Move Over Mark Zuckerberg

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 that need to be kept in mind while trying to build a community in the online space. Wait!

India’s financial capital Mumbai was virtually at a standstill for a few days recently because Mumbai’s favorite God Ganesha paid a visit. Being a recent addition to the burgeoning population of this city, I am still at awe of the fact that the entire city gets together to bring home their Lord and to give him a pompous, happy and a colourful send off to their beloved deity.

I have read many accounts that Ganpati celebrations were popularized by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. For brevity’s sake we shall refer to this great gentleman as Tilakji.

Tilakji walked this earth when British ruled India and Indians were trying to get out of the English clutch. It required that the people got together for this common cause and NOT be stuck in their mundane life. It meant that people have to be motivated, kept that way and get them to respond to a few given stimuli in achieving the desired result.

Ganesh Visarjan - Community Exercise

Ganesha Community

The PURPOSE was to bring people together so that they can fight for the cause of freedom! Being sentimental, God loving and emotional that Indians are, the easiest platform that can bring them together would be religion. What better way to start than Lord Ganesha – the remover of all obstacles? Ganesha was the reason why Tilakji got these people gathered and when there is a gathering it is but natural that social issues get discussed. Freedom was discussed.

Tilakji was also clear about getting this event executed in public PLACES. Mitr Mandals (loosely translated as ‘Friend Groups’) were formed who were given the job of organizing the Ganpati events. Larger than life Ganpati images 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 to play, thus there was division of work, but still the cause was maintained.

It is not surprising that the key members of these Mandals also were key members in politics and were absorbed into the larger freedom movement. These members were groomed to become LEADERS later. Not to forget Tilakji constituted various SUB-COMMITTEES for different activities leading to successful conduct of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. These groups were incharge of various activities like organizing the Pandal, flowers, music et cetera.

Even the events were planned to bring the people together. Pujas were performed in the mornings and evenings for 11 days and the job of upkeep of the pandal where the Ganpati idol was kept. By having a proper PROTOCOL of activities, Tilakji brought about discipline of high order within the community. There were other RELATED EVENTS like 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 bunches of communities which come together every 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.

  1. Define and articulate your PURPOSE
  2. Build flexible, extensible gathering PLACES
  3. Create meaningful and evolving member PROFILES
  4. Design for a range of ROLES
  5. Develop a strong LEADERSHIP program
  6. Encourage appropriate ETIQUETTE
  7. Promoting cyclic EVENTS
  8. Integrate the RITUALS of community life
  9. Facilitate member-run SUBGROUPS

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

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

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