Community service is not a new concept. There are a lot of countries in the world where citizens, both adults and kids, participate in community service activities. It has a lot of advantages. It increase engagement, it reduces the burden on state agencies and also builds a culture of ‘us’ in the community.
Universities and colleges have started to give importance to community service in order to build a feeling of ‘empathy’ and ‘service’ in their students. Schools have always run small programs which are similar to community service.
The proposal is:
Incentivised Community Service opportunities for citizens
If we look at communities as units of change, we can build a feeling of ownership among the citizens and also set a high bar for culture in a city. The reason we incentivise it is one, to initially promote the practice of community service and second to make sure that citizens who participate get something in return.
The idea is to gamify the entire process. An app can be created which can be a scorecard. Every time a citizen participates in the community service opportunity, she/he will get a few points. Those points can be used for anything. It can be used as credits for a school or college course, it can be used as credits for getting a discount at partner organisations, it can be used to even say get discounts at or waivers for paid government services. The possibilities are endless.
Here are three simple ways in which community engagement can be used to either problem solve and/or increase engagement in the society:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan a few years back. It is something that can be implemented in a more structured way through the community service program. Local government or communities can identify the area that needs to be cleaned and then volunteers can sign up for an ‘event’ to help clean up that area on that day at that time. Basic idea is to do what ‘The Ugly Indian’ does but not anonymously. If people from the community come together to keep the community clean, sustainability will not be an issue. The cleaning activity is not limited to roads, it can include any public space or property like heritage monuments, gardens, public schools, footpaths, railway station etc.
If you drive around the city a lot, you may have seen common citizens in a white tshirt helping the traffic police maintain traffic during peak hour traffic. The idea is to formalize it a little bit and increase the number of these volunteers. There can be official badges which can be given to citizens who pledge to volunteer and maybe even volunteer uniforms to citizens who pledge to volunteer consistently for a longer period of time. It will definitely reduce the burden on the traffic police but more importantly, anyone who works at a traffic junction for a couple of days is probably less likely to break traffic rules in the future. Education department has a system of ‘helper teachers’. Basically they are bunch of teachers who are under training right now and don’t have all the qualifications to be a full time teacher right now. They work as ‘helper teachers’ for a few years and are then absorbed into the regular system. Maybe ‘helper traffic police’ can be such a system.
There is a huge population of our country and in turn of our city which cannot read and write. They may or may not be officially illiterate but they are not able to maneuver their way around various aspects of life because of their illiteracy. You will often meet such people at urban resource centers. They come for getting their Aadhar card, Voter ID Card, Ration Card and sometimes even to file an RTI. Volunteers can set up camps themselves or they can be trained and allocated to such specific centers. They can also go around the community and spread awareness about government programs or schemes.
If you are wondering why do citizens need to do what clearly is the government’s job, well, it is because state capacity in our country is really low and so till the time it scales up and becomes more efficient, we need all hands on deck. Citizens need to realize that the government cannot function if we don’t work with it. Citizens have to support and hold the government accountable and community service opportunities give citizens a chance to get close to the ground realities and understand problems before they think about solutions. It creates a feeling of ‘my city’ or ‘my community’ among them.
Community service has worked really well in a lot of places. It is time we give it a shot in our city as well. It benefits children, youth and the community at large.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
If not now, then when?”
– Rabbi Hillel