Archive for the ‘On The Road’ Category

What makes kids in urban slums what they are? Growth-For-All publishes first volume of ‘Viewpoint’

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Foolish governance & politics!

When the kid stars of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ found their homes demolished, it made headlines. But, evictions and relocations are pretty much par for the course, for most kids in urban slums.

The Growth-For-All(GFA) team spent time studying the experiences of kids at Savda Ghevra, a relatively-new resettlement colony in the outskirts of North-West Delhi.  

By the age of 10, these kids had experienced displacement from their rural habitations to an urban jhuggi( slum) in Delhi, and then from the jhuggi to this resettlement colony. The uncertainty has still not ended because their parents only have a 7-year lease for plots alloted to them at Savda Ghevra.
Udit is a 12 year-old boy migrated from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. He fondly recalls the “bara khet” (big fields), “kua” (well), “maidan” (playground) in his village. He is still coming to terms with the fact that his house in Sawda is on a mere 12.5 square meter plot, and that there are no wide lanes and fields here.
However, for most such kids, Delhi is home now.  Kajal( age 13) and Jyoti(15) are sisters who, when asked, are categorical about this, and refuse to go back to their village in Bihar, saying “Hum Dilli kay hain, aur yahin rehna chate hai” (we are from Delhi and we want to stay here only).

Notwithstanding this determination, they face a considerable amount of hardship and alienation. The GFA team has published the first volume of ‘Viewpoint’, which records the dismal condition of children at Sawda Ghewra.

Viewpoint(1): Impact of displacement of children 

We see these youngsters of Savda a certain lack of trust and motivation; and an abundance of lethargy because of their experiences and current condition. The outcome of these cumulative set of experiences is that by the time they become adults, they certainly do not have the drive and achievement orientation, which will charge them up  enough to learn new skills, and find jobs for themselves. When we connect the dots, and look at the livelihood study we completed a few months ago, it is no longer surprising that our livelihood programs did not have enough takers.

It is once again clear that the task of motivating and moulding these youngsters has to begin much earlier, when they are still in their early teens. That is the only way in which the country’s ambitious skills development and livelihood initiative can really take off.

( In case you are unable to download the Viewpoint document here, please email

Some fascinating encounters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Remarkable people!

I’ve met some very interesting people in recent months, who opened my mind to a range of issues and ideas.

Mrs Anjaly Duggal Chib( IAS), Punjab government’s Resident Commisioner in Delhi spent over an hour describing the various dimensions of the gender issue in Punjab.  While the outward manifestations of the gender issue - in the form of dowry and female foeticide - are well known, I understood well, for the first time, how basic cultural upbringing  perpetuates this inferior status further. Whether it is to do with women not taking a share of family property, or women eating after the men have eaten, or the fact that boys are taken to hospital faster, or how a ‘get rich fast’ attitude leads to dowry demands, these are facets of the gender issue that were put across very lucidly.

Around the same time, I also met Ena Singh, who heads UNFPA, and tackles the gender issue with the same vigor and passion. She emphasized how it was critical for everyone to get women in Punjab into visible, non-conventional jobs like driving a crane, a tractor, or a taxi. This, in her view, would be an important step in changing society’s perceptions of what women can do, or should be doing. She  gave the example of the newly-started Azaad Foundation in Delhi, which is a ‘by women’, ‘for women’ NGO that aims to train poor women in Delhi to become drivers, besides organising them into a taxi service.

I was also introduced to Niranjan Khatri, who drives CSR for ITC Hotels’ Sheraton and luxury brands. Niranjan told me about their tie-up with the Ministry of Social Justice to train 400 destitute women in aspects like hygiene, cooking, housekeeping, and safety, which would prepare them for careers in hospitality or as domestic help. For instance, the Eva Floor at ITC hotels, meant exclusively for lady guests, is staffed only by women.

