Rohini Nilekani’s ‘Uncommon Ground: Dialogues with Business and Social Leaders’ roots for more discourses within civil society on critical issues in the country

No, there was no explosive action with guns or swords but an intense exchange of ideas and perspectives that an audience of over 200 listened to in rapt attention in the sublime setting of the Taj West End dripping with chandeliers that hosted the launch of Rohini Nilekani’s new book, ‘Uncommon Ground: Dialogues with Business and Social Leaders.’

Nilekani wears many hats. She is a noted philanthropist, journalist, author and social activist. She founded and chairs Pratham Books which strives to cultivate the habit of reading in children. She also chairs Arghyam which has been set up to improve access to water and to ensure that the process is environmentally sustainable. Married to Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India and the former CEO of Infosys, her exposure to the corporate world and its workings combined with her own experience as a journalist and social activist, have given her valuable insights that paved the way for ‘Uncommon Ground’. 

Rohini Nilekani’s Uncommon Ground book launch

Her show Uncommon Ground was aired on NDTV back in 2008 in eight episodes and the groundbreaking conversations between eminent industrialists and social activists like Mukesh Ambani, Sunita Narain, Sunil Mittal, Medha Patkar, Suman Sahai from the TV show has now culminated in a book published by Penguin Books India. Each of the thought-provoking discussions is preceded by an insightful introduction penned by Nilekani.

Nilekani says about her motivation to initiate these dialogues, “Uncommon Ground has emerged from my experience as a journalist, from my knowledge of the corporate sector as Nandan’s wife and also from the direct work in the social sector that I have been involved in over the years. It seemed to me that there were too many elements in our society that simply did not interact.”

At the launch of the book on October 13 at the Taj West End, Nilekani moderated a discussion between Jayant Sinha, Managing Director of Omidyar Network and Harish Hande, the Managing Director of Selco India and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2011 for his work in solar technology. The discussion debated a range of issues such as philanthropy and whether it is distorting the market for the poor.

Jayant Sinha (L), Rohini Nilekani (C), Harish Hande (R)

Nilekani spoke about the need for people to distinguish between being citizens and being consumers; she stressed the need for people to be more of a citizen than a consumer who merely demands and ask ourselves what we do and how does it impact others.

“The onus always comes back to us,” she added.

Platforms such as Uncommon Ground are catalysts in the process of national development, provoking questions and ideas that when transformed into action leads to a better way of life. And as to how Nilekani plans to keep the dialogues going, one has to wait and watch.

By Anuradha Prasad/ Raintree Media Features/

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