Jagoree aims to enable the youth of Dhaka, Bangladesh to engage in the political process through informed analysis, advocacy and activism.
Posted by Aparna Ray on Dec 20, 2010
Jagoree is a non-partisan platform that aims to enable the youth of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to engage with and participate in the political process through informed analysis, advocacy and activism. Jagoree uses online technology such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, in both English and Bangla, and is working on two new online initiatives.
The first one is the Jagorometer, which aims to track the promises made by the Awami League government in its election manifesto (titled “Charter for Change”) prior to the 2008 general elections. The data for Jagorometer is largely based on the Jagoree core team’s analysis of articles in major Bangla and English newspapers.
The second is the Digital Bangladesh Tracker, which aims to monitor the country’s progress toward achieving the vision of a Digital Bangladesh.
My name is Mahrukh Mohiuddin, and I am one of the co-founders of Jagoree. It was four of us who started talking about the concept. We shared some common frustrations and dreams about how we wanted to see citizen activism. It seemed like all of us sort of resonated the same kind of sentiment.
People do not see that their complete dissociation from politics may just make it worse — because if you are not engaging, not trying to make it better, then who is going to do it for you? Our realization was that we have to be part of it in order to influence it, even if it is in a small way; [we have to] start creating a voice and try to make sense out of what really does not make much sense to us at the moment.
Let me tell you about our very recent initiative around the Constitution. The current government is restoring the original 1972 Constitution. We had a lot of questions about the implications of having the original Constitution restored, though some of the amendments made were somewhat contradictory to the essence of the original Constitution. So we held a round table in partnership with one of the leading dailies, who were very receptive to our proposition and offered space and even news coverage — and we got an excellent response from many of the students and representatives of the minority communities who came together to ask questions. What was even more inspiring was that the author of the original constitution, Dr. Kamal Hossain, showed interest in being a part of this. These are times when we feel that what we are doing is actually going in some direction and being well received by the youth community, and also by the veterans who have played significant roles in various political processes.
Another initiative I want to let you know of is the Jagorometer, which is an online scoreboard that we are trying to do for five sectors: energy, education, war crimes trials, health, and commerce and industry. We are looking at and some of the promises in the Awami League’s election manifesto following up based on newspaper reports, seeing how the government is actually progressing towards making their promises come true.
Some of our core values are that we want to be perceived as progressive, unbiased, nonpartisan, and positive in our approach — pro-people, being inclusive and diverse, a platform where we are nurturing positive leadership. Our vision for the future is that we want to see a Bangladesh where the youth are vocal and active and progressive political forces shaping the future of our nation.
We want to be an enabling platform where the youth can engage in realizing their dreams of being involved in politics and voicing their concerns about policies and political issues. So we want to provide that space and that platform for people to be fearless in their expression — that’s the gap we want to fill.
At present, since it is a volunteer initiative, we want to be responsive to whatever significant political incidents are taking place and be able to bring youth voices together in response to those changes — whether it is in response to the change in the constitution or the energy policy or the education policy. We want to at least bring to notice that there is a significant informed youth voice out there that needs to be taken into consideration by whoever is in power or has the authority to bring changes in the policies or the political landscape.
I would say that our dreams are way bigger than what we are able to achieve currently, but we are working towards that in small steps. So every opportunity we get in terms of showcasing the voices of the youth in the current political processes, that’s what we are really focusing on.
In the short term, we want to continue doing what we are doing, but more consistently. Partnership will be essential to our going forward. We don’t feel that we are in competition with other organizations also working in the field of citizen activism, and we feel that more and more platforms opening up in the area of citizen activism is a positive sign. One of our future goals is to partner with organizations that focus on specific issues, as opposed to general issues.
Over the years, there has been a growing recognition and appreciation of our work, even though we have not made any active effort to campaign ourselves. So, considering that we are only two years old and that it has been a volunteer initiative all along, we consider this recognition one of the impacts, especially since it is positive recognition. We really want to hone it further and take the opportunity to create awareness about what our mission is, engaging more and more people as we go forward.
Also, a smaller impact I would like to mention is one initiative that we took on around agricultural products and ensuring fair prices to the farmers. We organized a human chain and published some articles about ensuring fair prices. It seems like it was taken seriously and some of the demands that we were making — I don’t know if it was because it was our initiative or because it was a collective effort — but those demands were actually accepted by the Ministry and prices were quoted accordingly.
One of the biggest obstacles is not being able to put in full-time efforts. We are all working voluntarily and it’s difficult to keep something consistent when you are a volunteer, because you have other, often more pressing priorities that are sometimes taking away your time. That’s something that we are trying to overcome by maybe formalizing the organization so that our work is consistent.
