Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Toilet Day

“Civilisation is the distance we put between ourselves and our own excreta.” - Brian Aldiss, The Dark Light Years

Indians are strange creatures as when we think of skills we are obsessed with IITs; when we think of health care we can scarcely think beyond doctors. At present, generally, the Indian has cleaning to the household level but is apathetic to the community where he lives. Even governments typically overspend on very high on expensive machines used in healthcare, at the expense of public goods such as community toilets, sewer pipes, low cost sanitary napkins etc. Despite of bad image of World bank among left in India, they will also agree with their suggestion of increased spendings of government on sanitation issue. India has already popular PPP model of community toilets and washroom in Sulabh Shauchalya.

November 19th is celebrated as the World Toilet Day to raise awareness on the use of toilet, sanitation and clean water. I was invited to a primary school with Block Development Officer (BDO) on this day a year before. I learn a lot on five ways for washing hands; waterborne disease & clean water for safe drinking. Ganjam district is ill-famous for open defecation in the whole Odisha. This was directed towards giving children information on area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Knowledge alone though is not enough; it has to be complemented by actions to implement the most basic rules for prevention. Using evidence to guide massive social investment is crucial to ensuring the efficient use of limited resources. As per research of  JPAL in Kenya , there is little evidence on whether existing water quality, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions lead to lasting improvements in children’s health, growth and development and whether nutrition programs are more effective when combined with WASH interventions.

Government machinery has funds under Individual Household Latrine(ihhl) for construction of toilets at household level. It requires 10% fund by the household while 90% are given by government in three phases. And, sanitation is seen only as seen as construction of new toilets without thinking about water facilities and waste management. Power builds consensus like nothing else. There is no democratic discussion in government meetings. Even infeasible orders are taken without looking either on the quality of construction work or utility to end user to achieve targets. Unless government at municipal doesn't think on the line of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, there will be huge waste dumped without proper process.

There is quite little thinking on policy level on solid and liquid waste management, awareness regarding toilet usage, water storage, hand washing practices and acceptability of the total idea of sanitation. India really need a large social campaign to make people aware, working with them and explaining things of private hygiene to them. The reason is that sanitation is primarily a behavioural issue, to be undertaken by community and household for their own good. The role of government is only to facilitate this positive change by providing incentives and solution oriented approach in assisting people.  Government is trying to work with children in schools and mothers through health clinics to educate them about hygiene behaviour. Such education initiative can help change behaviour and hygiene practices, it is a super slow process. The sanitation problem is so drastic and urgent that policies need to be set in place to drive behavioural change. There is need to have social norms regarding sanitation. Government need to listen the wise words of Samuel Johnson: "People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 - Year of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs)

I always remember the words of Chinese Premier Deng Xiapong - "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice." So, now NGOs and government are finally coming to the phase of acceptance of market forces in the development sector. Cooperative movement is already a failure except few notable examples. Government has never managed to manage any scheme efficiently. Government are partnering with various professional organizations for setting up new institution in the country - Farmers Producer Company (FPC) / Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO). The legal framework is ready under Companies Act. According to this new law, only farmer – producers can be members of the FPC and the farmer members themselves will manage this company. It takes care of the flaws in the cooperative societies but has also borrowed the strengths of the corporate companies.


FPO/FPC will be dominating in future debates of livelihood and its success depends on implementation and design of the program. Evidences will come for pro and cons of such initiative, no matter how reliable, have to be interpreted. Interpretations can differ, and do differ, and such differences account of explanation. That is a future full of possibilities. I will be updating this space related with FPO. The chart will give an overview of the FPO structure and purpose. It is bit late to post here but Calendar year 2014 is declared as “Year of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs)”.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Annual General Meeting of UAPCL

Udaipur Agro Producer Company Limited, UAPCL, is a social-enterprise company focused on strengthening the livelihoods of the community. The organization was registered on June 29, 2010. The company’s main concentration is building the surrounding community through direct collaboration. The company is comprised of 1635 members. Each member is a local farmer mostly small and marginal who owns a share of the company.

UAPCL Annual General Meeting
Share Certificate Distribution
ACCESS Team with UAPCL Board of Directors
ACCESS Development Services is working in the area of livelihood with FPOs (Farmer Producer Orgainzation). Here is a glimpse of Annual General Meeting organized by one such - UAPCL attended by 700 members. Here we see smallholder farmers not as marginal recipients of charity instead as customer entrepreneurs. I will be updating more on FPOs in this space.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Consultant Job

Let me start with a joke: I have a MBA degree and wanna be consultant in future! Does any development organization need consultant ? Yes, they do. Analyst and Consultant form a core area of jobs created in the knowledge economy. Whereas a leader can win people over in an instant due to oration and vision, an analyst can do same with the technical wizardry. But the most over-hyped and over-mocked job belongs to consultant.  Consultants are not brought on to be unbiased. They are hired to confirm a particular bias. There is a popular one line gag on consultant - "If you are not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."

There is always a lot of conferences and consultations on ‘labour rights’ that continue to be held at five star hotels — which for one are known to underpay their employees — without a hint of irony. It may seem wrong, pragmatic, or indecisive and confused? Take your pick. A consultant must focus on collecting data and analyzing the results but always look to field for the ground movements.


Complete package of Engineering and MBA is gradually becoming a shortcut route of becoming a consultant in India. The advantages of a MBA degree isn't really only classroom learning – a degree is easily achievable and online courses available if one wants, it's hidden in network effects and networking opportunities: government, private companies, civil society, and donor agencies. Our classmates are going to form major career networks moving forward. One may say the same for most fields.  I always take words of Henry Mintzberg with bitter pill - "The trouble with ‘management’ education is that it is business education, and leaves a distorted impression of management” & “Not much will to manage, but plenty of zest for business”. ( Managers Not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development)

I haven't taken MBA degree for fast tracking progress of salary, but to seek a clear relation on public policy and rural India. I want to live as decent human being who engage himself and others substantially in an inclusive development. I don't want to be limited in a AC room as consultant, waiting to speak to field staff who would have nothing but contempt in seeing a waste of financial resource as sunk cost in me. Someone once told me a mantra- "What is difficult in field training will make life easy in a consultant job." I do hope to become a better consultant one day myself.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Volunteer


It's fine to have people working in development sector with degrees from the elite colleges. But even if they are good at statistics and analysis, they cannot be decision-makers without a grassroots experience. Problem with today’s education is that it doesn't have any relationship to the real world.Images get reinforced over time with newspaper, media and cinema. Innocent Villagers, Shrewd Businessmen, Corrupt bureaucracy and Selfish Political leaders become stereotype. Such perception breaks with each intersection and performance in the field.

Living in the village with no other business but to follow native life in the present day of social media buzz and 24*7 connectivity seems bizarre. But one sees the traditions, ceremonies and transactions over and over again. What it leaves one with temporary chaos in the beginning. In addition to fostering mutual understanding, perpetually curiosity and occasionally confused volunteer start to see the way of living of a community. A long stint of month or more can create less-domineering, nonjudgmental volunteers who are not obsessed with the pursuit of the emotional highs (and photo ops) of the altruism they put effort for. It makes volunteer adapt to the culture, to be flexible, relevant and realistic. Even the long times doesn't alter you so much as the people you meet along the way shape you.

