Monday, October 21, 2013

Rural Managers: Their role from a development professional's view

[ This post has been taken from 2013 edition of Dhwani, the annual journal of published by RMAX [ Rural Manager's Association of XIMB (Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar)]. Content has not been tampered but published without prior permission. Please contact blogger in the case of any dispute/offence/copyright issues.]

Author : Mr. Shouvik Mitra, World Bank Consultant

The development sector has seen a sea change over the last four decades starting from the Sarvodaya movement, primarily inspired by the Gandhian philosophy in the early sixties to the professionalization of the sector in the mid eighties where NGOs like PRADAN and MYRADA came into existence to the near corporatization in the first decade of this century. Thus, with the evolving scenario the role o f r u r a l m a n a g e r s h a s c h a n g e d drastically. When Dr. Kurien established IRMA in 1979, the goal was to develop professionals to work for the sector in general and for AMUL/ GCMMF in particular. Today, rural managers are involved in organizations ranging from grassroots level NGOs, secondary support NGOs, donor agencies, private foundations, agri-business entities and social enterprises.

The role of a rural manager, over a period of time, has become more evolved, more sophisticated and more complex. This change in role is due to the change in contexts in which rural managers work. These contexts have opened many new opportunities for rural management as a field to grow. However, the same contexts have given rise to some peculiar challenges for rural managers. Let us take few examples. Most of the NGOs today face certain major organisational constraints, such as, funding and limited outreach. This along with sector specific demands, multi-dimensionality of rural poverty as well as high donor expectations poses a unique set of challenges in the face of rural managers. The Government being the largest player in rural development sector is worried about quality and efficacy. The donors and foundations are facing constraints of dwindling innovativeness, quality partners, timely delivery and measurable impacts. The entrepreneurs are facing capital constraints, government policies and quality human resource. The agenda of inclusiveness is going through a major drift among the corporate agri-business entities while the corporate social responsibility wings are too focused with R&R, establishing brand value and a general lack of understanding of the way forward. Another new concept that has emerged is Producer Collectives. Though their presence is still on a relatively smaller scale, they not only face issues of quality HR, capital constraints, and lack of mission but also suffer from governance issues and member-organization conflicts.

Poverty is complex phenomenon and there is no single silver bullet to wipe it out. And it has become extremely critical to work on several fronts simultaneously to tackle it effectively. It is now rare to find organizations working in a dedicated domain like health, education, empowerment, livelihoods. The recent mantra is overall well being of community and thus the organizations prefer to work across multiple sectors, though many of them continue to have a core competence in one or few of the sectors. This has necessitated knowledge across different domains for professionals working at the grassroots level.

Another challenge for the demographers today is migration, the solution to which is to provide ample employment as well as self employment opportunities in rural India. The need is to tackle this situation by proposing ideas for self-sustaining business models which not only generate revenue for the corporate but also proves beneficial monetarily and socially for people at the base of the pyramid. It is here that rural managers, armed with a combination of business acumen and compassion can contribute the most. Majority of social ventures fail to scale up due to lack of managerial skills. Similar is the case with implementation of a number of government schemes. To justify the claims of 'social inclusion', it is important for the development agencies to broaden their horizons to include a whole range of beneficiaries and not just a minor part of the population. All sections of the society are equally important to achieve the goals inclusion.

A rural manager thus needs to juggle with a number of issues and come up with optimal solutions in whatever organization s/he may be working. S/he is expected to deal with organizational staff, ground level workers, outside/intervening agencies, rural community members, all at the same time.

The question to be asked here is how one can equip oneself to cope with such diverse and demanding situations. Is only a rural management degree itself a sufficient condition to be an effective rural manager? I doubt it. The right kind of attitude is of paramount importance; an attitude to work with rural poor in a manner which is professional, yet tender and at the same time not compromising on the quality of the outcome. What is required is a delicate balance of both head and heart where one is hardnosed about the efficacy of the project and is also concerned about the well being of the community. There is hardly any room for trade-offs. S/he must be able to analyze the situation and visualize the possible solution. It is required from him/her to be willing to unlearn, learn and relearn continuously and over a period of time.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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