A week after completing my cycle ride in West Bengal, SwitchON Foundation with the support of Socratus and the MacArthur Foundation, held a Citizen’s Jury on Climate and People at the National Library, Kolkata. The concept for a Citizen’s Jury or Janta ka Faisla was an important one for us at SwitchON Foundation because we want to portray what an activated citizenry can look like. Essentially, it is a space in which a ‘jury’ – comprising regular people, is presented with ideas for action and future strategy by advocates or ‘experts’. The jury then cross-examines the experts on their thoughts, opinions and suggestions to enact participatory citizenship.
We inaugurated the day with an electrifying round of speeches from our panel of distinguished keynote speakers: Shri P.V Suryakumar (Deputy Managing Director – NABARD), Shri Debashis Sen – Chairman, (New Town Kolkata Development Authority), Mr. Manfred Auster (German Consulate – General of the Federal Republic of Germany), and Shri Rajanvir Singh Kapoor (IAS, Managing Director, WBTC). Their speeches touched on various aspects of the climate emergency and action, from historic analyses of how society got to this point to government interventions that encourage societal behaviour change and climate action.
Getting into the day’s main events, we had jury members representing farmer and youth groups from across West Bengal (and an audience of 700+ people!), all of whom I met during my cycle ride and invited to Kolkata to participate in this process. It was a wonderful experience being able to reconnect with all of the jury members and deepen our relationships with one another. For the farmers, we discussed Distributed Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture. And for the youth, we discussed Waste Management and Renewable Energy. This was such a monumental day for me – not only when I think about how far SwitchON Foundation has come in the past 15 years, but also in terms of the sheer diversity represented in the room. We had people of all ages, from communities and districts across Bengal, and representing such varied interests. People were very much aware about the climate issues and were clearly motivated to take action.
Throughout the day, wherever I turned, I caught glimpses of connections being made and animated conversations happening as people discovered one another’s interests, commitment to climate action, and how their climate action journeys are aligned. Our speakers were also very much part of this process and were connecting with jury and audience members to discuss specific climate interventions in more detail. It truly was a disruptive, revolutionary way of bringing different groups of people together – many of whom might not have otherwise crossed paths, let alone been in the same room. The atmosphere was absolutely buzzing and I loved seeing the different ways people were taking ownership of their future. This Citizen’s Jury represented democratic values and many jury members felt empowered to encourage their own communities to be more vocal citizens, having gone through this experience. Looking ahead, I’m excited to see what the Odisha Citizen’s Jury holds for us and given the success of the Bengal Jury, I’m feeling very positive. We’re also going to release a full report with the findings of our Citizen’s Juries and ensure SwitchON’s programming also takes a more democratic and participatory approach to climate action. Make sure to follow our social media and this blog to stay abreast with my Odisha journey which starts on Monday, 27th February!