True development cannot be heralded without market, intellectual, cultural and scholarly liberalization. The very best mainstream economists/scientists were the radical youths who questioned authority when they were students. An exposure visit can give limited understanding but volunteerism/internship grooms a different aspect of personality. Our rural side has survived without services of elite rich throughout ages. They will survive but a youth needs mixed dose of idealism, activism and academic expertise. The volunteer takes more than what it gives. Giving back can be very good for career. Most of the volunteer/interns end up as consultants in international aid and lending agencies. The opportunity cost seems high in short run but benefits individual and people around.

Some people volunteer because they want mentoring while other for the sake of different experience. Even volunteer experiences work for different people from frustrating to fascinating, depending on their goals and organization policy. Too often, volunteers are thought of as a “nice to have” rather than a “necessary” resource, and facilitating agency / NGO's apply little or no rigor to evaluate their impact. They are not paid due to budget constraint and then termed as priceless instead of unpaid . Communities can mold the young as future change agents and social entrepreneurs.

There are bigger question involved in the business of volunteerism. Is voluntarism ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the local communities they visit ? Does an intervention of a volunteer make the cure worse than disease ? Are volunteers/interns unpaid contract labors of NGOs?  An article in Onion ( 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture) mocks volunteers with a hard hitting sense of humor. There is also a  good article showing the narcissistic side of global volunteerism. The articles are full of sarcasm but looking on the positive side, it reminded me of a line by Professor Peter Hayes: "Live somewhere else, on the terms of the people who live there, for six months. It will change your life."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cash Transfer Scheme

Government is so agile to implement e-governance solutions for improving its tax collection system, but prefers neolithic methods for cash disbursal decisive and purposeful governance.  The government’s budget is a mess. Subsidies have been overdone and not properly targeted. In the current year, total subsidies will be over 2.8 trillion rupees. Instead of making the direct cash transfer, all of the welfare scheme has been turned into a giant procurement exercise. That is why, Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan made a strong pitch for direct cash transfers to the poor, saying this would help reduce corruption by breaking the "cycle of dependence".

A cash transfer is a development project stripped of any active management costs, and its performance tracks the success or failure of the individual recipient. Cash Transfers are examples of certain transfer payments include welfare (financial aid), social security, and government making subsidies for certain businesses (firms)  into the bank accounts of beneficiaries, cutting out intermediaries. Cash Transfers: Sorting Through the Hype puts a balanced light on the whole exercise.

There are pros and cons attached with Cash transfers. The popular myth that “the poor people don't know what is good for them”. That, in my opinion, is derogatory. We should stop worrying that the poor are going to spend (or “waste”) their transfer income on alcohol and tobacco. They aren’t. They might buy some chocolate, though. A proper study can has been done : Do the Poor Waste Transfers on Booze and Cigarettes? No. The cash transfer is taking away discretion of government officials on taxpayers money spent in the name of welfare. Financial cost of social justice and and their concerns that the poor can't be taken without economic freedom. See more at Whose money is it anyway? to understand another side of the debate on welfare state and individual freedom.

There are two major school of thoughts under Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) - CCT and UCT.  Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCTs) consist of cash grants with means testing to ensure funds go to the intended recipients, but without extra requirements on recipient behavior. The downside of unconditional cash transfer (UCT) is in distributing money without increasing the productivity and skills of labour force in rural india. But we can see the partial benefit of Economic Freedom associated with the “distributor of welfare funds”  through cash transfer. The economic freedom to utilize funds in an unique and distinct way by each beneficiary is an important aspect of building better markets.

CCT always have strings attached of a certain criteria to be fulfilled.  The advocates of CCT pitch for skill transfer with money as sustainable economic growth cannot be created by simply distributing money or as some economists like to put it by “dropping money from a helicopter”. Both CCTs and UCTs require the beneficiaries to be linked to bank and can access financial services. But there are reports that the government’s much-hyped Direct Benefit Transfer programme has hit a roadblock. In the current situation, the current electronic system and incentives are structured, the agent has not been incentivized to offer financial services.

Only government can offer reach to the poor that is effective nature of state. while market will always go for person with better information and resources for efficiency. The social transfers together with the wages and pensions form the Government- to -person (G2P) payments. Could this ecosystem of government-to-person (G2P) payments enable or lead to financial inclusion? Even working one year  in the field of development, the blatant  truth is, I don't have solid clue of what the poor need. Sometimes its cash, sometimes skills. As per me,  DCT can serve both purpose as a seed capital in a business for enterprising individual or as a social safety net of whole family

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Government Schemes Fail? - 2

India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi's slogan "minimum government, maximum governance" is a serious goal. Its implementation on the grass root level will be tried and tested, and that is where most of the government’s schemes fail. There are myriad of difficulties faced by the government in properly designing and implementing of the public policy. Continuing from the previous article: 'Why Government Schemes Fail?',  I will examine same question from another angles.

Design: Let us start with the design of the government schemes. What works well in the coastal belt of Kerala is unlikely to work in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, or for that matter, hilly lands of Garhwal. Hence, one size fits all schemes must be carefully reviewed. There is a strong tendency for planners to go in for prestige and grand projects. Through this they can leave monuments to their activity, even if defunct. The visibility is major emphasis than actual proposed work. It helps every level of government machinery to justify their budget and performance.

Most of the schemes even if redesigned are just shadows of past failed schemes. Reforms exclusively based on experience of the past suffer from another infirmity as it fails to factor in the innovations and transformations of the relevant sector. Any government scheme should be designed as a business model with incentives built for each stakeholder. Illegality in transaction slowly crumbles the scheme merely from the fact that the policy was not right from the beginning.

Involvement and Access:  More democracy is required in making designs for the schemes! Currently, the only option left with people is of protest on bad implementation of schemes. There must be welcome and feel comfortable atmosphere for non-IAS experts with domain expertise to operate in regulatory bodies and government-run organisations. Advisers from the NGO sector like CRHP, Pradan had helped in shaping better schemes in the past.

Our huge ignorance to understand the functioning of the government and the local institutions is barrier to good governance. There is need for proper channel so that people can mobilize for effective political action to prevent mismanagement of resources by government. A small time broker and politician help poor to navigate a system that gives them so little access. Hence, the complex web of subsidy, entitlements and schemes in a very well intention-ed and well designed scheme hit the rock solid wall of the gargantuan system.

Political Interference:  Government ministers announces huge scheme without having a concrete plan. It ends up similar to attempting to build a house without a blueprint. Political parties whenever come to power in central/state governments try to adopt developmental plans to suit their manifestos. This jeopardizes the future trajectory and intensity of implementation of schemes. The politically motivated decisions of fund allocation led by the relationship of the incumbent State and Central governments hinder welfare schemes and huge investments. Most of the time old developmental projects are either ignored or rejected in favour of new political discourse. There is always misalignment between financing of scheme, condition of economy and political campaign promises. This can go hugely wrong and ours current government current fight to hold Fiscal Deficit is one such glaring example. When a subsidy scheme becomes a non-viable financially, no matter how well-meaning, it must be restructured or abolished to extinction.