Then there was the conversation with Manish Sabharwal of TeamLease, who is on the PM’s Skills Development Mission. Manish broadly described the Mission’s attempt to create a supply of  range of skilled and semi-skilled talent for the job market simply by making available a vast array of vocational training options. It ended on a strong note of disagreement because I felt strongly that the approach would falter on two counts. One, because it appeared to be too much of a simplistic, cookie-cutter approach which fails to take into account the executional complexities. The bigger disagreement was on account of the Mission’s assumption that bulk of India’s unemployed should be directed to job-based employment, as opposed to self-employment. In fact, the Mission’s bias seems to be against self-employment. To me, it seems not just impractical, but a wrong objective to aim for. A large proportion of India’s unemployed youth- for reasons of education, or mindset - will not be the right match for the vocational training options offered.  More important, because they don’t want to commute long distances, or be dislocated from their communities, many are happiest being in self-employment. While I completely agree that inadequate or sub-optimal self-employment is undesirable, but any employment generation policy simply cannot discount the value of creating a vibrant self-employment culture and eco-system.

Finally, there was young Sumant Dubey, an executive at TERI, who reached out to me. He spoke about a range of innovations that various people and organisations were exploring. Apart from TERI’s own ambitious Solar Lantern project, he told me about the Water Purifiers’ project run by Nandi Foundation, and an Eco Tourism project in Maharshtra.

Just 40 km from Jamshedpur, and India certainly wasn’t shining.

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

On the road!

Recently, in November, Growth-for-All took a trip into Jharkand’s predominantly-tribal East Singhbhum district. And discovered that India certainly wasn’t shining here.

Driving out of Jamshedpur, within 20 km, it was clear that development had either bypassed the tribal belt, or had been siphoned off.  Over the past eighteen months, I have spent time in rural UP, Rajasthan, Orissa, and relatively-prosperous Maharashtra, but this was very different. Leave aside the condition of the roads - which I would label as an urban luxury - even the basics were missing or had been stolen.

In most tribal villages we visited, access to government healthcare was non-existent; the absence of irrigation meant that agriculture was barely at a sustenance level; and, non-farming livelihood options were negligible. In one village, where we we were taken by NGO, Kalamandir, and sat down for a leisurely group meeting with villagers, the frustration was evident and articulated. Among other things we saw was a barely-begun canal-digging project under the NREGA scheme; apparently, the project was aborted after the villagers did not get paid for the initial phase of work.

This village, like a large part of Jharkhand, is close to the Naxal belt. In fact, during our visit, the villagers pointed out the hills through which they often get Naxal visitors. Given the state of governance, not surprising.

For us, at Growth-for-All, the priorities for our rural project quickly became clear. When we begin in early-2009, the initial focus will clearly have to be on providing access to basic healthcare( via mobile dispensaries); exploring sustainable, land-based livelihood and self-employent options; supplementing basic education via computer skills and adult literacy; and supporting local music and culture.

Evidence that ‘one size fits all’ prescriptions do not work in the economic development arena

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

On the Road !

Don’t we often wonder why - for reasons other than leakage and corruption, of course - huge sums of money spent on anti-poverty measures do not give desired results?

During our trip into East Singhbhum( Jharkhand), we got to see the cultural issues that adversely impact even the noblest of intentions.

Pradan, one of the best NGOs that one encounters, mentioned 2 projects that failed because of non-compliance with the local culture. When they tried to introduce watermelon as new crop,  the red color of the fruit was a deterrent for the tribes, as red has bad connotations. Similarly, a Dairy project initiated to improve health conditions,and also as an income-generating income activity failed miserably, because the tribal population believed that the milk should exclusively be drunk by the calf and not by humans. They also don’t milk the cow to sell the milk.

India is alive & kicking at the grassroots: Unicef’s amazing Village Planning process

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the road!
I had the chance to see a fascinating experiment in grassroots-level village planning process when I travelled to Latur district( Maharashtra), in June. Latur is one of the 17 districts where Unicef has been testing its integrated approach to addressing health and social issues.  

