Dialogue Initiator: Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin

Lam Akol Ajawin Agongdit

Lam Akol Ajawin Agongdit

Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin grew up in Khartoum. He specialized in Petroleum Engineering at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and achieved his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, in 1980. He then taught at the Universities of Khartoum and Gezira and was the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Port Sudan Refinery until 1986.

That year, he joined the Sudan People Liberation Movement / Sudan People Liberation Army full time, where he was a founding member. Since 6 June 2009 he is the Chairman of the Soudan People Liberation Movement – Democratic Change. He has been Minister of Transport (1998 – 2002); Chairman of the Services Sector for the Council of Ministers (2000 – 2002); Administrative Supervisor for the Western Bahr El Ghazal State (July – August 2005) and of Foreign Affairs (2005 – 2007) in Sudan.

Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin Wrote three books, many pamphlets and newspaper articles on Sudanese politics. His next book “South Sudan: Colonial Neglect and National Misrule” will soon be published by Gilgamesh Publishers.

Dialogue Initiator: Sonam Tenzing

Sonam Tenzing

Sonam Tenzing

Born in Tibet in 1958, I was brought to India in 1959 by my late parents, who had to flee their country owing to invasion by communist China. Like other Tibetan children, I grew up in exile and received education from Central Tibetan Schools situated in Shimla, Mundgod, Mussoorie and Darjeeling, thanks to the Indian government for establishing these

schools catering specially for the Tibetan people.
After completing school in 1975/76, I pursued higher studies at Delhi University, obtaining B.A ( History Hon) degree in 1979.  Starting with the task of translation, I joined the service of Central Tibetan Administration headquartered in Dharamshala in the year 1981.  After working at the Information Office of CTA for over five years, I was moved to serve the Tibetan people residing not far from the Chandragiri village under Ganjam District of Orissa State.  In early 1987, I was shifted to  Bylakuppe under Mysore District of Karnataka State, where I served Tibetan people for nearly two years.
I then availed the opportunity of studying in USA from 1988 – 1990, focussing on Sino-Tibetan Relations  - a course offered by Uralic & Altaic Studies of the University of  Indiana, USA. From 1990 to 1991 I was hired by the Constitution
Redrafting Committee appointed by Tibet’s leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In early 1992 I was appointed administrator/Settlement Officer of the Tibetan Settlement situated in the state of Orissa. Felt deeply satisfied serving the people till 1995, after which I was shifted to Delhi to serve as President Operations of Paljor Business Board managed by the CTA’s Finance department.   In 2001/2002, I was appointed Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Eastern Europe having an office in Budapest, Hungary.   Recalling back to Dharamshala in 2005, I was once again moved out of India to head the  Office of Tibet in Pretoria, South Africa  from  2006 to 2011.   From February 2012 to March 2013, I was given the opportunity to serve as the Administrator of Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod under Uttara Kanada district of Karnataka State.  After moving to Dharamshala, I am serving as a Dy Director of Tibet Policy Institute of Central Tibetan Administration.

Dialogue initiator: Hsu Shoufeng

Hsu Shoufeng

Hsu Shoufeng

Hsu Shoufeng is from Taiwan, serves on the International Council of Initiatives of Change International, and until end of 2012 was in charge of its training and people development portfolio. He is also a member of the Asia-Pacific coordination group that offers servant leadership to facilitate networking in the region. His voluntary work with IofC for the past 20 years has been mainly on leadership training for teenagers and young adults in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific Region. He was actively involved in the Clean Elections Campaign, a social movement launched by IofC Taiwan along with 70 NGOs to address issues of rampant corruption in elections in 1992-1996.

Hsu is a certified conference interpreter by profession and sees his role as a bridge of communication between Chinese communities and the rest of the world to strengthen moral and spiritual fabric of mankind by building trust and enhancing mutual understanding.


Dialogue Initiator: John Bond

John Bond

John Bond

John Bond has worked with Initiatives of Change throughout his adult life, mainly in Europe, Africa and Australia. He worked in Ethiopia for three years and Zimbabwe for six years. From 1998 until 2006 he was the Secretary of Australia’s National Sorry Day Committee, which enlisted nearly a million Australians in an apology to Aboriginal Australians for cruel and misguided past policies, and in initiatives to overcome the harm caused. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for this work.

He is now based in Oxford, England. He coordinated the Caux Forum for Human Security in Switzerland for four years, and now jointly coordinates the Caux conference on Just Governance. He is active in numerous initiatives to strengthen integrity in governance, particularly in enabling Africa’s natural resources to benefit African development.

Dialogue Initiator: Mala Vazirani

Saying that behind every successful man there is a woman is doing great injustice to her. She has been with Mr.Vazirani, supporting him in every endeavor and has been an irreplaceable & integral part of Transasia for the past 25 yrs.

She is a Commerce Graduate with a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing and has a strong background in Company Law.

In her current position as Executive Director of Transasia Bio-Medicals Ltd., she strongly believes that Customers are the most important people for any organization and they are the resource upon which the success of the business depends. Her creative and executive inputs towards the company’s marketing initiatives and strategies are very valuable.

Democracy, is it meaningless?

Definitions highlight the unique essence, characteristic and scope of each word. Each word universally signifiesPuvaan Jayandren something in particular, depending on its context. This is important to allow communication and avoid misunderstandings.

What is the definition of democracy? The myriad of references available would yield a huge list of definitions. At first, this seems legitimate. Are the countless definitions of democracy principally homogeneous? The purpose of writing this is to throw some light on the meaning of democracy and where we err in defining it.