Planning and Coordination: Planning is done in ad-hoc manner and is generally a mere collection of schemes. This is an under-discussed problem of coordination between the intra- and inter- government departments. The right word is Convergence. Each scheme is being implemented by the respective department in isolation. Hence, it is imperative to make directed and organized efforts for converging such schemes. Convergence improves the deliver-ability of the benefits and services, it also gives better value to the public money. The Perpetuating Problem of Coordination will explain intrinsic details of the issue. The lack of reliable data for planning also causes failure of policies. With many of our allocations in schemes based on unreliable secondary data. There is dire need for collecting relevant data pertinent to all sectors, updating it periodically and planning and allocating financial and human resources based on this data. A new type of public good, Open data banks must be promoted among public, among companies and other non-government entities. With the availability of massive, publicly-held data sets in machine-readable “liquid” form can unlock the potential to spur innovation in all sectors.

Regulating and Implementation: How do you prevent abuse? The old mindset in which the command and control instinct dominated with emphasis to restrict, stifle, manipulate, control and micro-manage with new rule curb both private and public sector.A rule of thumb for efficiency standards is that they should be 'tough' but not panic inducing'. Time and space is needed to react with new initiatives.  There is heavy scrutiny of projects in implementation when problem arises due to poor design. The problem of implementation without clearly defined or sometimes ill-defined rules creates a lot of room for manipulation and hence make it inconsistent and unfair.

If you want to understand how the government functions, you must understand movement of files. All decisions in the government are taken on files through office orders. If projects/ schemes are not moving on file, then all public policy is waste. No person in bureaucracy want to take a decision without any political support and risk career damage. It eventually led to stalled projects and failure of the scheme.

Budgeting and Auditing: Why Development is considered in Terms of Expenditure Done? I am still looking for answers. Nobody is looking for the quality in government and this task has been left to the social audit. The delay in releasing funds and issuing UC (Utilization certificate) deter all the stakeholders involved in the scheme. There is always difference between fund requirement and allotment in budget. Even unimaginative funds required are just 10% increment of previous year budget. Take any scheme in government, the usual discussion in meetings revolves around Target Chase. There is a new idea floating to move away from the usual bureaucratic jargon of “targeting numbers” to “targeting names".

90 per cent of the government is now covered by the CAG, but much of this has been done through executive orders, not an amendment in our act. All PPPs, Panchayati raj institutions and NGOs getting government funding under need to be brought under the ambit of CAG. Due to no expertise on this topic, I will refrain from putting more words on the blogpost.

We are seeing that NRHM, NREGA & NRLM are delivering better result than government departments. Mission mode is working relatively well in the new order of scheme design. Accountability mechanisms and examples of government schemes that worked are quite low in our country. We need solid discussion on reports to understanding of the policies, scope, mechanisms, drivers and benefits of various schemes across different states and sectors. Everything has an expiry date, no matter how good their past performances. There is logic for having a provision to discard schemes once their utility is over. All programmes need strong monitoring, which is absent most of the times. A separate blog post is entirely needed to showcase the problem of monitoring and evaluation. That is a another story for another time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Another Poverty Line

“By means of deep meditation and magical power it may be possible to sleep on fire, but it is impossible to sleep with an empty stomach in a situation of poverty.” - Thiruvalluvar (50 B.C.)

New poverty line has been redrawn by Rangarajan Committee. It is Rs 32 for rural India and Rs 47 for urban India. The earlier poverty line figure was Rs 27 for rural India and Rs 33 for Urban India.  Columnist T N Ninan has given us glimpse on the approach taken for defining poverty line - "The Rangarajan committee, set up two years ago to take a fresh look at poverty issues, has according to a newspaper report recommended a radically new way of deciding who is officially poor. New in India, that is, because the approach that the committee has reportedly recommended is already in practice in the US and Europe: poverty is defined, not as an absolute level of income, but relative to the average levels of income. The US says all those whose income is 40 per cent or less than the average (median, not mean) are poor; Europe is more generous, and puts the cut-off at 60 per cent of the median income."

The findings of the Rangarajan panel report on poverty estimates states that three out of 10 people in India are poor. 30% are poor but who are they? They are not uniform and homogeneous group as projected by media. Even those who are just above poverty line may fall below this due to vulnerable situations. I assume that new holy trilogy of social security {National Pension System (NPS), National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) and Food Security Bill} can provide safety net to many. Proper estimation, identification and targeting of poor for schemes are the real challenges in getting schemes implemented properly in our country

 Commenting on the poverty line will be like muddling on the pile of deadwood. I came to conclusion now that everyone believes what they want to. So depending on one's ideology, poverty in India has reduced or increased. Statistics can only be a tool for managers or policymakers. Perceptions, Meaning and Utility are the reality checks used by consumers and voters. Even in ours democracy, extreme poverty is not much relevant to the median voter belonging to middle class now. That is the state of affairs.

The cascading effect of increase in prices of petroleum products on inflation and a high fiscal deficit is a matter of serious concern. Upcoming budget must have tough measures to deal with forecasting of poor monsoon and high prices of petroleum due to Iraq war. I hope to see end of Subsidy Raj in Modi led central government and there are talks of abolishing planning commission. To what extent the government will be able to undertake reforms will depend on how far the NDA is willing to go.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Xavier University

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has inaugurated the Xavier University on the outskirts of the Capital city of Bhubaneswar. Report by Odisha Diary bureau can be read in the weblink here. Congratulations to my Alma Mater for inauguration of "The Xavier University, Bhubaneswar" !

Monday, June 30, 2014

Best Advice Ever !

I have landed a new job with Access Development Services at Udaipur. That is new news.


So why this cartoon? I broke 'Golden Rule of Quitting' that is quoted by NaMo above in the cartoon. I have also came to believe that nobody should quit job before working at least one year in a new sector. I faced a short term of unemployment as a rural manager. In retrospection, decision of quitting seems courageous but was made in haste and ill advise. The courage of moment is often over-rated and short of time, the word perhaps should be temperament to show mental strength. The days without job are long and depressing. Many rounds of interviews, rejection and low salary offers were part of this phase. It is easier said to follow own conviction than done. Not only the market treat a labour without job with low packages offering, cost of living in NCR dents the saving. Job hunt also showed me skewed distribution of opportunities, of how inequalities, relevant experience, and notion like 'merit' get created.

New job offer came as a great beacon light of hope and luck to me. Beacon that shines on the tower at milestone may not be the one we envision in the start of journey. I am more dedicated and cautious towards career now. But if you are looking this short tragedy with a tinge of heroism that is missing in my scene. I would have not sustained momentum without continuous support of my friends and colleagues. My mentors turned out to be what prof dumbledore was to harry. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

Every disadvantage has its advantage, but it is taken only by those willing to look within and introspect. I accept my fault of ignorance and arrogance. Few days of unemployment taught much on strategy of job search, need of vibrant professional network and solid knowledge. By nature I am a very self-critical person. It has its profits and losses. I was in stage of self doubt with constant rejection. Lately, I converted this crisis much to enrich self awareness and life skills. I am confident but will never take own skills for granted for now. Moral of the Story: There is no Moral in the Story! Just words of an underachiever.

