique is the passion, open-mindedness, and earnest desire for change of its participants.
If you are among one of those Champions (cited above) or even if you’re not but are willing to take the next step forward, please get involved. Remember, its takes one person at a time to change the world.
When we, the third generation of Pakistanis, hand over the reigns of this country to our children, we would like it to be better, stronger, and more prosperous that what our parents gave us. You may not be able to change everything in your lifetime but atleast you would be able to hold your head high and tell them that you did your best. Lets do the best that we can.
Here is how….
What will An Understanding Pakistan Study Circle Do?
The hallmark of an Understanding Pakistan Study Circle would be the willingness of its members to come to a discussion, a reading, an informal chat with an open mind to learn from and inform a debate about Pakistan. We, at Understanding Pakistan, believe that a better understanding of the complex history of our country is key to taking the right set of actions necessary to improve our current state of affairs. Whether we like it or not, many a times our discussions are ridden with rhetoric rather than well-documented facts about our country. The first objective of the study circles is to learn and inform.
A Study Circle can be a group of 4-10 individuals–friends, acquaintences, or total strangers–that meet on a regular basis to collectively learn and discuss Pakistan’s history and its future. These would be fairly decentralized entities with perhaps only a virtual link the Understanding Pakistan Project and other study circles around the world. Any individual or group of individuals interested in forming a study circle may garner interest from others in their locality (city etc.) and begin the process. A Champion (or set of Champions) may create a study circle from amongst those who are already following the debate on Understanding Pakistan or recruit entirely new members for the circle. You may create one at your school, your university, your office, amongst you relatives, friends, or total strangers. You may have a women’s only circle or a men’s only circle.
Study circles may decide who its members are, who the facilitator is (e.g. same person every month, or a different person each month), where to meet (perhaps an easily accessible place?), how often to meet (perhaps once or twice a month?), and how to structure the conversations (a particular topic?, a pre-assigned reading? or a free-for all discussion?). It may report back the conversation on the Understanding Pakistan website, seek help (e.g. looking for a particular fact?) from other study circles or not. The study circles may meet over tea or coffee or hold a “potluck” for everyone to share in.
On our behalf, The Understanding Project will do its best to sustain and support the ongoing debate within these study circles. We will continue to enable and empower these decentralized knowledge and learning networks to form, ideas for topics to discuss, facts, figures, and perspectives on these ideas, and options for activities etc. We will also attempt to bring new documents and facts/figures to light to spark debate on issues of importance in Pakistan’s history (and future). As these study circles form themselves, and facilitators become apparent–either through self-selection (i.e. a Champion creates a study circle) or through nomination (i.e. a study circle nominates a facilitator), Understanding Pakistan Project will be open to ideas and thoughts about how we may help. While coordinating with Understanding Pakistan Project is not necessary–for these are designed as decentralized vehicles of collective knowledge sharing and learning–doing so may be helpful in learning from others and devising a better and effective model for doing this activity over time.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, talk to your friends and colleagues about starting a Study Circle and/or write to me at Athar.Osama@gmail.com if you’re interesting in championing an Understanding Pakistan Study Circle in your area. Also, please join the email list by sending a blank email to UnderstandingPakistanemail@example.com to receive more frequent updates.