World Transformation: Academic turns city into a social experiment
 Academic turns city into a social experiment
6 May 2004 @ 09:14, by ming

From Sounding Circle: Academic turns city into a social experiment

Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory
By María Cristina Caballero
Special to the Harvard News Office

Antanas Mockus had just resigned from the top job of Colombian National University. A mathematician and philosopher, Mockus looked around for another big challenge and found it: to be in charge of, as he describes it, "a 6.5 million person classroom."

Mockus, who had no political experience, ran for mayor of Bogotá; he was successful mainly because people in Colombia's capital city saw him as an honest guy. With an educator's inventiveness, Mockus turned Bogotá into a social experiment just as the city was choked with violence, lawless traffic, corruption, and gangs of street children who mugged and stole. It was a city perceived by some to be on the verge of chaos.

People were desperate for a change, for a moral leader of some sort. The eccentric Mockus, who communicates through symbols, humor, and metaphors, filled the role. When many hated the disordered and disorderly city of Bogotá, he wore a Superman costume and acted as a superhero called "Supercitizen." People laughed at Mockus' antics, but the laughter began to break the ice of their extreme skepticism.

Mockus, who finished his second term as mayor this past January, recently came to Harvard for two weeks as a visiting fellow at the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics to share lessons about civic engagement with students and faculty.

"We found Mayor Mockus' presentation intensely interesting," said Adams Professor Jane Mansbidge of the Kennedy School, who invited Mockus to speak in her "Democracy From Theory to Practice" class. "Our reading had focused on the standard material incentive-based systems for reducing corruption. He focused on changing hearts and minds - not through preaching but through artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval. He also spoke openly, with a lovely partial self-mockery, of his own failings, not suggesting that he was more moral than anyone else. His presentation made it clear that the most effective campaigns combine material incentives with normative change and participatory stakeholding. He is a most engaging, almost pixieish math professor, not a stuffy 'mayor' at all. The students were enchanted, as was I."


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