I joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies

POLITICO Influence reports on my new job:

ALSO FIRST IN PI… Hill+Knowlton Strategies added Soren Dayton, an experienced digital communications and public affairs strategist, as a senior vice president. Dayton comes from Prism Public Affairs (which subsequently merged with Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications) and before that New Media Strategies, Rep. Nick Smith‘s (R-Mich.) office and John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign

Also covered by O’Dwyer, the Holmes Report, and Bulldog Reporter.

On net neutrality

The net neutrality debate has picked up in India based on “zero-rating” or the idea that a service could be provided where the user didn’t pay for the data. I have long wondered how organizations like Facebook, Google, Wikimedia, and others could support net neutrality aggressively in the US and provide “zero-rated” services.

As someone who has worked on the issue on and off since 2008, I have been struck by how the terms of the debate shift. So I wrote a piece for the Takshashila Institution that tries to give the debate more an analytic framework that explains why it is happening now, what the challenges that its trying to address, and what the uncertainties are.

Ultimately, while I have some sympathies for the values of net neutrality but worry about a lot of the details. That’s why I tend to like the ideas that Google and Verizon negotiated in 2010. However, I recognize that in many ways, they don’t apply to the Indian context.

Another piece about India’s democracy

India’s election made quite an impression on me. I wrote some initial thoughts at the time. More recently I wrote a piece for the Takshashila Institution‘s Pragati magazine on Indian national interest. The basic argument is that Indian democracy provides much more useful lessons for the rest of the world than US or other democracy. I wrote it after Prime Minister Modi’s trip to Japan in which he used somewhat evocative images to discuss Indian and Japanese democracy.

Among India’s key advantages are the size and diversity of its population, but also a globally competitive and sophisticated technological and managerial class, all things that we saw manifest in the election:

Just consider the ways in which India’s democratic ecosystem is unique. Not only does India have one of the oldest and most stable democracies of the post-colonial era, with a record of both success and failure to learn from. It also has one of the most dynamic laboratories of democratic practice. Due to its innovative culture, especially in globally competitive skills in technology and management, new organising methods have been created and deployed in its politics. Due to its size, these get deployed and tested and redesigned at a scale that simply no one else can match. Due to its diversity, it has organised communities of all sorts from marginally literate tribals to sophisticated urban elites.

While there can be many advantages that can be collected informally, some institutional support might be useful. I suggest that European Democracy foundations could provide a good model:

India could establish an Indian Institute for International Democracy on these models to leverage and channel the experience and resources it has and ensure that they are deployed in India’s national interest. Ultimately, the purpose of this institution would be to establish Indian democratic practice as a source of soft power, like India’s entertainment industry, and its educational system (with its grounding in English.)

In the end, this is something that only India can do. It is its unique gift to the world. I close with:

“All I think is required is a small light of peace, prosperity and democracy,” said Modi in Japan. This is a message that can only be delivered by a rising India, justifiably proud of its accomplishments and letting them speak for themselves. It is time for India to share the light from its lamp with the rest of the world.




Saving boys and urban trafficked labour in South Asia

Over at our blog about our work in South Asia, I wrote about a recent case that our office handled and what it shows about migrant and trafficked labour in South Asia:

This week, our office was engaged in a rescue of eleven boys from Jharkhand who had been working selling snacks — pani puri — in Coles Park, a park in a relatively affluent neighborhood in Bangalore.

The exploitation that these children tells a broader story about an emerging pattern here:

This case is interesting because it illustrates that forced labour is not just a phenomenon of rural areas, which is often the image that many people in South Asia have. They  imagine a caste-based agricultural system in which there is a paternalistic exploitation.

And while this certainly  exists across South Asia, there is an urban story that is quite real, as this and other cases illustrate. With crushing poverty in rural areas — in places like Jharkhand or Odisha — people take whatever opportunity is available, even if the opportunity is an illusion and turns into a nightmare. Often that means migration to another more affluent and more booming part of the country, often the South or a city. In those places, they lose contact with family and may be isolated by language and other differences, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

IJM has discussed these issues in other forums:

 may have been abolished in India in 1976, but the practice not only continues, experience of grass-roots workers suggests it is becoming more widespread. We might be experiencing a relative decline in the incidence of hereditary bondage, but India’s rapidly evolving economic structure and inadequate livelihood security for the most vulnerable sections of society are giving rise to newer and more complex forms of bonded labour. These may not necessarily be lifelong encumbrances, may even be voluntary at times, but are instances of bondage, nonetheless.

Migration, driven by uneven growth in different parts of the country, is one of the most important drivers of present-day bondage. Slow economic growth and a rapidly growing population mean that there are few jobs available for the burgeoning workforce in the poorer states. Take Punjab and Bihar, for example. While the ratio between relative incomes in the two states has worsened from 1.7 in 1965 to approximately four at present, the population of Bihar has grown much more rapidly. Between 2001-11, while the population of Punjab grew by roughly 14 per cent, that of Bihar grew by 25 per cent, and on a much larger base. These conditions lead to large-scale migration from states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and so on towards states such as Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. While the advent of the  (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) might have helped slow the flow of labour, large- scale migration of farm labour during the cropping season is still a reality across India.

Soren on shutdown myths

I wrote a piece over at Redstate on myths related to the shutdown. The key passages:

The press has been falling over itself to attack Republicans for the shutdown and claiming that they are the source of all the irresponsibility in the process. They have conveniently forgotten several important things about how much the Democrats have broken the budget process in the last couple of years and in this year in particular.  I wrote back in January about how the Senate Democrats were dismantling the budget process. While the Senate did pass a budget resolution this year, in many ways the situation has gotten much, much worse. A shutdown is, purely for procedural reasons, a natural and logical consequence of the massive failure of the Senate to do its job.


So that’s the real history, not the mythical one driven by White House talking points, of this year’s budget process. The House started to do its job. The Senate barely got off the ground, and then only operating in a fantasy-land in which the sequester never happened. Sorry for all the wonky details here, but it is really important to see just how much the President and the Senate Democrats have failed in the budget process and how much of this lays at their feet.

Soren on new GOP leaders

I was quoted in a CNN piece on new GOP leaders and the Young Republicans:

A number of noted politicians, including current House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, have come from its ranks. Volunteer executive director Soren Dayton estimates 70,000 people belong to YR chapters across the country.

Much of the group’s work is in civic affairs. “It’s not just social networking,” says Dayton, who works as a media and public affairs consultant. “It’s people who serve.”