Structures And Grassroots – My Observations

by | Dec 30, 2021

Disclaimer: My views are from a novice’s point of view who just entered the social development space. From what I understand in the context of finances, the stakeholders in the system I am directly or indirectly working with, are: 

  1. Government
    One of the most important stakeholders in social development. It holds a lot of power and resources. The government introduced CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) with an amendment in Companies Act 2013. It was notified that 2% of net profit from the past three financial years must go towards and social and environmental welfare of India. It lists various areas where the money can be spent. A welcome move for development as the sector now has access to a lot of untapped funds through which it can provide better services to communities in need. The compliance related to spending must be met within a stipulated time, otherwise the company, depending on its size, is liable to penalty. The act also has the nomenclature for ‘foreign companies‘ but that’s an entirely different discussion.
  2. Funders and Donors (includes CSRs)
    There are philanthropists, small ticket donors and companies that form their own trusts to utilize the CSR money that gets generated as per the profits in any given financial year. Many companies donate all of their CSR funds to CSOs for them to implement development programs while some go on a hybrid mode, dividing it between CSOs, government and incubators supported by the government eg. IITs. Since there’s a time limit attached to spending this money, a lot of times, the implementation gets rushed.
  3. NGOs – Non government organizations (also known as NPOs – Non profit organizations and CSOs – Civil society organizations)
    While a huge fund inflow comes from CSRs, it creates multiple hindrances on NGOs’ working style and pace of implementation, depending on the control exercised by the donor. Some CSRs have a definite framework and strict deadlines while others maybe more flexible. Often, the NGOs tend to lose their freedom and resort to work in areas suggested by donors as opposed to the ones where there may be a higher need.

    Now, I am not saying that there shouldn’t be any framework or deadlines. These are wonderful tools for us to work efficiently and increase the pace of social development. But the planning and implementation would improve if it is in sync with the community.
  4. Local Communities (People we work with)
    When I started working, in the first week or two, I had a feeling that we are developing people’s villages FOR THEM and that there might be some limitations but we can manage and come out with flying colours. The reality, however, proved to be entirely different. Life in villages is vibrant. Traditions and culture have a crucial role to play. Just how each person is different, no two villages are the same. They have their own stories, necessities and means of livelihoods based on multiple factors.

As a fellow, I’m currently with Udyogini, engaged closely in the 3rd and the 4th category. From my experience of living and working at Wadrafnagar town in Chhattisgarh, the following five factors stood out to me, in understanding my community and building relationships with them:

  1. Trust
    One of the most important factors when you enter any setup as an outsider. Unless they trust you, they won’t be ready to work with you. They often ask whether we are from a “Company” or “Sarkaar”. By company, they mean microfinance companies and from my conversations until now, it is evident that they are unhappy, even angry with them. During meetings, I’ve heard phrases like, “महोदय, मेरे खाते से हर महीने 200 रुपये कट रहे हैं। पहले इसका उपाय बताओ (Sir, every month 200 rupees are being cut from my account. Tell me a solution for this first) and also “आप लोग किस कंपनी के हैं?” (Which company are you people from?). Sarkaar because many people here are still afraid of COVID vaccines. Understanding this has helped me change my approach.
  2. Festivals
    There is a great importance for festivals in the lives of people living here. Their entire schedule revolves around it. We need to rush our work to meet deadlines before festivals, but working two days pre and post a festival is a mission impossible. People celebrate with दारू मुर्गा(Alcohol and Chicken). In most of the cases, they rear desi birds for the sole reason of consuming them during festivals and after parties.
  3. Marriages and various social gatherings
    When there is a wedding in a village, we must understand that most of the local people will be attending it. In some cases, people living in the surrounding villages also become a part of the celebration. It doesn’t only apply to weddings but also extends to other events such as child birth or death of a local.
  4. Agriculture cycle
    The Kharif and Rabi crop cycles play a key role in the lives of people. In our community, most of the farmers stick to only one crop because of less water irrigation facilities. My experience so far tells me not to conduct a meeting when they are busy in their fields or try to do it in a way that the timing suits them, either before they go to their fields or after they come back. Otherwise, they would tell, “कटाई का काम चल रहा है” (Cutting of crops is under process).
  5. Geography
    The culture, festivals, lifestyle and livelihoods of people have their roots deep in the geography where they are living. The language spoken and food habits are closely influenced by the nearest city centre even if that city is in another state.

Before coming to an end, I’d like to make a note of two anecdotal experiences that unintentionally helped me know my community better.

  • Once, I was invited to attend a अन्नप्राशन (Literally means first food feeding ceremony, in English). The person who invited me had his entire pitch around the point that he is going to arrange for kilos of chicken and mutton and hence, it would be worth coming to the event.
  • In one village, I asked for a bathroom to take a leak. People laughed on my face and told each other, “ये मूतने के लिए जगह ढूंढ रहा है!” (He is searching for a place to pee)

With these observations, I feel that there is a need to re-look at the work we are doing in congruence with the requirements at grassroots. All the stakeholders involved in the process, except people living there, evaluate the work being done. What would happen if we plan, monitor and evaluate according to the community’s needs and timeline? Would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

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