Up from the grassroots

SkillingIndia on December 21, 2012 Comments
Arva Shikari

The lifeline of a person’s employability is majorly dependent on his/her skills and knowledge. In order to be employable formal learning of particular skills – be it flower making, imparting music/dance training, attending gas stations, performing electric works, or leading cloud computing projects – is required. But, learning needs to be functional based on actual trade or business needs carefully designed to get a decent livelihood. For that to happen, skill sets have to be marketable!

Learning skills that work makes it more practical and meaningful. Many NGOs, corporates and government initiatives are trying to bridge the gap between informal learning and formal education especially for children, women who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, school dropouts, and other people who are condemned to be unemployable due to lack of apt skills or their illegal backgrounds or victims of various trafficking activities.

Livelihood doesn’t come easy in our country which is still grappling with issues of poverty. The country’s trade and economic initiatives is dealing to alleviate grass-root poverty and many measures are designed to enable job-seekers to become more proficient in terms of skills, education, and mobility. This is helping people to live life with dignity, but we have a long way to go.

According to one of the OECD’s recent reports ‘Empowerment of poor rural people through initiatives in agriculture and natural resource management’ three quarters of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and their livelihoods depend on farming, pastoralism, forestry, and artisanal fishing – all of which can be subsumed under the term ‘agriculture’. Support to agriculture is well recognized as essential for poverty reduction. Critical for sustainability is, in turn, fostering the capacity of poor rural people and their organizations to pursue viable livelihoods and to shape the circumstances that affect them (IFAD, 2001; 2007). Equally critical is developing better institutions and policies shaping poor rural people’s environments and their interaction with others (IFAD, 2008b). Both capacity building and institutional and policy development are essential also in the process of scaling up successful initiatives.

Thus, in terms of rural development the Government of India (GoI) through its National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) plans to lessen poverty by enabling the rural poor to gain access to self-employment and skilled wage employment leading to a sustainable livelihood for them. This will further improve the rural economy, too. The GoI has taken many initiatives to address the issues of child enrolment and retention in primary and secondary schools. Despite this, current statistics show a continued decline, particularly among the minority and excluded groups such as Dalits, tribal communities, Muslims, women/girls and children with disabilities (most especially amongst girl children). The new VSO India strategy aims to achieve the targets in the GoI’s ‘right to education’ flagship programme with a two-pronged approach: First is, utilizing community and youth volunteers to increase community awareness and demand for education, increasing enrolment and retention of these marginalized groups. Second is to utilize professional volunteers to work with school management committees to build the capacity of primary school teachers and adapt curriculum to ensure local relevance.

One of the international initiatives towards rural development is The Dalit Women’s Livelihood Accountability Initiative supported by the Fund for Gender Equality (UN Women Multi-donor Fund for Gender Equality), which has contributed considerably in bringing changes in the lives of marginalized Dalit women in eight districts of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the DWLAI has worked to roll out job cards and bank accounts in women’s names to empower them economically and financially.

For grass root development to occur, over the years, the focus of education has shifted towards sustainable development. However, to ensure that developmental initiatives remain sustainable, the right education and approach with efficient execution is needed. In fact, to facilitate the process of sustainable development, an approach called Samvardhan (meaning ‘nurturing’), was to be executed on pilot basis in tribal areas of Gujarat. The project aimed at developing a cadre of young entrepreneurs called Community Entrepreneurs (CEs). According to the paper, ‘Cadre Building to Strengthen Grass Root Governance’, the training of CEs included aspects on safe drinking water, natural resource productivity, animal husbandry practices, income generation opportunities, and access to, and effectiveness of, primary education. The cross-cutting aspects gave transparency and strengthened the grass root governance. CEs would be Samvardhan’s cornerstone for rural development. For a further sustained effort, both assistance and giving a platform from which people can take the idea forward on their own can lead to sustainable development.

Furthermore, a local organization in Bidhichandrapur, West Bengal works with the villagers to create a more self-reliant community that can become free from illness, illiteracy and poverty. Their focus is on three core issues: woman’s empowerment, child education, and organic nutrition. The organization empowers women with tools they need to feed their families on homegrown quality organic vegetables. They educate them on methods of organic pesticide and healthier alternatives to conventional fertilizers. The women cultivate their own gardens on modest plots of 5 to 20 square meters; grow a variety of crops, from carrots and beans to bananas. In addition, a pre-school education centre teaches children about their environment from a young age. In fact, the next generation is engaged in building solar cookers, producing fertilizers, and learning how and why to grow their own food. This initiative can pave the path to a self-sufficient, sustainable community in future (as the initiative noted in the article ‘How Green is your Garden? Organic Agriculture in Rural India’). From the United Nations Development Programme paper ‘Innovative Approaches to Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment’, another initiative by Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) emerged. Through its Shakti Entrepreneurs programme (shakti means ‘power’ in Sanskrit) HUL developed an innovative microenterprise initiative that created wealth in rural areas and became a successful business operation. HUL reached out to nearly 90% of the population who lived in small and remote villages to establish a direct-to-consumer retail operation, which tapped into the growing number of women’s self-help groups in India to develop a network of small-scale entrepreneurs. The Shakti entrepreneur base was over 45,000 entrepreneurs, covering three million homes in 100,000 villages in 15 states in India.

Also, the World Education Inc. is working in partnership with the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation in countries across the globe to implement the ConnectEd program to address factors limiting the work and life options of disadvantaged youth, with an emphasis on girls and women. ConnectEd is working in Australia, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. In India, it focuses primarily on girls from the slum areas in New Delhi (Tughlakabad), Noida, and Uttar Pradesh (Harola and Jhundpura), where the population is predominantly made up of poor, minority and dalit  migrants.

So, in empowering the rural poor there are three focus areas that different stakeholders can consider. The above OECD report suggests: Firstly, What to do? Support poor people’s secure NR rights and access; support participatory and accountable knowledge and advisory processes; enhance the participation of poor rural producers in agricultural and related markets; and, participation in policy and governance processes. Secondly, How to engage? Strengthen poor people’s capabilities through their own organizations; foster and seek to institutionalize constructive interaction among stakeholders; and adopt flexible programming mechanisms. Thirdly, Who to work with? A full range of relevant people, including community-level organizations, RPOs beyond the local level, government and local administrations, the private sector and the NGOs. The cycle can work if all stakeholders work together and add value.

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