Philanthropy & NGOs

Power Partnerships

This weeks Mint Lounge is a quirky take on Power Couples.  It includes parent-child partnerships along with the usual spouses one.  When my editors told me to write on “Power Couples,” I wrote a sneering, snarky one that was (again) at attempt at humor.  Thankfully, this meeting happened and I attended.  So I asked if I could refile and substitute that one for this.  Here is the piece on Mint’s website and below.  I hope BPAC flourishes.


The future belongs to power partnerships

You need a mascot, power broker, driver, doer and bridge-builder to start a movement
Shoba Narayan

N.R. Narayana Murthy. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.
Last Sunday, at 11am, about a hundred Bangaloreans filed into the compact auditorium of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in Domlur. I went because ace swimmer Nisha Millet and epicureanStanley Pinto had invited me. My husband came because co-hostT.V. Mohandas Pai had invited him. We scrambled to reach on time because N.R. Narayana Murthy was the chief guest and he is known for his punctuality. Sure enough, at 11.01am Murthy asked, “Why aren’t we starting?”
It was the launch of B.PAC—the Bangalore Political Action Committee, India’s first and possibly only effort by private, influential elites to influence public policy. On stage was Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, B.PAC’s president; Pai, its vice-president and trustee; former state additional chief secretary, K. Jairaj; political candidate Ashwin Mahesh; and in the centre, Murthy.
How to start a movement? You need a mascot, power broker, driver, doer and bridge-builder. B.PAC has them all and you can figure out who plays what role from the above list. Pai said they have enough funds to last five years, always a good sign and one that is necessary to sustain a movement. Mazumdar-Shaw is a long-time Bangalore advocate and activist. She is at the stage in her career where she seems to be moving increasingly into philanthropy. Pai is trying new things: venture capitalist, influencer and backer of projects. B.PAC fits right into his current portfolio.
Act two: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Photo: Jagadeesh NV/Mint.

They all made speeches outlining what B.PAC was about. Most impressive of all were the speeches by Jairaj and Mahesh, which carried the charismatic ring of natural politicians. Both began in the vernacular, “Ellaruge Namaskara”, and switched to English. Jairaj treads many paths. I have seen him at the Ramaseva Mandali Carnatic music concerts in Chamarajpet. A well-respected IAS officer who also takes risks, he has done stints in Princeton and Harvard, US. Mahesh is an ex-Nasa (the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientist who wants to run for elected office. Together they know the workings of the Karnataka government and have the political savvy to get things done.

The other smart thing about B.PAC is the alliances it has forged with existing urban reform agencies, all listed under “Friends of B.PAC” on its website . There is SmartVote, co-founded by Prithvi Reddy, that aims to improve voter registration and the election process. Reddy stood on stage and fed bytes of information to Pai during the event. Other “Friends of B.PAC” include Daksh, Imagine Bangalore, OneBengaluru, and Prajalytics. This subjugation of ego is a strength in Bangalore where countless reform agencies and NGOs function in silos, all thinking that they are masters of their domain. Bangalore, with the possible exception of Mumbai, has one of the most well-intentioned citizenry in all of India. Waste management: check. Solid waste expert Kalpana Kar is on it, as are countless other building committees. Kar is part of B.PAC too. Other core B.PAC members include danseuse Vani Ganapathy; fashion choreographer Prasad Bidapa; sportspeople Ashwini Nachappa, Millet, and Charu Sharma (Prakash Padukone was in the audience); Inventure Academy founder Nooraine Fazal; brand expert Harish Bijoor; theatre-people Prakash Belawadi and Stanley Pinto; lawyer Harish Narasappa; and R.K. Mishra, who was listed as a “doer”. The spectrum of people involved in this initiative is a huge plus. Typically, activism tends to attract like-minded individuals whose approach towards doing things is clonal. B.PAC will have to find consensus amid its creative modes. Put a fashion type, a dancer, a CEO and a lawyer in the same room and see what ensues.
After the launch, I stood outside in the sun-warmed lawns of Teri, chatting with V. Ravichandar, possibly one of Bangalore’s least egotistical do-gooders. Ravichandar works behind the scenes of many of Bangalore’s initiatives including the recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival (its co-founders were in the audience for B.PAC’s launch too). We spent a good 20 minutes gossiping about ego and social initiatives.

