Exclusive Interview Of Kazim Rizvi, Founder Of The Dialogue

Public Policy is a formal documented statement of intentions and sets of actions of a government to either remove certain deficiencies or improve the conditions in any particular area of concern/interest. .There are three main reasons for formulation of clear cut policy on any issue

Awareness Creation: Firstly, to create awareness among the public in general and the stakeholders in particular about the resolve of the government to address the pressing issue for which a policy is being formulated. By creating such awareness among various sections of society, it hopes to get the tax and non-tax support of the people and avoid bad publicity in the media and anger of the civil society

Big Picture: Secondly, policies are always part and parcel of the big picture which is in the mind of the governing elite of a country. By formulating a holistic policy, the government intends to give clear guidelines to those implementing these policies regarding the best way to solve a problem.

Transparency: Thirdly, clear cut policies are needed to ensure transparency about the government’s intension, actions and priorities. People should know who is getting what and to raise their objections if there are some serious equity issues in allocation of resources. Homeless people have the right to object to housing policy which allocates too many resources on the carpeting of roads of posh areas while setting aside peanuts for slums and low income housing societies.

Today, government affects all aspects of our lives. Everyone has a stake in the public policies enacted by federal, state, and local governments.
Many citizens and groups try to influence public policy through the political process by supporting candidates and political parties. That’s a good way to make a positive impact, but not the best way.
Politicians and political parties come and go. Their positions on issues can change due to circumstances. They can be voted out of power as easily as they are voted in.
The best way to make a lasting impact on public policy is to change public opinion. When you change the beliefs of the people, politicians and political parties change with them.

Today We are presenting the exclusive interview of Kazim Rizvi, Founder of The Dialogue. The Dialogue is an emerging research and public-policy think-tank with a vision to drive a progressive narrative in India’s policy discourse. Lets See what Kazim has to share about his venture with us.

1.What is the Name of Your Venture? Any specific reason for this name?

Its called The Dialogue. The logic behind this is to enable a discussion, a productive dialogue, between multiple stakeholders in the policy ecosystem.

2.Who is your target Audience/clients?

The people of India are our audience, in addition to the government, industry and the entire policy ecosystem.

3.Where is your venture based (city, state, country) & What are your geographical target areas?

We are based out of new delhi and are working on national issues.

4.What problems does your venture resolve? What are your products or Services?

The Dialogue is an emerging research and public-policy think-tank with a vision to drive a progressive narrative in India’s policy discourse. Founded in July 2017, we believe in facilitating informed policy debates at various levels to help develop a more informed citizenry. Over the last one year, The Dialogue has emerged as a horizontal institution, having delivered more than 40 projects, and work across multiple thematic areas. These areas include emerging technologies, privacy, data protection, trade, foreign policy, constitutional rights, fintech, e-commerce and cyber security.

We work with research institutions, government, media, civil-societies, bilateral institutions and universities to deliver research, analysis, and advocacy. We engage with our network of experts, and along with our in-house team, we provide policy consultancy, advisory to our partners. Our experts’ knowledge and experience help us to understand the policy landscape coherently, aided by our research and programme management capabilities, to drive the most effective and cohesive policy discourse and advocacy.

5.Share the idea or story behind the venture. How did it come to existence? What motivated you to start your own venture?

Sheer frustration (which is still there) with the policy discourse in the country. We believe a robust discourse mechanism is essential to deliver progressive policies that can help take India forward. This is why we are here and its our objective. I dont think any conscious citizen would be satisfied with the way our country’s governance and policy discourse is taking place. I founded The Dialogue with a vision to evolve the nature of dialogue to issues that matter to us, to move away from the 24/7 politics soap opera that we all have become used to.

Why is it needed? Two reasons. One, we cannot rely only on the government alone to deliver for us. I think as Indians we are quite lazy and dont participate enough towards nation building. We rely on government a little too much, thinking and sitting back that its only their job to look after the country, while our job is to work and earn. I think this mindset has to change. Government, like other institutions, is a stakeholder in the nation building process. They have limited capacity and understanding of the entirety of the issues we as a nation are dealing with. We need an intellectual discourse and at The Dialogue we are precisely trying to do this – by empowering stakeholders, government and citizen with the right ideas based on evidence. Because if you switch on TV or Social Media, you will find very few avenues of discussions that focus on real issues. At the same time, we also support government to inform them on the progressive policy approaches, to play a supporting role wherever possible, in whatever capacity possible. Additionally, we engage with key stakeholders who have a say in the policy ecosystem, by sharing our understanding based on evidence, so that our engagement would result in the development of concrete plans that are subsequently implemented.

