Guest Article: Nanda Kishore Sethuraman: Move Over Mark Zuckerberg

By Nanda Kishore Sethuraman , Bharti AXA Investment Managers, Mumbai | In Marketing | October 08, 2010
Ganeshotsav in all its glory holds valuable lessons for community building

I recently came across a book, 'Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities' by Amy Jo Kim. The book lucidly explains some basic tenets for building a community in the online space. But more on this later.

India's financial capital, Mumbai was virtually at a standstill for nearly 10 days, because Mumbai's favorite God, Ganesha paid us his annual visit. Being a recent addition to the burgeoning population of this city, I am still in awe of the fact that the entire city gets together to bring home their beloved Lord; and then give Him a pompous, happy and colourful send-off.

According to several accounts, Ganpati celebrations were popularized by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Tilakji walked this earth when the British ruled India and Indians were trying to get out of their clutches. It required that the people got together for this common cause and not be stuck in their mundane life. It meant that people had to be motivated and induced to work towards achieving the desired result.

The purpose was to bring people together, so that they could fight for the cause of freedom. Given that Indians are sentimental, God-loving and emotional, the easiest platform to bring them together would be religion. What better way to start than Lord Ganesha - the remover of all obstacles?

Ganesha was the ostensible reason why Tilakji got people together. And when there is a gathering, it is but natural that social issues get discussed. Thus, freedom was discussed.

Tilakji was also clear about getting this event executed in public places. Mitr Mandals (loosely translated as 'Friend Groups') were formed, whose job was to organize the Ganpati events. Larger- than-life Ganpati idols were made, for which Hindu rituals were performed.

The Mandals had a hierarchy based on their public profiles; and people who organized these events were revered amongst the community. Tilakji ensured that each member of the Mandal had a clear role. Thus, there was division of work, but the cause was common.

It is not surprising that the key members of these Mandals were also key members in politics and were absorbed into the larger freedom movement. These members were groomed to become leaders.

Not to forget, Tilakji constituted various sub-committees for different activities, leading to successful conduct of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. These groups were in charge of various activities such as organizing the 'pandal', flowers, music, or upkeep of the 'pandal' for the 11 days of the Ganeshotsav.

Even the events were planned to bring the people together. Pujas were performed in the mornings and evenings for 11 days. By having a proper protocol of activities, Tilakji brought about discipline of the highest order within the community.

There were other related events, such as music, dance and drama, which gave the public reason to get together to both relax from their daily routine, and also to gather and discuss larger issues pertaining to the community.

In the last four years that I have lived in Mumbai, this community has only grown and new Mandals have cropped up, with every new building society getting registered. It is now a viral / word-of-mouth based bunch of communities, which come together year after year for the same cause. Today, you can see Mandals portraying social causes, using Lord Ganesha as the messenger.

By the way, the introduction of the book, 'Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities' outlines the following nine clear steps to build successful communities on the Web:

Define and articulate your purpose
Build flexible, extensible gathering places
Create meaningful and evolving member profiles
Design for a range of roles
Develop a strong leadership program
Encourage appropriate etiquette
Promoting cyclic events
Integrate the rituals of community life
Facilitate member-run subgroups

Just in case you missed the point, scroll above and watch out for the words in bold.

Move over Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone. We just had a quick lesson on community building from Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

(The author is head - marketing at Bharti AXA Investment Managers.)