There are three types of good samaritan initiatives in Bangalore. Most common are the small, quiet do-gooders who work in their church or community to make this city a better place to live. They have a deep footprint like Cheshire Homes or a relatively new one like Head Held High. Some seek scale; many don’t. The second kind includes large, well-funded social initiatives that are branded or associated with either one or two people. These are well-known social initiatives that get press footage and have worked in one area for years. The only complaint that could be made against them has to do with silos and hubris. They work alone and they are loath to share the limelight. But they are effective. Bangalore has a few dozen of these. B.PAC’s challenge will be to figure out a way to get them on board. The last kind is the informal and occasionally transient citizen networking groups, neighbourhood RWAs (resident welfare associations) and social media networks. These can be harnessed and taught to become more effective.

Bangalore, like Chennai, does not do well with ego. It likes self-effacement in its celebrities. Delhi has a larger appetite for flamboyance and grandstanding. B.PAC’s immediate agenda is to support (suitable) political candidates in the coming elections: a fantastic goal. In order to succeed long term, B.PAC’s founders have to get two things right: figure out how to include a widening array of citizens while keeping the intimate nature of a community (the book, The Dragonfly Effect, should help); and more interestingly, figure out how to keep individual egos in check.
Power couples are so yesterday. Power partnerships are the future.
Shoba Narayan will likely join B.PAC. She is looking forward to a hybrid between a fashion show, a Bharatanatyam performance and a Million Man March from its founders. Write to her at


  1. Gosh, Shoba, just came across this while browsing your blog. I was a (transient) activist with a (transient RWA 🙂 ..well, actually we lasted a few years and I like to think we were pretty effective when we lasted! we facilitated close to 70-80 lakhs worth of work in our layout and were perhaps the only RWA to enter into a maintenance contract with BDA. Based on this, we were interviewees for some PhD theses 🙂 Speaking from there, my issue with the BPACs of the world is that they are just too elitist. While I do not doubt their sincerity, there is just no vernacular capacity, and there is not much understanding of what the wo/man on the street wants.. we end up either making more roads for cars(as Srivatsa says below) or educating the already educated in English. I have raised this after attending programs with Janagraha and Metaculture. That while their ideas are good, they just need to reach out to the larger majority. This just does not seem to happen and frankly I am increasingly a little disillusioned with all this. Where is BPAC going these days? haven’t seen much news about it…


    1. Usha: I think these well intentioned folk who join these organizations would love to reach the larger majority. These are not elitist folk, even if their solutions, as you say, are ivory tower. Smartvote is doing a good job. BPAC is doing lots of things including training candidates who want to be corporators. It is mostly in vernacular. But entering a maintenance contract with the BDA is stellar stuff.


      1. Nice to hear about the vernacular training. If it is happening, it is certainly different. I have my reservations about the ‘not elitist’ part though. Can it be that the solutions are ivory tower because there is not much understanding of the (needs) of ‘others’?..though I suppose I should not generalize..just to give an example of how attitudes can be unconsciously condescending.. Jairaj (who is one of the people mentioned above) was a guest at a school that I am associated with (not upper class school) and just then the news about the auto rickshaw driver’s daughter who topped the CA exam had come out, and he (repeatedly) exemplified it to the children (and their parents) as an aspiration… Hello? all of you are from less privileged backgrounds and (therefore) you need to be told this?It certainly made me cringe in my seat..


  2. …Liked your ego bashing undertone. At the same time citations like “I was here because Ms.X, Rock Star invited me” and “my husband was here because Mr.Y, Super Star invited him” rankled… 😦


    1. I thought about that, Krishna. The thing is that Nisha Millet is a normal Bangalorean; and so is Stanley Pinto. The Mohandas Pai was name-dropping, I guess. But the thing is that– wierdly– people only remember this sort of thing. Why is that?


  3. Excellent write up, Shobha.
    Please help BPAC achieve its aims- let’s hope & pray that Ashwin gets elected this time around… I have not yet decided to move to Bangalore but when I do , I’ll do my “anil” ( the proverbial squirrel of Ramayana) service…
    Meanwhile wish you all god- speed in demonstrating to India that values do matter in politics… At this stage what is it that we can do from places like Singapore where we live…
    Kind Regards. Raghava- mailing from Accra, Ghana.


    1. I think you can get involved from Singapore– or Ghana– Raghava. The Internet is a great equalizer. Write to BPAC. They’ll rope you in for sure. And you’ll have a nice set of friends when you do move back


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