“‎Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Takeaway from KIVA

"I don't believe in charity; I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from top to bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people." ~ Eduardo Galeano

Have you heard of KIVA? Kiva is a non-profit micro-lending organization that connects folks around the world who need a loan with people who are willing to make those loan, often at $25 increments. I am giving my tiny share and one year of my activity with KIVA is completed. I have contributed amount of 25 $ as loan ten times from June 2013 to May 2014. Hence, a total fund of 250 $ is acting as seed money on KIVA today. 100 $ has been returned back by the borrowers and is in circulation again as revolving fund. I too got 50 $ bonus for introducing two friends on KIVA. You may doubt what I say, but you will believe what I do with the proof. This is my Profile at KIVA for the verification purpose. The complete process of giving loans and reimbursement through KIVA is explained in a previous blog post.

The poor and the weakest fight harder for survival, so they deserve more. They need only a little money to set up a business that can dramatically improve their standard of life. This is where commercial capital isn't willing or able to serve.  Milaap in India and KIVA are one of the best start-up ideas I've seen. They are doing humanitarian work and completely benefiting all the stakeholders.

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention. - John Burroughs

WHY I LOAN? I loan because I can. Only capacity and compassion are required to do these small acts. I have a certain degree of positive bias towards marginalised. As traveler and native of India, I have seen poverty first hand and am committed to making the world a better place for all. Ground truth and lived realities are the collateral benefits of becoming a 'Rural Manager'. Aid is a nice but not sustainable way to help people. I had questioned myself a great deal and this made me choose a suitable way to help others.

There are people who claim to become altruistic only when their own self is fulfilled. Its pity that they lack sense of “enough”. Often the ‘successful’ tend to become ‘insulated’ from the society as they get richer and more successful. Most of them gradually generate attitude of apathy and contempt towards poor because the relationship is based upon social and economic inequality. In return, among other things, they always endure the relentless stares of poverty. An unequal society with majority lacking even basic amenities will tend to create undesirable reaction. I am not asking for everyone should have same but that each must have enough. So, such 'successful' persons need to awaken the inner conscience for empathy. To whom much is given, of him will much be required.

"If not us, who? If not now, when? " - A slogan given by Czech University Students in Prague, Nov. 1989.

I always recite this slogan in the hours of doubt. I am not seeking political activism and grand relief work from the readers. A small, sustainable and efficient way to change the world is better than fascination for a big project. I usually follow a simple mantra in the matters of lifestyle : One can change, provided the will is there. I will ask readers to help people through small loans. Doing this doesn't require much time, absence from office for volunteership, and doesn't deplete one much of the hard earned money. I agree that it is neither glamorous and can't make one famous, but it will make a difference to someone!

*I am planning to start contributing on another platform called - Rang De with a new job.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Capacity Building Venture

The word “training” is a cliched jargon used in the corporates. There is another buzz word used for this in the development sector. That word is termed as "Capacity Building" (CB) and it is an endless process. Development professionals and government believe that we have this new knowledge, and we need to teach communities how to do stuff. I have seen such special sessions focused on  inauguration, speech and a boring lecture where participants are waiting for the lunch. Most of the times, workshop had limited interaction and few important questions raised regarding project. The worse use of "CB" word doesn't stop there. It has extended into "empowerment" for poor or "sensitization" for educated government officials.

Makarand Sahasrabuddhe has aptly said: “Many a time capacity building is just a euphemism for cramming 30 people in a room for a few days and trying to kill them with power-points and flipcharts and group work (that also takes care of the ‘participation’).”

I am not saying that all capacity building exercise must be discarded. Building capacity is a slow process and learning must be judged on certain criteria. Adults usually learn new knowledge through application and experience. They don't modify the way of their work if they are being lectured as they're in a high school classroom.

This reminds me of the Hungry Man book, “If a man is hungry, don't give him a fish … organise a workshop … agree on clear objectives … don’t forget advocacy … participation … and the sustainable mainstreaming of gender.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Migration Series - 1

One can't escape the plight of migrant labour while living at KBK region. Mostly of the semi-skilled workers migrate towards Gujarat. A large chunk of the migrants from Western Odisha are landless labourers and marginal farmers not having access to any kind of irrigation facilities. They are employed in the brick-kilns of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

Nuakhai is the festival of eating newly-harvested paddy, celebrated in September or October. That is the season of mass migration of the seasonal workers. The recruiter and transporter is paid a commision by brick kiln owner.  The recruitment of labour in the brick kilns is done with the help of contractors/local sardars. They offer a token amount of thousand as first time advance to these people and confirmation of going for migrants. A family of three or four usually migrate after receiving the full payment ranging from Rs. 30,000-40,000. It is quite normal for the labourers to use the cash advances to settle their debts at home. Brick Kiln owner, Labour Department, Railway staff and local contractors are linked in a long chain of this distress migration.

Brick manufacturing is back-breaking work, involve children and there are no fixed hours. The work is built on the exploitation of casual labour, and these seasonal workers have no benefits or insurance. Torture, exploitation and denial of wages are common practices at Brick Kilns. Force is used to discipline the worker and silence the grievances. The loss of entitlements at home and loss of recognition of their rights at worksites are major issues faced by the seasonal workers. Child labour is a rampant practice in such places. I will only say when the lives of children are at stake, how even a cold hearted person can be silent witness.

Given that a lot of tough physical work is required amid extreme conditions, the wage rates are usually low such that when the workers return home with small sums of cash after 6-8 months. Their advances are adjusted against a token wage rate, so that they are still in debt to the contractors or kiln owners, whom they have to repay the next season. Deceptive practices such as fraudulent bookkeeping in wage payment is prevalent. The migrants return back in April and May month of each year for next agricultural season.

Along with the drought the problems such as rural unemployment, non-industrialization, growth of population and rapid deforestation are faced by KBK region. Migration prone blocks of Balangir district are namely Belpada, Khaprakhol, Titiligrah, Patanagarh, Muribahal, Bongomunda, Saintala and Tureikela. I started routine discussion with locals and government officials in the district.I personally thank PMRDF fellow Raj Gupta for providing this short documentary on migration in Odisha and Sudhir Mishra, a local journalist for blog inputs.


Why NREGA & NRLM is not suitable substitute for stopping migration? Even a household is involved in 150 days of work in the year, only 22,000 is generated from this work in NREGA. That too is delayed payment unlike one time direct cash settlement by contractor. Even producer companies formed under NRLM can augment income upto Rs. 5000-7000. Even under ideal conditions of convergence, there is loss of income that somehow must be fulfilled to stop such distress migration. There is also provision under Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1976 and under the modified scheme the rehabilitation grants to the extent of Rs. 20,000/- per bonded Labourer is provided.

Brick kiln industry works in a largely unregulated manner in the informal sector. Overall there is inadequate information on the nexus of various actors involved and economics of this modern slavery like practice. We need more documentation as to ensure better grasp of grass-root level situation and stories like Why India's brick kiln workers 'live like slaves' By Humphrey Hawksley are missing in our mainstream media. I have not even mentioned health and gender issues in the article. We need huge advocacy and social movements to make the lives of workers better. Whenever the masses unite with one voice, leaders listen !

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Comic take on Migration!

