10 Lessons Arvind Kejriwal Teaches Entrepreneurs
Aam Aadmi Party has made a dream debut at the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections. What lessons can entrepreneurs learn from the success of this start-up political party?
Even though the results of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did not quite meet the results projected by the party, they have been universally acknowledged as the hero of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections 2013. Though the BJP led the tally of seats, the voting percentage they secured actually declined from the last election. The Congress party was reduced to single digit numbers with the sitting Chief Minister Sheila Dixit suffering defeat in her own constituency at the hands of Arvind Kejriwal, who called himself a start-up politician.
The man himself credits the success of the AAP to an enlightened electorate exercising their franchise in selecting the first real alternative they had after 40 years when in 1977 the country voted out the Congress after the Emergency. He credits the victory to the months of unpaid work contributed by the many thousands of volunteers who came from all over the world and different parts of the country to run the campaign. Seventy candidates and especially the 26 winners indicated how ordinary people are finally becoming able to find a place in running governments.
In the rally for its volunteers at Jantar Mantar in Delhi three days after the results were announced, AAP claimed the moral victory of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections. However, Arvind Kejriwal began his speech by cautioning, “We are not here to celebrate. We cannot celebrate till corruption is removed.” He ended his speech by announcing plans to fight the Lok Sabha elections.
Here are 10 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Arvind Kejriwal and his party AAP.
1. Do Not Fear the Size of the Competition: While size does matter, a small David can defeat a giant Goliath. David did it with a well-aimed slingshot; AAP did it by leveraging the idea of anti-corruption and struck a chord with all citizens. The two leading national parties saw them as insignificant, but the AAP took all the energy of the Team Anna movement against corruption and energised the political campaign for the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections.
2. An Idea is Bigger Than the Organisation: Anti-corruption was the focus of the campaign, and this was highlighted above individuals and all other issues. While Arvind Kejriwal was prominently featured in all campaigns, he always highlighted the cause. To the extent that he portrayed his loss and the loss of the AAP as the loss of the cause of anti-corruption.
3. Plan Big to Achieve Big: AAP knew that to build credibility for their political start-up they needed to achieve scale fast. So they planned big to achieve big. When AAP decided to fight the state elections in Delhi, they decided to put up candidates in all 70 constituencies. Eventually, AAP had only 69 candidates, as the party withdrew support for a candidate who had not revealed involvement in a dowry harassment case. Though AAP went for scale, they did not compromise on quality.
4. Leaders Lead From the Front: Leaders do not shy away from taking on the challenge, in fact they lead from the front by taking up the biggest challenge. Accordingly Arvind Kejriwal stood against Sheila Dixit, the sitting Chief Minister from the New Delhi constituency. Dixit was defeated by a big margin, establishing the credibility of Kejriwal in the eyes of all.
5. Act Fast to Achieve Faster: The performance in the Delhi elections has been hailed as a dream debut for AAP, because it occurred just four days after their first birthday. AAP was launched in November 2012, it was registered as a political party with the Election Commission in March 2013, and in July 2013, it announced its plan to fight all seats in the yet to be announced Delhi State elections. It was the first to announce its list of candidates. In an era where speed of doing business has escalated many folds, we need to act fast to achieve faster.
6. Build a Team of Entrepreneurs: While AAP draws its roots in the anti-corruption movement led by Team Anna, there is a world of difference in the capabilities and commitment demanded of the team by a movement and a political organisation. The uniqueness of the AAP is the large number and variety of volunteers it has been able to attract not only from across the country but from across the world. These have been individuals who have bee drawn by the cause. AAP could be called a party of political entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need to learn how to work with independent, self-motivated individuals while aligning them all to a common cause. Entrepreneurs need to see how institutional mechanisms in the organisation can sustain this unity of purpose.
7. Honesty is Not Policy it is Default Behaviour: Honesty needs to be seen as transparency of strategy, policy and tactics. AAP demonstrates how honesty in practice builds value in the organisation. When AAP announced its intentions to fight all seats in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections, they did not know who these candidates would be. They set up a transparent mechanism of candidate selection and invited all volunteers interested in fighting elections to fill in the nominations on the internal website. Nominees were interviewed and the names of shortlisted candidates were circulated widely. The final candidate was only chosen after thorough consultation with all volunteers. This transparent process of selection built such a degree of trust in the electorate that many people voted for the party without knowing their candidate. That is the power of honesty and transparency.
8. Crowdfunding Works if You Have a Compelling Idea and Realistic Plan: The process of collecting donations by the AAP demonstrates the power of crowdfunding, which is still in a nascent stage in India. Anti-corruption was the compelling idea that brought it all support, but getting funds in requires a realistic plan. AAP worked out a budget of Rs 20 crore for the Delhi Election campaign that was substantial, yet less than the expenditure other parties made and still realistic. AAP made their complete accounts open for all, so everybody could keep track of their income and expenditure. AAP made the unique gesture by publicly stopping the donation drive when they reached the targeted figure. After announcing the decision to fight for the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the donation drive has been restarted.
9. Project Your Voice Consistently to Build Presence: A common vision of anti-corruption and good governance was communicated across all media platforms. The consistent messaging of AAP and the close connect that it established with its targeted audience – the citizens of Delhi – gave AAP a larger than life presence.
10. Recognise the Power of Disruptive Entrepreneurship: AAP has rewritten the laws of doing politics in India. Nobody can remain complacent in the old ways. New challenge in the political arena can come from anywhere. Entrepreneurs need to recognise the power of disruptive enterprise. A business proposition that compels everyone to change, and the power it gave the individual or organisation leading the change.
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