Program display at the ‘Village Information Centre’
From small beginnings in 2002, this effort now covers ALL the 1000-odd villages in the district. The starting point is a 5-day workshop in these villages, that involves village volunteers, Gram Panchayat members, Anganwadi workers, etc. The group collectively debates and identifies the top issues that need to be addressed in the coming years. These issues range from the predictable ones like child marriage and infant health, to surprising ones like alcohol being fed to crying babies!

Be that as it may, the wonderful thing is that the village takes these challenges and targets in their own heads, and track progress in the ensuing years.
Unicef, as the nodal agency, has put together a dedicated band of local NGOs who take charge of co-ordinating and facilitating this on-going effort in a couple of Blocks each.
My local guides during this trip were the two sisters- Zia and Shanno – from NGO ‘Saath’, which is responsible for Ausa and Ahmedpur blocks.

Real evidence that infant & mothers’ health issues can be turned around in India

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the Road!

This was a trip where I really got a close look at how primary healthcare is structured in India.
There seems to be a 3-tier structure at work. Primary Health Centers( PHCs) cater to population of around 30,000- with 2 doctors & 6 beds. There are ‘Sub-centers’ for every 5000 population, and this comprises a building with Auxiliary Nurse-cum-Midwife( ANM), and a Multi-purpose Worker( MPW). For smaller populations- 1000 nos.- there is the Anganwadi Worker( AWW).
I met Anganwadi worker, Usha tai, now in her 11th year, at Village Mahunale( 137 H/H). She tracks births/deaths/immunization/deliveries, and her persistent efforts are now achieving 100% hospital deliveries.( Incentives are also helping: 700/- for hospital delivery). She is certainly well-regarded for her good work.

Lalita Ghote & Pangave Baburao at Tirthwadi’s Anganwadi 
I found similar evidence at Tirthwadi’s anganwadi( population 1000). AWW Lalita Ghote & Helper Pangave Baburao ensure great care for 47 kids( aged 3-6). They gave me a beautiful demo of how an entire community is now familiar with the importance of tracking growth indicators( height, weight, etc) for infants and kids.

Tracking growth indicators at the anganwadi

At Sub-center Jagalpur, it was immunization day when we landed there, and a constant stream of families was coming in to meet ANM S.S Kudi Metha, Health Asst N.A Tripati & MPW P.M Tripati. (This Sub-Center won prize for best sub-center in ’07).

Jagalpur’s ‘Sub-Center’

I suspect that these locations I went to are among the better ones you’ll get to see. The 3-tier structure; the committed, motivated delivery of services; the interfacing with Unicef and NGOs- its all so robust that it appears fail-safe.
If only, this model- which is truly sound, on paper- were executed with equal thoroughness elsewhere in the country, healthcare would not be a big issue any longer.
Growth-for-All’s task will be to benchmark other locations against this seemingly near-ideal situation.

India’s demographic dividend on display: how 4000 youth have taken charge in Latur district.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the Road! 

When one reads or speaks about India’s demographic dividend, it is usually in the context of a large BPO or software work-force, or booming consumer markets, i.e. an engine for economic growth. Often, the flip side is also presented by worried social observers when they ponder over disgruntled, unemployed youth fueling Naxalism or extremism.
But, there’s hardly any talk of how youth can totally transform the social landscape of India in a substantive manner.

In this context, what I encountered during my Latur trip was simply mind-boggling. No less than 4000 volunteers( 3200 males & 800 females), spread across 1000 villages, are engaged in solving real problems in their neighborhoods.
After initial training by Unicef, in which 4 volunteers from each village participate, they go back  with confidence.

List of youth volunteers in a village

One of the volunteers, Amar Jadhav, narrated this story to me: when he and others heard about an impending adolescent marriage in their village( Kishorigarh), two volunteers – accompanied by the Sarpanch & few villagers – descended on the house.