Migration is the least developed aspect of globalization today as compared to foreign investment or fair trade. Here is a funny take on migrant and natural citizens in middle east society by comic Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American and a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. Have a great weekend and more posts will be coming on migration issue!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rural Awareness Campaign

Communication for development (C4D) in rural areas employ same tools as MNCs but serve different purpose. Rural Communication campaign for awaring people by NGO/Government has to put forward facts before target audiences to appraise them with the Government scheme or value of Sanitation, Education, Health, Gender and Public Rights. The use of ICT like government department websites in distributing information is limited in English rather than local language. Searching and cutting parts of data from the web site is not easy for villagers using telephone based connectivity.

Mid-media activities such as street plays, mobile vans, screening of video films and even Puppet shows are used as medium of communication in the rural areas. Hoarding, Wall paintings & danglers in the local vernacular language also form an important part of the marketing communication strategies. They come at a low cost and the visibility is high, and so is the stickiness. Booklets, Pamphlets, Newsletter can be used in states with high literacy rate like Kerala. Social media such as Community Radio can be extremely useful and accelerate awareness of people. Community halls, Anganwadi centres, Health sub-centres, Schools, Bus-stops, Tea-stalls, dhabas, Dharamsalas (public rest-houses)and Private houses(with permission)are the centers for the campaign.

Motivational messages in Rural Odisha (Renga Village, Koraput District)


Sensitisation Program on NRLM at Bibhutia Village, Surada Block, Ganjam District.



'Ghanta Mrudunga' is the form of the art used here for the Information, education and communication (IEC) campaign. This type of event is helpful in channelizing the information on NRLM through street plays sessions. Partner agency has developed IEC material for creating awareness among the public as well as the targeted communities. This event has its drawback. It was organised in interior hamlet but no emphasis was given on the convenient time of women or daily wage labourers etc. The notable absence of target group in accessing information on importance of livelihood shows approach of government machinery. I was only monitoring campaign as it unfolds. The low turnout was a professional failure.

I am still searching for the outstanding examples concerning the use of communication to support rural development. As per me, grievance redressal and social audit are good examples of two way communication campaign. Against this rural background in Odisha, the question of rural development quickly gives way to a broader, even more difficult questions: Does communication matter for good governance? How can one way communication enhance good governance, participation and transparency? How do grassroot democracy evolve, how do they grow stronger?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day !

I always put greater faith in “I am a Nigerian widow with 10 million dollars to give you” emails than in corporate presentation or welfare scheme of government. Its funny to talk to very successful youths championing mythical 'free markets' who inside the bubble tend to assume, instinctively, that what is good for them is good for India. But, a conversation with government employee becomes mental assault who has 'natural' tendency to micromanage, curb, control, and even stifle any entrepreneurial activity leading to loss of their power. I am wandering between these two worlds currently.

A World Bank consultant (Shouvik Mitra) once informally remarked that “Subsidies are like toothpaste coming out of the tube, once it is out, it is virtually impossible to put it back”. Hence, any decision on subsidy must emerge from public policy rather than political appeasement. Lately, I found so many voices among these mentioned group opposing Food Security Bill but having a dead silence on 7th Pay Commision. They talk on fiscal austerity but aren't ready to swallow pills taken their own prescriptions. No hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.

Be not distracted by passage above, celebrate public holiday officially known as Labor Day or International Workers' Day. Wish you dignity, satisfaction and safety in your working environment.
*I don't own the picture or its copyrights. I have use it for information purpose.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

PRI Capacity Building & Training

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments ushered in the Panchayati Raj in India. Panchayati Raj Institution(PRI) is a three-tier system in the state with elected bodies at the village, block and district levels. The rural mathematics of the vote in the Panchayat election has become highly political in the nature due to channeling of  government scheme fund through PRI. There are voices emerging on the corruption at this basic level. Budget expenditure for Panchayat elections runs in lakhs for no other reason. Many gram pradhans are becoming powerful by grabbing resources meant for the welfare of the people whom they represent. In my opinion, PRI has embarked one thing for sure i.e. decentralised benefits of corruption. Looking on the positive side, there is infrastructure development and money returning back to the village economy through this arrangement. PRI has brought more a sense of local governance to the rural India.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” - Lord Acton, English historian and moralist of the 19th century

“All power corrupts, but some must govern.” - John le Carre, British ex-intelligence officer and novelist of the 20th century

Gram Panchayat is getting involved in planning and execution and monitoring of the various public schemes. There is lot of fund available at level with the decentralization of the power through PRI. Barely educated Gram Pradhan is dealing with huge money under social security schemes namely MGNREGS, BRGF, TFC, SFC, Indira Awas Yojna, etc. PRI representatives are not professionals but only voice of the people. Management takes money and people. With such amount of cash flow, processes can't be left on the shoulders of either overburdened representatives or volunteer in the committees. It is more necessary in investing human resources with knowledge and raising amount of operational expenses (salary). A Nayab Sarpanch gets less than thousand rupee per month as an honorarium in Odisha. How can such person give full attention to the responsibilities ?

The idea of a managed transition of power in Panchayati raj is still a delusion unless leaders of the community don't emerge by breaking conservative, male-supporting, social structures. Most of the elected representatives of PRIs are illiterate and semi-literate. They have negligible knowledge about PRIs and no operational skills required for local governance. Capacity building and training (CB&T), particularly in an on-going process that focuses on creating new leaders especially women and knowledge transfer at the grassroot level of democracy

I have attended few training sessions in conference halls given to PRI members. Most of training focuses largely on content and has a minimal focus on the mode of delivery. Lectures/ Powerpoint Presentation mode of training is theoretically sound, but may not be absorbed well by an audience with bare minimum literacy amid rural backgrounds. Research has demonstrated that adults learn six to seven times more through practice and feedback than through lectures, yet far too many capacity building programs consist of classroom sessions or self-study modules. I don't have backing on any conclusive study but exposure visits and study tours conducted have more receiptance in rural India.

There is growing focus on the development of a two tier cadre of resource persons i.e. the master resource persons and district/ block resource persons. Most of the states do provide short duration inputs (5-15 days) with the help State Institutes of Rural Development (SIRD). Training sessions in government workshops have created a pool of trainers but the quality is lacking in the human resources. There is no long term systematic strategy employed by the government. The lack of a strong monitoring and evaluation system for training doesn't help in seeking impact of such training. The effective establishment of PRIs as a strong node for local governance remains a distant reality until these gaps are not filled properly. Organisations (NROs) such as Tripti(Odisha), SERP (AP), Jeevika (Bihar), and Kudumbashree (Kerala) are slowly grooming the leaders through Livelihood Mission who has sufficient knowledge of PRI & various other schemes.

Kaushik Basu (in October 2013): "Overall economic growth is important, but the poor should not have to wait until its benefits trickle down to them; with the right anti-poverty policies, governments can encourage trickle-up growth as well." Building public institutions is a slow process, with frequent regression, but over time PRI will become strong, inclusive and democratic institution in the spirit of the constitutional amendment. Progress is a painstaking task and we have long way to go!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drudgery Reduction for Women

It is time to invest in agriculture, rural development and food security. That's where the future of India lies.There is lot of women's participation in agriculture and allied activities in addition to the household work. Manually women were not able to increase the productivity and some of the health problem occurs. Simple Machine and tools like Coconut peeler, fishinh net, sugarcane stripper always act in drudgery reducing technologies and help to reduce the incidence of the health issues.