Second, India is at a critical stage in the cycle of post independent nationhood. We have unlimited potential to rise and lead the world, but are still struggling with teething issues that require change at both macro and micro levels. On one hand we have a dire situation to save our people from poverty and provide basic amenities, while on the other hand the world’s largest demographic dividend – our youth is impatient and desperately want opportunities to not only realise its talent but feed their families. We have a 20-25 year window within which we have to achieve substantial success on these challenges, and if we miss out this time I fear that we may not be able to realise our dream of becoming a developed nation in this generation. To achieve this, we urgently need ideas that can take us forward, and at The Dialogue we hope we can contribute to this process.

6.Who are your biggest competitors and how do you differentiate yourself from them?

In our field we don’t have competitors, but collaborators. On the contrary, I feel there is a considerable size of a vacuum in the policy ecosystem when it comes policy driven advocacy. The demand for ideas and solutions is greater than the supply. And as the nation grows economically and becomes stronger strategically, the gap is set to widen.

7.How did you identify your co-founder? Tell us something about your co-founder/s

My co-founder, Ranjeet Rane, is an ex-colleague from a consultancy we worked at together. I remember when I started tinkering with the idea of The Dialogue, Ranjeet was one of the first people I reached out to. I texted him one evening, I think it was after a gap of a couple of months and we had not spoken for some time. He texted back in the within the next hour, with his usual wit, and then we spoke the next day, for maybe an hour. 3 months later, The Dialogue was launched, not in its current avatar, but as a policy blog. We pulled off a team with a few of my friends, who are now well settled in different stages of their career, one of them, Kushan, a former classmate of mine, is also an entrepreneur, having started his law firm Cornellia Chambers some time ago – they are a great bunch of young lawyers doing cutting edge corporate transactions and litigation.

So we launched the website and later, it progressed as an organisation and subsequently a policy think-tank. Ranjeet is one of the most fascinating people I have come across in my life.

Both of us shared the passion to bring a change in the country, contribute to the development through our passion, which was (and is) public policy. He is a man on a mission and probably the most passionate patriot I have met in recent times. The beauty of our relationship is that we agree and disagree on political views and have never let that come in between our quest to take India forward. This is the real essence of The Dialogue. We learned how to channel our passion through real work and not be another social media junkie.

Basically, we managed to avoid the political trap and focus on the bigger picture. To have a co-founder with whom you can talk hours about what we should be as a country, I don’t think as a public policy professional you can ask for more. Ranjeet left The Dialogue a year ago since he had family obligations to meet and is now at ReBit.

8.How did you hired your first team members? What skills do you want in your employees/team?

At The Dialogue we dont have employees but stakeholders. I am very clear about this with my team. And its important that the team feels that they are not just a part of the process, but are the entire process in itself. Since we only have passionate policy folks working with us, my time is not wasted on ensuring that the team is working. They are accountable to the work because they love to do what they do, and not because they are paid a salary. This means I can focus on bringing new projects and ideating on our future course of action.

I look at three things primarily. One, basic level of skills and talent that includes going into details of any issue, looking at it both from a bigger picture and then the ability to analyse it in a nuanced manner. Two, passion for policy change. Third, the ability to communicate well.

Our hiring process is quite different from other organisations, as we do not like to hold the usual advertising of position and then a two month process through interviews etc. We did this once and I feel I prefer the referral system from people in our network.

Once we shortlist candidates, we put them on an apprenticeship for a month, testing and analysing their skills, their ability to deliver and most importantly the compatibility of working with a young team in a think-tank startup. We take our decision after the apprenticeship is concluded. This not only helps us analyse the performance of the candidate extensively, it also prepares the them towards whats coming in the future.

9.What expansion plans are you looking for the next 2 years, next 5 years?

