Swaniti Initiative: A Blend of Policy and Grassroots Action

An Indian woman shouts slogans during a protest to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Jan.
An Indian woman shouts slogans during a protest to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Indian police were preparing Thursday to file rape and murder charges against a group of men accused of sexually assaulting the 23-year-old university student for hours on a moving bus in New Delhi. The Dec. 16 attack on the woman, who later died of her injuries, has caused outrage across India, sparking protests and demands for tough new rape laws, better police protection for women and a sustained campaign to change society's views about women. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

The recent gang-rape incident has sent shock waves all over India. Mass protests and public outrage has shaken the Indian government and it has forced them to seriously consider women's safety issues. Digging more into the reasoning of the protests, it comes out very clearly that the majority of the protesters are demanding capital punishment for the rapists. If the government agrees to their demands and gives death penalty to the rapists in this case, would that solve the prevailing problem of woman safety in the country? Would the public need to protest in a similar way for each and every rape case? Shouldn't the focus be on women's safety-centric policy reforms rather than just demanding capital punishment for a particular case?

The debate between policy action vs. grassroots action, comparing the impact of each, has been doing the rounds for a long time. But Rwitwika Bhattacharya, a Harvard University graduate, believes in deriving the best out of both and creating impact. Her venture, Swaniti Initiative, engages talented youth from across India to work with local politicians on social impact projects within their respective constituencies and if proven to be impactful, further advocacy of the working model is done with the help of the state government. Swaniti Fellowship aims to engage youth in governance by launching them in constituency development programs. The pilot for Swaniti was launched at Harvard University in 2009 by Rwitwika with the support of National Youth Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The inaugural fellowship was launched in summer 2012 where fellows worked on fostering job creation in Himachal Pradesh, India. The fellowship has attracted that best minds from the country, which include a software engineer in Microsoft, an Indian civil servant, an architect, etc. The most exciting part about Swaniti is that one gets a direct chance to create social change by working under the guidance of the constituency leader.

Swaniti aims to leverage the ground work done by its fellows to advocate for policy reforms through various talks and policy research. Therefore, Rwitwika has also launched the Swaniti Governance Lab (SGL), a platform to promote advocacy and discussion. SGL, a nonpartisan hub within the initiative, promotes evidence-based policy interventions, and integrate action-oriented, interdisciplinary policy research on ground interventions. SGL works in tandem with the fellows to bring out case studies, document successful working models, conduct partnerships with think tanks, universities, organizations and advocate policy based interventions.

Currently, applications are open for Swaniti's spring 2013 fellowship, where selected fellows would be working on diverse projects from scaling up sanitation programs in Orissa to strengthening vocational institutes in Madhya Pradesh. For all those having a passion for social development and the motivation to influence public policy, Swaniti Fellowship might just be the calling.