Odisha government launched an innovative scheme, “Women SHGs for Drudgery Reduction". The vision behind is to make a positive impact on the health of women folk of the state by reducing their physical exertion. As per the scheme, each SHG would get Rs. 10,000 as financial assistance through which they can buy different types of technical equipments and enhance their productivity. Mahila Vikas Samabaya Nigam, the Women’s Development Corporation, was established as the Nodal Agency for implementing Schemes and Programmes for the welfare, development and empowerment of women.

There was planned disbursement of funds to SHG accounts in e-transfer mode. The project involved District level committee entrusted with the responsibility of transparent selection of SHGs and identifying the main activities that are undertaken in the district. Priority was given to SHGs with SC/ST/PWD/BPL families. Monitoring and random field verification was the guideline provided by the government for the proper implementation. On receipt of funds, SHG members will procure in a transparent involved in at the lowest possible market price.

Physical Target for DRDA was nearly 245 SHGs while financial was 232.75 Lakh in Ganjam district. Manual operated Pulse Thresher, Manual Weeder, Smokeless cook stoves and Paddy Ripping Sickle were the main procured items. This scheme must be evolved for workers involved in MSME. There is a cashew processing cluster employing mostly women in Ganjam district along coastal belt. Workers require gloves but the employers are apprehensive that output would reduce if gloves are used. Small machines enhance the efficiency of their work of shelling, peeling, and grading.

This is one of the better scheme launched by the government. Such initiative will help in increasing production and productivity besides reducing drudgery of labour associated with farm activities. Only time and project management can give us the result of this scheme. But there has been no baseline study before implementation of this scheme. Hence, questions such as - " Has drudgery / no of hours of work/ been reduced by technological improvements?" will remain unanswered. I saw this scheme as an extension of Conditional Cash Transfer(CCT). There is a good article on cash transfers at World Bank blog. Please read Cash Transfers: Sorting Through the Hype.

Indian Government had started the ambitious direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme on January 1, 2013. Direct Cash Transfer can work wonders when the beneficiary is identified correctly. Who are these beneficiaries and how to identify them ? A pretty useless and a stupid question to ask if it was pertaining to India. Identification is not a statistical exercise, but is a major political activity at ground level. Hence, even with either conditional or unconditional cash transfer, nothing can work with money going through non existing beneficiaries into corrupt bureaucracy and political leaders. Cash in the hands of sensible people does more than in the hands of corrupt state or senseless aid agencies;

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SHG Bank Linkage

There is a lot of talk about inclusive growth through financial inclusion. The competition between banks has never brought credit to the poor; it only took new financial products to richer people. RBI policy has forced banks for priority sector lending and opening of branches in rural areas. SHG Bank linkage model was developed by NABARD under the strategy to reach poor in a sustainable way. I have written on this issue in previous post.

SHGs are linked to the formal banking system or microfinance institutions for accessing credit. Self-help groups minimize the bank's transaction costs and generate an attractive volume of deposits. While bankers have to handle only a single SHG account instead of a large number of small-sized individual accounts, borrowers as part of an SHG cut down expenses on travel (to & from the branch and other places) for completing paper work and on the loss of workdays in canvassing for loans. There are many practical issues in this scheme faced by all three stakeholders: SHG, Banks and Government.

Bank readily opens account of SHG but treat them as an extra workload on the employees. One major reason cited for this is the staff shortage at the bank level as well as liquidity crunch at rural branches, leading to delays in cash transfers to SHGs. Transaction time and Cheque clearance time at RRB can be very long. Any new and non routine applications of SHG bank account takes a lot of time but the returns in Bank portfolio are abysmally low. There have been cases where the account holder has to run repeatedly to withdraw money from her SHGs bank account!

A SHG decides to seek loan from the bank. SHG submits the application that takes into account the activity proposed, the amount of loan required, duration of loan requirement, purpose of loan and the number of installment in which the loan can be repaid. The procedural issue is that the field officer from the bank needs to check the existence, record books and proper functioning of the SHG. This poses the problem where the field officer is often overburdened with large amount of work. Even interaction of bank officials is limited to President and Secretary of the group hence decision making process often escapes rest of the members.

There is huge rise in NPAs (non-performing assets) to poorer supervision of loans. RRBs are doing worst in all the banks. Task of recovering money from the people is politically volatile. Hence, Banks try to even deny the loan services to the SHGs for the most arbitrary of the reasons. Banks can't randomly choose genuine group among the hundreds of SHGs. Discrepancy in the paperwork is given reason and SHG members have to approach bank repeatedly.

Even lending norms for SHGs are suited to poor members of SHGs. There are many issues even in this arrangement like poor member taking the loan and used by other prosperous members. This practice is equivalent to a ghost loan. This actually prevents credit risk, but the purpose of solving poverty is lost as the actual borrowing member will not be using it. Other member using the loan may not give priority for repayment as the loan is not in their name and the group became defunct.

Political desire triumph over economic reality - That is the summary of my experience in the field of SHG loan recovery. The loan waiver scheme had become major deterrent in repayment of any type of bank loans in Odisha. Loan waiver scheme has dis-incentivized those SHGs who repay on time. Such type of Government intervention changes behaviour of the both rural and urban population. Giving people (APL or BPL) handouts with no strings attached is not a panacea. Such freebies offering destroy the Micro-credit institution especially in rural areas. It can be easily concluded that state aid almost always brings in its wake political favoritism and corruption.

Role of government is not only limited to loan recovery. There are targets of SHG ‘linkage’for each public sector banks by State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) and Panchayati Raj Department, resulting in the supply driven approach of pushing external loans on SHGs. The amount and timing of such loans must depend on member capacities and merely the fact of repayment of a previous loan (a weak but essential indicator of future credit absorption capacity). The whole SHG Bank scheme of demand driven credit availability becomes converted into credit distribution exercise.

Public sector banks have been able to grow despite offering poorer customer service by simply expanding their reach. When a private bank sees a loan turning doubtful, it is able to quickly exit, even if needed by taking a haircut. Public sector banks needs to engage with either NGOs or any agency who can build capacity of SHGs . The mismatch between the expectations of the poor and capabilities of the formal banking system still today needs to be minimised. Till then, Bankers relation with the Government and SHGs will always be strained.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Micro Investment Plan (MIP) of SHG

The international standard for the definition of the poor i.e. a household that spends more than one third of its income on food, is followed in India, 95 percent of all households would be considered poor. Every country need inclusive political and economic institution to break out cycle of poverty. The delivery of financial services at an affordable cost to the vast sections of extremely poor and vulnerable group of people is necessity for the development of India.

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Budgets help to determine how much money one has, where to invest it, and whether one can achieve your financial goals. As budget is a forecast of all cash sources and expenditures. MIP is a tool for financial planning that can be used for both SHG and its members. Socio Economic Analysis of each SHG is performed as risk is involved in giving loan without any collateral. Format used in TRIPTI can be downloaded here.