The objective is to continue on the growth trajectory and enhance our understanding and knowledge of the issues we work on which can help us have a greater impact in the policy making process.

10.Where do you want to see yourself in next 10 years?

I see myself running The Dialogue and contributing to the policy making process. But more importantly, for me, and The Dialogue, we want to see India on a sustained high level growth trajectory that reduced inequality, provide jobs to millions, lift our people out of poverty, enhances farmers’ income levels and is on the path to become a developed country. We hope The Dialogue is there to play its part 10 years from now.

11.What are your immediate goals over the next 1, 3, 6 and 12 months?

To finish what I have begun.

12.Have you raised any funding? Or have any plans for the funding?

We have not raised funding yet but are paid for the research and programmes we deliver.

13.What were the problems you faced during the starting days and how did you resolve them?

I wouldnt call them problems but challenges. Some challenges stayed on longer than others. The biggest challenge was stability, that we seem to be doing better on, as we have medium term stability now, thanks to the work we did over the past 12 months. Second, finding good people to work with. Third, finding the right mentors, as its easy to lose your way and you need the right people to guide you. Fourth, getting regular work. The first year was tough but we have done better in the last year or so and this is because of some great advisors, mentors and friends (few of whom worked with me) who were there whenever I needed them. I cannot understate the importance of having the right people to support and guide us, and keeping us on our toes when we tasted success. Its easy to get complacent and I am thankful to be around with people who did not let us lose our focus, and hopefully will not in the future.

14.What was the most challenging part of your journey till now? How did you overcome those challenges?

Already mentioned above.

15.What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

Since I dont watch Netflix and Game of Thrones, I usually daydream, follow F1 when it happens, or scribble random things when I am free to do so. It was this random scribbling one day that eventually led to The Dialogue. This is not to say that I work all the time – I do have a life, with folks at home and friends, which I feel needs as much time as possible.

16.Whom do you consider your idol or biggest motivator?

There are quite a few. Lets start with those who motivated me. I would like to bring attention to two fine gentlemen who have played the biggest role. One of them is a seasoned policy professional with decades’ of experience, while the other is a former senior colleague from my last job. If not for them, the breakthroughs and the emotional support they gave me, I would have probably folded and tried something else. When things become difficult, its easy for you to say “well, I tried, I bit the bullet, now time to do something else. At least I can put this experience on my CV and hope for a good job”. These two fine gentlemen had faith in me that they put their time and effort to nurture my growth. I will remain grateful to them for the rest of my life.

As far as my idol is concerned, they are all in the family – my uncle, mother and brother.

17.What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Difference is not that much as even an entrepreneur, you are still working with partners or those who pay you.

18.If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?


19.How has being an entrepreneur affected your family & Social life?

Certainly it took a toll on my family and social life. I wasn’t able to give as much time to them as I would have liked to. But now that we are getting stable, I am able to go compensate for the time loss from my initial days.

20.Anything, you would like to say to our readers or upcoming entrepreneurs?

Find the right mentors. This is the most important thing. I am lucky to be around leaders with 25-30 years of experience, and spending just an hour with them gives me so much clarity that provides me with real, tangible outcomes. Its unbelievable to know the impact experienced leaders can have on your growth process. You are young, talented and maybe very very sharp. But you dont have the experience and wisdom. So you cannot predict as well as them. Which is why when youre going to sleep at night youre wondering if it will work or not. Having the right set of mentors who can give you their perspective will help you to navigate the Mondays better. They will help you take the correct call, because you dont know until you have seen it. So being around good people is the most important thing I feel.

21.Tell us something about your education & family background.

I am a lawyer by training with a simple background.

22.What is your USP which makes it unique & different from other start-ups in similar domains.

I am not sure what makes us different. I think this question must be asked to organisations we work with!

23. What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses & Start-ups today?

24. Do you consider yourself successful and by what means do you measure Success?

The Dialogue’ success is not measured by the revenue we make or the number of projects we deliver. Our success must be measured by the impact we make in the nation’s policy making process – have we able to make a tangible contribution and has that contribution led to better governance, which in turn helped meet our country with some of the challenges? If not, then we must keep trying. Our goal is to get to a level where we are a force to reckon with – a trusted organisation whose ideas get recognised and implemented. Its a work in progress for us.

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