The first conference of FTI was held in February 2010 in Mumbai. A detailed report on the conference, published in the March issue of the Towards a Great India magazine, is provided below (report prepared by Supratim Basu and condensed by Sanjeev Sabhlok).
Main Conference dates:
20 and 21 February 2010
L. J. Business and Training Centre, Dadar West, Mumbai
Who paid for the venue?
The local Mumbai team of FTI
Who paid for participants?
Individual FTI members paid for their travel and lodging
Photograph below: FTI members on the first day of the Conference, 20 February 2010
Left to right: Rahul Pandit, Ajay Anand, L.K.Kandpal, Siddharth Shankar, Ritesh Shukla, Supratim Basu, Anil Sharma, Akalpita Paranjpe, Ujjwal Bannerjee, Sanjeev Sabhlok, Dipinder Sekhon, Vishal Singh, Col. L. Anand, Shantanu Bhagwat, Kamal Sharma, Arun Shankar.
Not depicted (attended on the second and third days): Ashish Jauhari
Apology: Sandeep Shelke, Ram K. Atri, N.P. Singh. Many other members had wanted to attend but could not make it to this conference. We look forward to meeting them in future conferences.
First Session: Introductions – Key points
The team members recognised that we are trying to build an institution, hence the need for slow and measured steps. Yet, it was recognized that quick wins are also required so that the organisation does not dissipate and more people can be attracted to join. The need to work on systematic development of long-term structures, even as we increase momentum on the ground, was acknowledged.
It was recognized that there are many good people with the potential to lead especially in rural or semi-rural India, who are not connected to the internet. We need to work out ways to reach them. It was noted that some FTI members are more active than others in networking with other like-minded and not so like-minded people and groups. Such members have mostly come to FTI after being involved with other political initiatives or organizations. Having this experience and skill-set can help FTI reach out more widely within India, especially outside the internet.
For many others, however, FTI is their first and only social and political initiative so far. They need to be stepped through the processes that are required to gain the relevant skills.
Second Session: Urgent strategic matters – Key points
The idea of freedom was discussed in some detail. In brief, every individual should be free to pursue his life in liberty, to hold property, choose any occupation, pursue social mores and customs of his choice – and any religion – in the pursuit of his happiness, without let or hindrance from any other person or group, subject only to being responsible and accountable for the use of such freedom so that no other person's life, liberty or property is harmed in the exercise of these freedoms.
The discussions in this session brought up the idea of force multipliers (essentially, of leveraging FTI concepts and ideas).The essential idea is to create and use a strong and efficient marketing machine to disseminate our thinking and policy proposals to all constituencies without FTI members leaving their jobs. This could be done through Freedom Partners and the media, among others.
It was also agreed that if one wanted to represent the people, then one must have the ability to solve local problems. People must feel comfortable in talking about their problems to FTI members. This is a listening and organsational skill. FTI members must pay close attention to what is going on around them.
Third Session: FTI Strategy – key points
Hard questions were asked in this session: e.g. Do FTI members actually trust each other? Do we have the time to devote to such a mammoth task, most of us being full-time employees? Do we have (or can we get) the funds needed to expand this effort? Team members agreed on one thing though: that the conference had gone a long way in fostering trust among those who had attended. Face-to-face interactions are very powerful and energizing. More such occasions should be periodically organised.
The published FTI strategy was thereafter debated, and confirmed as a valid approach. It was agreed that we must stick to the idea of offering a ‘full solution’. Partial approaches are both insufficient for the task at hand and not desired by voters, who always ignore minor political alternatives and independents. It was agreed that 500 members must assemble (an intermediate target) as a first step. These 500 FTI members can potentially consider a forming a national political party or merging with other like-minded political parties.
[Nnote: FTI is NOT a political party. It encourages those with similar views to join and agree on key principles and strategies before offering an alternative to India. FTI’s role will remain that of a platform for liberal and ethical leaders to assemble and talk to each other about citizenship and leadership.]
How to find 500 members by end-2010
It was decided that finding 500 leaders is the main task for 2010. Some ideas for this mammoth task:
- Outreach programs to be regularly organized, e.g. one outreach per month per FTI member or branch.
- Letter to 4,000 independent candidates – to be sent out soon.
- Contact Lead India Contestants on a systematic manner (Ujjwal to progress this idea).
- Rural outreach programs – Akalpita would think more about this approach.
- Create a telephonic network for those who cannot be reached through the internet.
- Media – Some well-prepared press conferences can be organized during the year (e.g. a press conference on BFN can be organized by Sanjeev to set the ball rolling – Editor’s note: this could not be done.)
- Consider setting up an institution for thought leadership and training leaders. Such a leadership institute could be an evangeliser for classical liberalism and thought leadership, but it will need to be a non-political, separate organisation to which FTI leaders can be invited to speak.