Indicative Components/ Seven Steps for preparing a Micro Investment Plan (MIP) :

Step 1-SHG Details Format
Step 2-Members’ socio economic details Format
Step 3-Income and expenditure statement of members Format
Step 4-Listing of Household Investment Plans (for economic, social and household needs) Format
Step 5-Prioritization of Members Format
Step 6-Financing and Rotation Plan Format
Step 7-Terms of Partnership Format

MIPs are promoted under National Rural Livelihood Mission as it helps in better planning to avoid bad loans on behalf of the banks. Micro Investment Plan is prepared with the initiatives of Community Resource Person Strategy in the Project. MIP is used for SHG members where many factors like priority, wealth ranking, Investment in the activity proposed, Loan Amount, Life of Asset, Monthly Incremental Income, Saving Capacity of Household, Installment Amount, No. of Monthly Installment and other entitlement (PDS, Insurance, Pensions, etc) are considered. MIP include plans for investment on asset creation for income generation and household need investments. MIP is assessed at Household level where asset, liabilities, risks, vulnerabilities, entitlements and other expenses are noted down in the detail.

But such detail exercise exists only in theory. Most of the MIP forms had not been filled properly. Activity proposed, No. of installation, Payback amount and signature of President & Secretary is the main focus of Banks. The low income who have been excluded from the financial services of formal institutions lacks financial literacy in most cases. Financial literacy for poor villagers is really important but it doesn't mean training by government officials once in a blue moon. There is always need of Livelihood mission/MFI/NGO to reach and build capacity of SHG members. People need awareness about financial products, fraud activities or else they are mislead and fall to misdeeds of chit fund companies promising high returns; This often end up losing the life time savings.

Let us see a practical example of credit linkage. A SHG demanded nearly 1 Lakh as per their MIP and each member of the SHG deliberately had put Rs 10,000 as the investment capital for the proposed activity. Rs 50000 from the GPLF (Gram Panchayat level Federation of SHG under Livelihood Mission) at a nominal interest rate of 7% was given as loan to SHG. Group divided this money among themselves equally (Rs. 5000) per member. The amount according to their need(proposed activity) will always differ from each member but fairness is maintained through this equal division. Only internal loaning is done among members on the basis of priority. In the case of external loan/grant, this fairness in distribution is always maintained by SHG. So, Priority in lending is a nice theoretical concept. How do a rural manager can change 20 years of what the common wisdom have taught them?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Validation and Grading of SHGs

SHGs were formed under Mission Shakti in Odisha. Odisha government started a validation and grading exercise to know SHG status in December 2012. The validation process aimed at confirming the existing status of SHGs, whereas the Gradation Process assessed their eligibility for receiving Revolving Funds.

Validation

In an ideal world, Branch Manager/ Representative of Bank, B.D.O/Representative from block and C.D.P.O/Representative from ICDS should visit field and complete the process. This may take from 5-10 days depending on the size of the district. This doesn't happen in the real world  where AWW sits with President/Secretary of SHG for the complete assessment.

DRDA and ICDS Balangir has record of 11097 SHG existing in the district but validation lead to only 7846 functioning groups. Hence, we can easily imagine with these figures, difference SHGs claimed and existing can run in lakhs. Defunct and farzi SHGs form a major part of the numbers claimed by the government.

Grading

Grade I and II with A, B and C as three categories of the SHG was the grading format. The format with various criteria is uploaded at Scribd. SHGs having 70% BPL members and passed Grade-I test and categorized as “A” or “B” i.e. Scored more than 60% marks during Grading will only be eligible for Revolving Fund in order of merit as per their scores. The Graded SHGs are assisted under NRLM,as this fund will aim to address the immediate production and consumption needs of members of the SHGs as well as encouraging internal lending practice among the members .

In Non Intensive Block under NRLM, Revolving Fund(RF) of 10,000 or 15,000 depending whether they had already received any prior assistance under any other government scheme. The SHGs who have qualified grade I test but not availed any financial assistance will be provided with revolving fund of ₹.15,000/- in two tranches. In the first tranche ₹.5000/- will be provided and on successful utilization of this amount ₹.10,000/- will be provided to the group directly in 2nd tranche at least after 3 months of receiving 1st tranche. This fund will become a part of their group corpus. The group members can borrow from the group corpus to meet their various needs as decided in the group. However, the groups who have already availed such financial assistance under Mission Shakti or any Govt. programme will not be eligible for 1st tranche and receive only 10,000. I insisted to attach xerox copies of BPL card and Bank Passbook of SHG while working at Bhanjanagar block in Ganjam district. Hence, it created transparency and gives validity to the no. of BPL members by any SHG.

Conclusion

RF/PPIF is distributed in a campaigning mela organized at each block with an objective to sensitize the groups about NRLM. Generally, it is more show of the good work done by the government. In an ideal world, SHG assessment (or rating) should not just be limited to current performance but could also assess credit absorption and repayment capacity. That requires a qualitative information to look for problems faced by each group. It is assumed by government that the SHGs which are found ineligible would be provided hand holding support, to improve their credibility for future assistance. But, there was no staff at field level to do this tedious job. Record keeping at the group level has emerged as a very weak aspect of SHG functioning.

The main problem is that we don't have data on the Life cycle of a SHG. We are unable to understand how many groups are defunct or discontinued so we don’t know the mortality rate of the group. So, the government has no answer of these two questions : What groups worked and what works with groups ?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Disaster Management

Disaster Management in Phailin was remarkable in its aspect of losing minimum lives when faced with challenge of massive proportion. India evacuated more than half a million people as massive Cyclone Phailin hit eastern ghats at Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. An early warning and timely actions saved countless lives. Earlier entire nation prays for the well-being of the people of disaster struck zone. Yet never care to plan. Things started changing with 1999 Odisha cyclone. And even world bank blog has put an article on the preparation by Odisha government.

In the case of flood/tsunami/cyclone, torrential rains always play havoc and diseases are rampant due to decaying carcass. The relief center must be equipped with grains, deworming pills, Trampoline sheet, dhoti/lungi with saree, mosquito net, blanket, towel & utensil kitchen as an immediate requirements for the household affected with cyclone. My prior experience on preparation for disaster management was itself a big lesson.

I was posted in Ganjam district with Panchyati Raj Department after one month of cyclone Phailin. I observed that mangroves have lowered the full impact of cyclone in the coastal region. Even 50 km from the coast, the brick mortar schools were partially destroyed by the storms.  On enquiring about the relief work at block level,  I was given brief on the help provided by administration post disaster. There were 33,283 households in Bhanjanagar. They were provided with kerosene oil, jaggery and flattened rice (chuda) of two months supply. 50 kg of grains and Rs 500 were given to each household. Plastic cover roof was in demand more than anything. Ganjam was worst hit by the Phailin and the accounts were horrifying.

There is lack of access to basic resources to sustain livelihood for the community. There must be careful planning with Donor funds coming for rehabilitation. Poor countries have become fighting arena of NGOs on international aid after each disaster. And all the international aid and investment is mostly consumed by INGOs, private companies involved in the relief effort. Even missionary organization pops up for saving the soul of unbelievers post disaster with charity. When disaster strikes, who profits? This is the key question for policy level to eliminate corruption and inefficiencies. No other country in the world has more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) per capita as Haiti. Yet we all know about real face of international relief after 2010 earthquakes. (Source 1 and Source 2).