The other obstacle we have is in terms of engaging more people and more youth voices, which is our core goal. Often we find disengaged people because we are talking about serious matters — something that does not ordinarily appeal to a large number of youth. So with all our activities, we want to tie in some fun. For example, we are currently planning a cartoon competition whereby students can express their opinions and engage in political activism through cartoons. We want to use fun media, interesting media, so that it is attractive to youth who have so many other interesting things to engage them. Also actively collaborating with the media is something that we want to do gradually, by publishing articles, etc., as we are gradually realizing that we need to be in the media to make the platform known to garner greater awareness and acceptability.
One of the other things we want to tap into is online engagement. We have a blog which we want to keep active and we also want to take part in the existing blog platforms where a lot of the Bangladeshi youth are active — for example, there is the Somewherein blog [a Bangla blog community] — so that parallel to our offline activities there is also an active online engagement. We want to initiate debate campaigns that talk about engagement in politics and engagement in active citizenship, and also engagement in informed analysis.
The 15 of us who form the core group were looking to find a platform like this, and when we created Jagoree and got this response it made us realize that there were others who were actively looking for a platform like this. Maybe it will not be a critical mass with a large number of people, but if it is really those people who are thinking and who have been wanting a platform to express themselves, those are the people we are really looking for and perhaps they are looking for us as well. Every time there is a new initiative we find that one or two new people who engage with us stay with us, so that gives us confidence that there are people out there who would like to be engaged.
I think where we see ourselves is that we want to be critical but not necessarily opposing. We also want to be able to praise the government when it takes positive initiatives. I think our core focus is looking at pro-people initiatives, so whatever we define as pro-people, whatever we understand as being pro-people is something we want to advocate for.
We want to be supportive of the government in terms of understanding the pulse of the people. We don’t want to undermine the government. I am sure the government has many other tools to understand or to get the pulse of the people, but there are so many vested interests that guide political decisions. So those are areas where we want to be watchful and be able to raise flags so that the government knows that citizens are not just sleeping and not really aware of what’s going on. It might be too ambitious to say this at this point, but we would like to keep the government on their toes so that they know that there is something beyond their parliamentary building watching whatever they are doing.
We haven’t ventured so much into private sector accountability per se, but I can tell you that in at least one initiative we tried to engage the private sector in voicing their concerns. Last year there was some concern around energy where we wanted to also engage the private sector in terms of their concerns — say, what happens when we are hitting an energy crisis, and if whatever the government is trying to do is going to be adverse for the energy situation of the country. That’s where we wanted to bring them on board to also use our platform in order to express their concerns.
I suppose you could say that some of our work has inspired similar organizations like UNYSAB — United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh — and other youth organizations who have also initiated discussions on the budget. We have seen in the past year or so that there have been similar initiatives taken by some of these organizations as well. I wouldn’t say that it has been replicated per se, because I think the word “politics” is still quite a taboo word and some of the organizations are still not comfortable saying that they are talking about politics or engaging in political discussions. That’s where we still want to maintain that stance that it’s about political engagement that we are concerned. But in other forms of community activism and civic activism I think there have been other organizations playing advocacy roles, but I am not sure how much of our approach has been replicated, in this short time.
There were a couple of things behind this. I was living in the United States for my master’s degree and also working there till the end of 2006. It was the 35th year of independence for Bangladesh and we wanted to have a conference to celebrate the occasion. This conference was around human rights and we did it at Harvard University. That was right before I was planning to move back to Bangladesh. We called that conference ”Owning Our Future,” and that was the beginning of the idea, I would say, because that was where a lot of the Bengali students and professionals came together and a lot of us shared our dreams.
A bunch of us came back after that and we wanted to keep the spirit going. There were certain things we wanted to do, like travel around the country, looking at community-led initiatives. There is another group called Drishtipat which is a human rights organization, and we were also sort of having dialogue with them and that was a group we were somewhat connected to. There was also one other initiative that was talking about a similar spirit. It was called Firiye Aano Bangladesh (Bring Back Bangladesh), but for whatever reason, the group did not stay together for a very long time. Right before the caretaker government took over, Firiye Aano Bangladesh organized a concert and was talking about civic involvement, citizens’ rights and what not. I guess after the caretaker government took over there was a sense in Firiye Aano Bangladesh that it’s taken care of, so now things will just get better on their own. So these initiatives were there, but if you talk about a purely youth-led movement that we were envisioning, then I think I can safely say that ours was pretty much something new that we wanted to create.
None at the moment. We know that Transparency International Bangladesh also has similar initiatives. They primarily work on governance and corruption, but we haven’t really worked with them. But media also plays a very important role in ensuring transparency and accountability, and though to date we have done very little work in collaboration with the media, I think that going forward working hand in hand with the prominent media will be one way of working towards our goals.