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Mentoring across borders

By Shriram Venkatraman, on 13 October 2013

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A social network consists of several kinds of networks, and a knowledge network is one of them. While knowledge sharing and/or information sharing happens both formally and informally on social networking sites, some of them have formal user groups and pages dedicated to sharing knowledge/information (all user generated). The users get introduced through the network and sometimes even develop relationships outside the online social networking site, which could be of various kinds, mentoring relationships being one of them. Social networking sites such as Facebook are not an exception to this. This becomes all the more interesting when a person from a small town in India gets in touch with a professional on the other side of the world and is provided with mentoring across borders, in other words transnational mentoring, all through Facebook.

Recently I met with an informant who benefited by this knowledge network on Facebook. This person is from a very humble background and worked very hard to graduate with a MBA, majoring in finance. His college is very close to the field site and this ensured that he never really moved out of this area until he joined a bank in their financial product sales team after graduating from his MBA. He seems to have become interested in the number crunching that finance as a subject offered him. He was quickly disillusioned with the job, as it involved more  smooth-talking rather than the number crunching that he had hoped for. Not giving up, he initially tried to advise his friends from the neighbourhood on their financial planning but didn’t find many enthusiastic takers for his suggestions.

Disappointed, he turned to the internet and chanced upon a Facebook group that had people from all over the world discussing and sharing knowledge on financial concepts. Enthused by this discovery, he carefully followed the discussion and was struck by the suggestions given by a particular discussant from Germany. My respondent started corresponding with this person and found that he was a senior financial analyst in a stock brokerage firm in Germany. Thus began a deep friendship that progressed from talking about debentures, futures, options and equity to career goals and aspirations. The analyst from Germany became a mentor to my respondent and inspired him enough to quit his job and set up his own stock brokerage firm. This firm was started with the blessings of the mentor who provided my respondent with the necessary knowledge support and a list of the required software. Where possible, he also provided the software itself for the start up. My respondent managed to procure the necessary funding and the rest of the software with some of the latter being sourced as pirated versions. The firm runs from his humble two bedroom home in the field site which he shares with his parents and two younger brothers. He claims that his life has become much better and he now has support (international knowledge and moral support) to follow his dreams.

I was particularly struck by the true globalization that took place through a social networking site!

Digital Politics 101

By Shriram Venkatraman, on 22 October 2012

Digital Politics is the representation of the players in a nation’s political scenario, on the internet. Simply put, it is the online version of a nation’s politics and governance. Political leaders all over the world are waking up to the power of the mouse click and the enterprising ones are trying to ensure that they are being presented in a favorable light.

Digital politics came to the forefront in the late 1990s and 2000s, emerging simultaneously with increased globalization of the world. People started migrating to other countries either in search for economic prosperity or to escape a troubled atmosphere back home. However, this dispersed diaspora were still interested in the happenings in their home countries and the ‘no barriers’ benefit of online technology won eager converts amongst these web-savvy immigrants.

The other important reason was that many of the countries in the world were becoming knowledge societies. A knowledge society is where knowledge is a ‘public good’ and not a prerogative of the elite few (UNESCO, 2005). Knowledge societies are characterized by a constant need to acquire and distribute knowledge about all aspects deemed important to an individual. Given that the internet was a revolutionary medium affording quick and cheap information accumulation and dissipation, people took to this medium quickly and various aspects of their lives spilled over to this virtual world. Naturally, politics and government started becoming a part of the tapestry of the digital world.

The dynamics of digital politics is constantly changing as various stakeholders become more sophisticated in how they use the digital platform. It goes without saying that technology has been the most important enabler of this changing dynamics. As technology matures, more avenues for this information exchange have emerged (blogs, social networking sites, twitter etc.) that have in turn influenced what people do with this platform. The web has become an important medium for citizen activism due to its power to reach out to a number of people at a minimal cost. Social activism has in turn provoked responses from the relevant authorities who are realizing the benefits of the internet to reach out to the people. The initial successes brought in more users and as technology became more robust yet simpler to use, even more people joined. This cycle has increased the popularity and reach of the mouse click even to those who are present in remote locations.

How and why people are using the web for political reasons has evolved over time and can be represented as a continuum which have the following stages

Information Acquisition

The first stage witnessed in this continuum is that of information acquisition. As the various countries threw open their boundaries to the outside world, a good number of people migrated to other countries in search of economic prosperity or to escape difficult conditions back home. This diaspora retained their ties with their home countries and the easiest way to acquire information about happenings back home was through the internet. Even for information about one’s place of residence, the internet provides a robust yet relatively less expensive medium for information acquisition.

Voicing of Opinion

The Information Acquisition phase was characterized by a passive, one way flow of information to the seeker. The natural extension of this was sharing this information along with one’s views and opinions with others. The online tools like blogs, social media etc. were the apt medium for this exchange. As this information exchange became viral, it became an instrument of political change. This was recently demonstrated in the ‘Arab spring’ series of citizen revolutions in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This was where the world sat up and took cognizance of the power of mass thought.

Reciprocal Information sharing

As the world realized the potential of online media as thought shaping and information communicating platform, various stakeholders decided to maintain an online presence. This could be for various reasons; some of which are to present authentic information, to bring in transparency in the political mechanism, to present a favorable picture of a leader/political party, publicity, to gather funding from supporters, to reach out to the grassroots directly etc.

As the world becomes increasingly digital, politics is not far behind. The political fraternity has embraced the digital media and political parties, political leaders, lay citizens etc. are taking advantage of the benefits offered by the internet. Social movements have gained impetus from the quick access (to the citizen) provided by the internet and the presence of digital press has converted hesitant users to internet addicts.

References

UNESCO World Report (2005). “Towards Knowledge Societies” Paris: UNESCO