 Amar Jadhav narrating his story to me

After initial resistance, the family relented and waited till the daughter turned 20!
The scale and impact of such efforts is truly breathtaking, as is the manner in which volunteers have neatly meshed with the local Panchayats, village communities, as well as the government.
I was curious to understand what really motivated these youngsters to volunteer, and be so committed, and asked several of them. The simple answer is that they get respect and life skills. Going forward, some hope to become Panchayat members themselves, while others have ambitions to join the police, or even politics!
If only we can replicate this story across India, then India’s demographic dividend can truly become a powerful engine for economic and social growth.

The government works… when people start owning their own future

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Remarkable people!

Often, NGOs are most required when the government has gone to sleep, and there’s a vacuum. So, I was curious to find out if that was the case in Latur district, too.
So, when Zia took me to meet Block Development Officer T.K Navale, I was half-expecting a mixture of disinterest and cynicism.
I was wrong. Navale actively helps the NGOs and their volunteers, not financially, but in several other ways. Sometimes a pat on the back; certificates & medals to volunteers on other occasions.

Recognition for volunteers

 Block Development Officer T.K Navale

He certainly doesn’t feel threatened or feel that his role is being usurped. On the contrary, he actively offers his co-operation because, as he says, “ the NGOs are volunteers are doing my work. They help us reach a large number of people with information regarding government schemes”.
One measure of success in his Block is the fact that this kind of co-operation has resulted in eight Gram Panchayats now proudly declaring themselves “ Zero Open-defecation”. And, word is spreading fast to other villages, which will soon follow suit.
More power to the people… and enlightened souls like T.K. Navale!

Dark clouds in the horizon: the Livelihood challenge

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Inclusive Growth!
Among the many young volunteers I spent time with were Rahul( Class 12), Sunil Gaikwad( MA, B.Ed), Ghanshyam Mhaske(BA), all from Village Mahunale(Chakur block). I was keen to understand their backgrounds, motivations and future plans. While they are all reasonably educated, none of their families own land; they have no hope of picking up a government job, while they have limited access and skills for private sector jobs.

Group of youngsters, animatedly discussing development plans
For the moment, they are deeply involved as volunteers, but what will happen a few years hence when 4000 aware, educated youth stare at a blank future?
Clearly, agriculture needs to be enhanced via greater productivity and new techniques. Allied activities like dairy farming need to come into play. But, there is little evidence or effort right now in Latur district.
Equally important, Self-employment will also be a key ingredient. But, as the enlightened T.K Navale pointed out, to succeed, self-employment needs training and success stories. Among the few successes that Navale could point out is a Food Stall. “ The Idli-vada stall has long queues”, as he says, but Latur district needs many more success stories and answers to crack the livelihood challenge.

Putting FMCG companies to shame: Rural Marketing 2.0?

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the Road!

My final-year ‘Term Paper’ at IIM was on Rural Marketing. Thereafter, during my many years of working with FMCG( or other mass-market) companies, the rural marketing challenge would inevitably come up as a topic for discussion. Some companies are hailed as pioneers in rural marketing, while other lag behind.
Having taken a close look at how the network of NGOs and volunteers operate in Latur district, it is time to proclaim that Rural Marketing 1.0 is passé.

It is quite an eye-opener to see how this ‘field-force’ achieves comprehensive coverage of ALL ( almost 1000 villages) in the district, every month.
I met Sheikh Firoz( B.A) with 1.5 years experience now. He could well have been a Sales Executive in a consumer good company, if you look at the way he works. As a Field Co-ordinator( F.C), he has a monthly ‘Beat Plan’ of 32 villages. On a typical day, this is what his beat itinerary looks like: meet Gram Panchayat( 10 am-12 noon); meet SHGs in meetings( 12-2 pm); Meet Young Girls Group( 3-5 pm); meet youth( after 5 pm). It’s a new village every day, but he comes back to the same village a month later.
Firoz has learnt that planning leads to success; that relationships with key village folks is important. Over the last one-and-half years, he has acquired confidence while dealing with village politics, and handling antagonism from those who want immediate gain.
All ten Blocks of Latur district have such dedicated FCs who, through their monthly beats, ensure 100% coverage of villages.
Clearly, FMCG companies, who talk about rural marketing, have a long way to go!!