Consider a few definitions of democracy; rule of the people, majority rule, rule of representatives, maximum political participation and elite competition for the popular vote. Some definitions are similar while some seem inconsistent. Some antitheses in different definitions of democracy are – direct vs representative democracy, liberal vs non-liberal democracy (populist, Marxist), majoritarian vs consensual democracy and democracy as individual rights or the collective good. These antitheses encourage the belief that democracy is an ‘essentially contestable concept’ which have no grounds for agreement principally. One wonders if there not even a single absolute core principle that the word democracy represents.

The term democracy is used without understanding the underlying principle. Everyone has their own representation of what democracies are. My own definition can defend even a communist political institution for being democratic; after all, democracy an equal opportunity to life for all. Definitions must be reviewed for public discourse on democracy. Effort has to be put in exploring the fundamental principles of democracies. This journey would then conclude with an absolute and uncontested definition of democracy.

It is important though to highlight how we err while defining democracy. David Beetham, in his book, ‘Democracy and Human Rights’, claims that democracy is confused with the extent to which democracies are good. He cites Joseph Schumpeter’s definition of democracy as ‘institutional arrangements for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’. Schumpeter is convinced that citizens, being irrational, choose between elites who would make political decisions on their behalf. Schumpeter had tailored his definition of democracy to the level of public participation he considered desirable. He felt that people should simply participate by voting. In this, he confused the question of definition with the question of the extent to which democracy was good.

Another usual error while defining democracy, as pointed out by David Beetham, is in identifying democracy with a particular institution rather than the fundamental principle that democracy embodies. Schumpeter equates democracy with elite electoral competition for popular votes, making a means into an end. An instrument is confused with its purpose. The political institutions are instruments to achieve something greater than that.

Tatu Vanhannen says that “Democracy is a political system in which different groups are legally entitled to compete for power and in which institutional power holders are elected by the people and are responsible to the people.” Even a Professor Emeritus of Political Science had confused democracy’s definition. He describes democracy as being a competition for power rather than speaking of the principles for which this competition is necessary. He also believes, like Schumpeter, that democracies would only be good if the peoples’ participation stopped at the polling booths. We are drawn into making very descriptive definitions of what we see as democracies but it is often that we ignore the principles that underlie democracies.

Awareness of these common mistakes is vital to ensure that the term democracy is used in the right way. If we consider democracy the way forward, if we are to have a dialogue on democracy, if we want to make democracy real, it is about time that we pause and reflect on what democracy truly represents.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. This text represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change or the Making Democracy Real Dialogue as a whole.

Dialogue Initiator: Asef Bayat

Asef Bayat

Before joining Illinois, I taught at the American University in Cairo for many years, and served as the director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) holding the Chair of Society and Culture of the Modern Middle East at Leiden University, The Netherlands. In the meantime, I had visiting positions at the Universality of California, Berkeley, Colombia University, Oxford, and Brown.

 Presentation abstract

Despite much enthusiasm for the Arab Spring, these days we see much cynicism about the future of the Arab revolutions. In my presentation, I argue that while there are undeniable grounds for pessimism, much of it come from observers overlooking challenges inherent to all post-revolution times. Despite setbacks, I will suggest, there remains real potential and opportunities for the realization of democratic polity in some of these countries, in particular in Tunisia. But of course democracy does not come by itself; rather citizens need to fight for it. Arab revolutions have provided the some favorable space within which citizens can mobilize to extend citizenship and democratic rights.

source: University of Illinois

Dialogue Initiator: Om P. Bagaria

Om Bagaria

Om P. Bagaria got his Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering from IIT, Kharagpur way back in 1963, and was immediately seized by his uncle who recognized the value of his design skills for the family business. Energetic and creative, he immersed himself in R&D work, leaving the running of the business to other family members – until a big strike jolted him into taking an active role in management-labour relations.

During this phase, he was attracted to Initiatives of Change, where he learnt that the union leaders who were traditionally seen as foes could actually become fellow-fighters for a bigger cause.

When he turned the searchlight inwards, he began to see where he needed to change (‘remember, when you point a finger at others, there are three pointing at you’). Since then, he has divided his considerable energies between R&D work, which he still loves, and social causes.

Apart from Initiatives of Change, he has given a lot of his time to other organizations and campaigns. He has also been an active spiritual seeker, learning skills in yoga and meditation from different sources.

Om is a founding trustee of Navadarshanam (meaning ‘new vision’) which is a collective effort ‘towards ecological and spiritual ways of thinking and living’  started in 1990 by a group of concerned professionals on 110 acres of waste-land which is now becoming a nascent forest by allowing nature to revive the land. This is where he and his wife Pushpa spend many months a year working with the others on the land, mud-block housing, alternative energy sources and organic farming.

Om is now based in his birth-place, Tezpur, and with Pushpa, takes active interest in the life of this small town of Assam. Their daughter Charulata lives with her husband and two teenage sons in Delhi and son Chetan with his wife in Coimbatore.

Dialogue Initiator: Ronak Sutaria

Ronak SutariaRonak is a principal researcher in an Indian technology firm, where his focus is on building platforms for data acquisition and data science driven solutions.

He is also actively experimenting with citizen science and citizen engagement initiatives. Currently involved in engaging with a civic organization, as a part of an technical advisory working group, to build an Open Data platform and Social Audit framework. 

He has over twelve years of technology industry experience and has worked on services delivery projects in US, EU and India. He has a Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Science degree in Computer Science. 

He is also on a continuous journey of inner governance, looking inward and listening to the inner voice.