In 2001, when Greenpeace began shaping its work in India, just a handful of our people campaigned on issues related to the toxic waste trade and genetically engineered crops. Apart from traditional advocacy and campaigning issues, we were faced with the challenge of raising indigenous, broad-based legitimacy or support and of course, funding for our work in India.
As I look back, I cannot begin to explain the overwhelming feelings when faced with this responsibility; of building supporter legitimacy into the foundations for a strong, financially self-sufficient Greenpeace presence in India. Overwhelming in sheer scale – the vastness of India and its challenges and the vision that is Greenpeace.
We began raising funds in Mumbai, where we had a small team of enthusiastic Direct Dialoguers (face-to-face fundraisers). In operational terms, they were on the payroll of a local direct marketing agency. In sessions, led by campaign stalwarts like Ganesh Nochur and Navroz Modi, where campaign stories unfolded, the spirit moved. The pride that these young people felt in trawling the streets for potential supporters was often weighed down by the knowledge that at the end of the day, they reported to marketing heads concerned with pretty much just one agenda – the number of donors.
In short order, we concluded that if we were to make a difference, we needed to feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging. With the agency out of the way, the energy in the Direct Dialogue office was palpably different. There was a renewed zeal and the beginning of a significant and enjoyable internal dialogue within the group that kept us moving forward. We were tweaking Direct Dialogue to suit Indian circumstances. Motivation was high.
The internal dialogue within and between teams in different cities, led to challenging a way of thinking within the organization. We fundraisers were in a way, poor cousins of the campaigns team. We renamed the department; Fundraising to Supporter Campaigns, emphasizing our belief that our enduring legitimacy in India will depend on broad-based support. Public Engagement strategies, a street newspaper - The Witness and a challenge to the rest of the organization to occasionally get on to the streets, approach strangers and plead for support re-shaped the way we worked.
If there was any legacy, any pride that I could claim from my time with Greenpeace, it was this – the name 'Supporter Campaigns' and all that it stood for. When we started out, we had just a few thousand supporters with donations amounting to just a few lakhs. In order to reach a critical mass in terms of local support, we still needed to grow and we did because thousands of Indian citizens acted on their concerns and joined us as supporters. It's taken more than a decade and a lot of hard work by a lot of young people but today nearly 300,000 people bear witness by donating and more than 3.6 million people support and legitimize Greenpeace in India.
The recent targeting of Greenpeace and other civil society movements underscores what we have always believed to be the truth – that our legitimacy and ability to continue campaigning for justice comes from the people who support us. Our responsibility to our planet, our democracy and our nation's development cannot be approached in isolation or in a mutually exclusive manner. We have an individual and collective role in ensuring that we progress towards an India and a world that somehow keeps things in balance.
Written by Tito Chandy, Director, Supporter Campaigns, 2001-2004, Greenpeace India.
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