Thirty-one- year-old Kanan Dhru is an inspiration to many. Founder and Managing Director of Ahmedabad-based think tank Research Foundation for Governance in India (RFGI), curator of Global Shapers (Ahmedabad hub), an initiative of the World Economic Forum and creator of Lawtoons,a comic series on laws of India – Dhru is a woman who has many feathers in her cap.
I had the opportunity to interview her for a college assignment last year. My topic was “Indian women making a difference” and she is definitely working hard to achieve that. Born and bred in Ahmedabad, Dhru revealed that she belongs to a traditional Gujarati naga family. “My family is one of the oldest in the city. My father is a chartered accountant, my mother is a teacher and my younger sister works with me at RFGI,” she said.
Dhru credits her traditional upbringing clubbed with Gandhian values for what she is today. “I studied in C.N. Vidyalaya, a school based on Gandhian values. From a young age, I felt strongly for the people who were denied justice. I always wondered how governance could be brought closer to them. This thought made me want to practice law. So after pursuing a degree in B.Com from H.L. College of Commerce, I went to London School of Economics to study law,” she said.
After finishing her course in LSE, Dhru briefly worked on a project with McKinsey and Co in London. During the study, she was ensnared to observe that the companies in countries having efficient legal systems were better managed. Dhru realized that this was not the case back home.
“After completing my project, I returned to India in December 2006 to work with the Prime Minister’s Advisory Body in New Delhi. There, my job was to suggest modes of promoting entrepreneurship in the country. One year later, I joined the Gujarat High Court with many expectations. But when I saw the cases being dragged on for too long, I decided to contribute towards making the legal system more effective. That’s how I conceived the idea of RFGI,” she explained.
However, the road taken was not easy for Dhru. Despite getting encouragement, working in a development sector had its own disadvantages. Generating funds was a major problem as Dhru started the organization with just Rs 5,000. “The whole idea of a research organization was relatively new in Ahmedabad. So everybody branded it as an NGO which was quite funny,” asserts Dhru.
Finally, RFGI was established on January 26, 2009 with the aim to research, promote and implement various legal and political reforms in Gujarat and across India. “But it was not before May that I joined RFGI on a full-time basis after various students showed interest in contributing to the think tank,” Dhru said.
RFGI has three focus areas; awareness, research and consultation. It organizes seminars on citizenship-democracy to create awareness especially among the youth. It researches on issues like politics, law and governance and gets them publish in various journals. That’s how RFGI recommends good governance in the society. It also acts as a consultant to various government departments.
“It currently has 3000 members where most of them contribute voluntarily. I can’t pay everyone as funding is still an issue. The revenue is generated only through grants and consultancy projects,” she explained. Nevertheless, RFGI quickly climbed the ladders of recognition. “We were just six months old but were consultants to the Gujarat HC. Our recommendations on inner-party democracy were adopted by Congress and BJP in Gujarat. So that was an achievement for us,” Dhru revealed.
Dhru strongly asserts that since India has always felt the need for legal and political reforms, an organization solely dedicated for that has helped those who feel the need for such changes even more strongly. She believes that she has a long way to go because because people need quicker justice and that’s why RFGI exists in the first place.
Talking about her volunteers, she said, “Many interns, after working with RFGI, have taken up jobs in the development sector. There is one fellow who joined ‘Teach for India’ campaign. Another girl, an LSE graduate, joined a think tank in Delhi. People are now moving towards public services which is great!”
Dhru also mentioned that she is blessed to receive international recognition for work. “I won many awards; the most prominent one being ‘Wings of Excellence – Leaders of Tomorrow’ at St. Gallen Symposium, Switzerland in 2011. I’m also a part of the World Economic Forum: Global Shapers that selects young people who have the potential to be a future leader in the society. I recently represented the Ahmedabad Global Shapers at the Annual Curators Meet in Geneva,” she added.
When asked to define herself, she said she is the kind of person who goes with the flow. “I don’t make plans but I dream of making RFGI one of the most prominent research organizations of the country. I also see myself engaged in international assignments. We are no longer living in an isolated world and so it is important to work on a global level to have a broader perception,” she signs off.
Besides this, Dhru writes for the Huffington Post and Femina India.