- FTI writings (and forms) to be translated into local languages by volunteers, given the need to communicate in regional languages
- Half-yearly/quarterly FTI conferences or conference calls to keep the momentum going.
(Later, other ideas were also canvassed – and form part of the Action Plan circulated within FTI).
The fact that FTI is intended to be an organization for the long haul was highlighted. We will therefore need to create a long term strategy as well, that new members can understand and are comfortable with. They should not expect wonders within a short time, and should be prepared to put in effort over an entire lifetime.
First Session – Funding and media plans
Seed money is very important if FTI is to reach its potential within a reasonable timeframe. A range of fund-raising and media plans were therefore discussed. In relation to media plans the idea of holding public conferences where FTI can invite speakers on different (and potentially controversial) topics – was explored. More work will be done on this idea in the coming weeks.
Second Session – Adharshila and Freedom Partners
The idea of Adharshila was reviewed carefully. Adharshila branches can potentially to many things, such as: English and computer skills training, organizing local conventions, inter-school/college debates, education of citizens about the true price of freebies given by political parties, propagation of classical liberalism thought, etc. Adharshila branches can also become a platform for corporate leaders who want to do "social" work.
However, if Adharshila does NGO type work, then it would be inappropriate to mix political and governance issues and discussions with that work. The linkages to FTI would therefore weaken. It may become difficult to generate more FTI leaders out of the Adharshila effort, particularly since NGO work is quite distinct from political advocacy. It was therefore agreed that individual members should continue with their independent NGO efforts (if any) and that there is no need to roll up these efforts into Adharshila.
If Adharshila is to primarily engage in outreach (and advocacy) work, then we don’t need Adharshila at all. We can simply use the existing FTI brand. Outreach and evangelising programs should always be branded as FTI events, to avoid any dissonance in the message.
For those who want to work for FTI goals but do not wish to contest elections or involve themselves in full time advocacy, the Freedom Partners membership category will become the key vehicle. A greater boost needs to be given to Freedom Partners in 2010, with reduced emphasis on Adharshila.
Third Session – Action Plan
A detailed Action Plan for 2010 was prepared during this session and has been circulated within the team for further discussion and approval by the FTI General Body. It may be noted that none of the recommendations of the Conference are binding on the Team, which has its own strong democratic decision making processes through voting on the General Body (which is the Team).
Fourth Session: FTI internal communications and other processes
It was agreed that there is significant scope to improve processes for internal communications.
Forum: FTI has recently transitioned from the FTI Google Group to a Forum on its own website. Members largely agreed that despite many hiccups, the Forum is a better solution to our long term communication needs. New members are definitely better off with this system and knowledge management has considerably improved. Ongoing improvements are necessary to create optimal functionality.
Website: The FTI website was reviewed. It was agreed that the website should be used primarily as a marketing tool, with internal communication (like the Forum) potentially moved to a separate sub-domain e.g. members.freedomteam.in. Professional help will be needed to improve the website. A branding exercise for the website also needs to be conducted in 2010.
FTI custom email IDs: It was agreed that while @freedomteam.in email IDs will not be given automatically to General Body members, they could be allotted these on request, or on the basis of a particular need.
Membership Form/Process: Electronic membership forms need to be established soon. Hard copy forms with proper signatures are also required for legal purposes, and will have to be stored in Indore (and scanned for internet storage as well). A membership ID numbering system needs to be developed to allot a unique ID to every member, a number that will never change in the future, and will not be recycled and allocated to anyone else.
Document Pack for new members. It was agreed that a hard copy pack – i.e. handbook, brochures, FTI visiting cards, etc., should be prepared and mailed out to each new member upon formally joining FTI, with the costs of this exercise borne from the annual membership fee.
Fifth Session: Tactics
A number of tactical issues were discussed in this session, including possible corporate "sponsorship" of public conferences, the justifications for the use of polemics in a controlled manner, the need to create a sense of urgency for change. The idea of a Freedom March, to be potentially held once or twice a year, to create awareness of the big battle needed to bring freedom and good governance to India, was considered.
Meeting with IFAN
The formal part of the conference then ended. A meeting was held with a few members of the India FNF Alumni Network (IFAN), Mumbai. A coffee meeting was later held in a roadside restaurant where no one could hear each other in the din. No minutes from that meeting!
Most members left Mumbai at the end of the second day (Sunday), or were unable to devote more time to the conference. On the third day (Monday), a few members assembled in Akalpita Paranjpe’s house in Chembur to discuss remaining issues including the characteristics of a good team and good leaders. These ideas will be presented in separate articles in the coming months in TAGI.
One thing became clear from the conference. FTI is a flat organisation. There is no hierarchy. There is no ‘leader’. All are citizens: equals in every way. That is the defining feature of FTI.