Access Polity: World’s first tech platform to enable next-gen leaders to build careers in politics
In 2019, Kanksshi Agarwal started NETRI Foundation with a grand vision—to build an equal world. Now, Access Polity is the first step to aggregate the fragmented political space.
I grew up looking at all-male politicians and wondering: “What does a female in that role look like?”
As a 25-year-old, I wondered what it takes to run for elected office after closely witnessing the glaring absence of women from political offices, campaign fields, and media highlights on politics.
In fact, those who were present never found a ladder up and went back to non-political life after their term was over. The scenario was depressing.
People often responded, “You need a godfather or a political family and enough financial security to consider politics full-time”. If you end up matching all the above criteria, “you must be winnable”.
Winnability is often decided by those who allow contesting. Ironically, these committees are driven largely by men, with no vested interest in sharing power with the other half.
The question was, who is building a level playing field for young people (with not much financial security in their 20s and 30s), women, and people from sections of a society deeply divided based on caste, religion, language, education, economic well-being, sexuality, and more?
There was no one-stop solution to becoming an active political participant beyond voting and policy advocacy.
In 2019, we started NETRI Foundation with a grand vision of building an equal world. We focused primarily on women, who constitute 50% of the world’s population.
We asked women and girls—“What are your dreams and aspirations?” I also delved deeper into my heart. All of us together said, “We demand to be seen and heard everywhere.”
From the parliaments to the public spaces, from global businesses to bus stops, in industries, and panchayat meetings—our voices must be heard, and society must not see it as an exception.
We asked them again, “What inhibits your journey?”
“A society designed without our input.”
We asked further, “What can change this?”
They said, “A new way of governing our society.”
Politics, as we all know, is a way to govern our society. Their answers and my quest for an equal world led me to envision NETRI, a place where we will bring more women who will design and govern societies that benefits everyone equitably. They shared their fears are rooted in being oppressed by the powerful.
We live in a world where women’s contributions to the economy, labour, and even politics are systemically made invisible.
Less than 4% of the Union Budget and only 1% of the GDP is spent on women-related issues. About 50% of the women’s population is represented by less than 15% in the Indian parliament.
An answer to this aspiration lies in re-distributing power and enabling pathways into politics that govern all of our lives.
When I co-founded NETRI, it was in response to the inequalities and a major representation gap in policy and political institutions in our country, which percolated and affected millions of women's life. I wanted to do something about solving a problem that seems to be impenetrable to many. I knew something about gender, a little about politics, and nothing about entrepreneurship, and I took this plunge anyway.
A little over three years in this journey, and we have worked with over 500 women, six of them have contested elections at the state, village, and city levels.
Over 30 alumni have gone on to become political professionals as campaign managers, analysts, policy and legislative associates, and political entrepreneurs. We are a thriving community of 5,000+ people.
Political professional space is expanding in India and has less than 5% of women participating in it. The industry is spanning over $7 billion in election management, of which close to 50% is spent on campaigning. The rise of political professionalism in India has paved a new pathway for young people, women, and other marginalised communities to enter politics.
To solve this unique problem of underrepresentation, not only in electoral politics but in the whole ecosystem surrounding it, we have come up with a unique, tech-enabled approach.
In 2023, we are thrilled to announce the launch of Access Polity—the first-of-its-kind technology-enabled political tech platform.
Access Polity is NETRI’s first step to aggregate the fragmented political space by bringing all the political actors who provide opportunities for political participation under one platform.
It is built on the principles of accessibility, transparency, and equitability, with a gender lens to create a safe space for women to become a part of the political ecosystem.
Access Polity is bringing India’s first exclusive job portal for political jobs in India, unlocking opportunities worth Rs 100 million in the first phase on February 3, 2023, during India’s largest political summit on gender inclusion, hosted by NETRI Foundation at India International Centre, New Delhi.
With 50+ speakers, 10+ panels, and an exclusive political and policy job fair for participants, the event envisions 2023 to be the year of gender inclusion in decision-making.
This summit has been conceptualised to launch the tech platform and bring varied stakeholders like politicians, media, artists, academicians, political consultants, and job providers under one umbrella and initiate the long pending conversation on expanding the scope of political participation.
Democratising the entry points into politics is a revolution we are ready to welcome.
NETRI is focused on creating viable career pathways for those who identify as women to become political professionals and contribute to campaign management from a gender and minority lens.
When the narrative of a campaign changes and becomes inclusive, it has the potential to change voter mindset and set aspirations among women to enter the space.
Second is the aspect of safety. Cultivating safe and aspirational politics—violence and a lack of resources are major barriers for women—and tackling these issues is non-negotiable. A critical mass of feminist leaders in the political ecosystem will tip the scales.
At the centre of it all lies my commitment to building an impact-driven organisation that believes in the power of the collective and gives strength to innovative ideas.”
We are inviting you to become a part of this celebration of our journey and the launch of the future of politics, which is far more accessible and equitable than ever before.
Kanksshi Agarwal is the Founder of NETRI Foundation.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)