Friday, February 28, 2014

Link Worker Scheme

The Government of India estimates that about 2.40 million Indians are living with HIV (1.93 ‐3.04 million) with an adult prevalence of 0.31% (2009). For the readers, there is a popular myth that HIV, AIDS is an urban disease. As per the HIV Sentinel Surveillance (HSS) of 2007, it was identified that 57% of the HIV positive persons in India are estimated to be living in rural areas.

Under the NACP III, Link Worker Scheme was designed for rural prevention and NACO implemented this programme with the financial support of Global fund through Lead NGOs. Link Worker Scheme was launched to saturate the reach of the HIV related services to the high risk groups based in the rural areas. The scheme aims at building a rural community model to address the complex needs of rural HIV prevention, care and support requirements. Under this scheme, a person who has been trained and has been made responsible to carry out specific activities is called a Cluster Link Worker. I visited field office of Humana People to People India (HPPI) at Lucknow on learning tour about Link Worker Scheme. There was formation of red ribbon club (RRC) in the villages. This was done due to dormant village health committee and uneasiness among village elders to take up issues related to sexual health. I observed that women from higher caste and men are reluctant to talk openly. Cluster Link Worker told me about the few cases that have been referred to STI services under this intervention. Information materials & commodities (condoms, needles/syringes) through collaborating with nearest government health facilities has been distributed among the youth in the community.

There are numerous NGOs and CBOs working on HIV/AIDS issues in India at the local, state, and national levels. The events are organized by NGOs are limited to shouting slogans and carrying placards depicting various messages related to HIV/AIDS. They also help in social marketing (SM) of condoms. The campaign uses targeted ads and community engagement opportunities to change the way man and women think about HIV/AIDS. The major reasons of AIDS can be contributed to Unsafe Sex and Low Condom Use. But it arises from the Low levels of literacy leading to myth and misconception. STIs very often go untreated due to both lack of information and health care facilities. Stigma towards people living with HIV is widespread among urban and rural community. There are sex workers hiding in plain sight.

The high risk group (HRG) among the population includes Female Sex Worker (FSW), Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) & Injecting Drug Use (IDU). Bridge Population is truck drivers, male and female migrant while vulnerable Population constitutes migrant spouse, HRG spouse, truckers spouse. Youth migrating for work and trafficked women forms a critical group because of their ‘mobility with HIV’. Migration for work lead them into new living and working conditions without support of family. Sexually active age and separation from regular partners for extended periods of time predispose them to paid sex or sex with non-regular partners. Movement is not a necessary element in the trafficking process, with the mechanisms of deployment, payment of advances and wages bear a striking similarity across the country. The various reasons of trafficking are a result of complex set of Gender discrimination, illiteracy, No sex education, violence against women, vulnerability and ignorance of girls is finally lack of opportunity.

The HIV positive population needs provision of safe spaces and support system to overcome shameful anxieties, fragile hopes and guilt. I saluted the guts of the social worker to work in the community on such a taboo issue. It takes moral courage to meet outcast and convince a socially rigid community. There is a lot of awareness now on HIV now than a decade ago and the attitudes about AIDS changing gradually. It's not because people suddenly understood the arguments that were made back by few social workers. With consistent awareness, masses get used to message, AIDS loses its disgust value. And, the new generation is just much more open.

Monday, February 3, 2014

SHG Model and Financial Inclusion

SHG Model in India“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell.

This statement might have been just said on SHG (Self Help Group) movement in India. The rural landscape of India has mushrooming with SHGs. Formal credit system has, over the years failed to deliver in rural India. The transaction costs of the rural credit systems are very high and the system is plagued by non-performing assets. SHG were started as a pilot project of 500 SHGs, by Nabard in 1992, they grew slowly. SHG  are viewed today as an entry point in rural landscape for NGO, Bankers, government and even MNCs.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) are informal associations of up to 20 women (their average size is 14) who meet regularly, usually once a month, to save small amounts (typically Rs 10 to 50) a month. Majority of SHGs are single-caste groups based on basis of neighbourhood and affinity groups concept. Prof. Malcolm Harper notes three aspects with regard to using SHG groups  [Source]:

1) Groups take time, lots of it, and we have always said that poor women are very busy.
2) Groups tend to exclude individualist (sometimes they are called as entrepreneurs) who dare to be different, to do mad things like starting new types of businesses, which may even create jobs for others.
3) Men are generally bad at working in groups, and they take bigger risk and are less reliable than women, but when they do succeed they tend to create more jobs than women do, for the vast majority who prefer to employed than to be self-employed.'

Financial Inclusion (FI) in India [Source] -  Typically speaking, the scope of financial inclusion (FI) in India involves the following and related services (not exhaustive):

Access to accounts: a) Savings (No frills etc); and b) Current accounts.

Access to deposits: a) Fixed deposits; and b) Recurring deposits

Access to transaction banking: a) Use of cheques, demand drafts and other such instruments; b) Receiving of social security (NREGA and other) payments through bank accounts; c) Transfer of money through RTGS or NEFT and remittance services; d) Debit cards and ATM usage; e) Credit cards including KCC and GCC; f) Bill payments through technology banking - mobile banking, internet banking etc

Access to credit facilities: a) Typical priority sector loans for agriculture and allied areas etc; b) Post harvest, post production loans; c) Loans for marketing of agricultural and other produce etc; d) Traditional working capital limits; e) Traditional MFI loans under priority sector; f) Traditional SHG bank linkage program loans; g) Loans from specialised credit and other cooperatives; h) Traditional MSME loans backed by credit guarantee from Government of India; i) Housing/mortgage loans; and j) Various kinds of overdraft facilities and so on;

Access to risk management services: a) Life insurance; b) Health insurance; c) Asset insurance; d) Crop and weather insurance; e) Livestock insurance; f) Other such products such as credit insurance; and g) Micro-pensions

Access to other Services: a) Deposit insurance; b) business facilitators (BF) and business correspondents (BC); c) financial literacy services and credit counseling (FLCC) centers; d) grievance redressal, ombudsman and legal aid services; e) credit bureau; and f) Other services

The above services can be acquired through various institutions such as (but not limited to) the following: Commercial Banks, Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), Cooperative Banks, Local Area Banks (LABs), Post Offices, State Cooperatives, Mutually Aided Cooperatives, Multi-State Cooperatives, Investment Grade NBFCs, NBFC MFIs, BCs/BFs, Other MFIs, SHGs and so on.

SHG Model and Financial Inclusion in India

Government has been pushing banks to step up their financial inclusion (FI). Most of the financial inclusion has been limited to opening of No-Frill Accounts. Due to lack of financial literacy, program is not achieving the vision. Banks are fulfilling targets through intermediaries such as business correspondents (BCs). The limited amount of the BC works revolves around disbursement of government funds, small-value credit; recovery of principal / collection of interest; collection of small-value deposits and sale of micro insurance. Facilitating access to microfinance through SHG-supported bank linkages is one of the most critical aspects of our Financial Inclusion program. More on SHG Bank Linkages will be coming on the blog pretty soon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

e-NRLM

It is very essential for monitoring and evaluation to have solid data. There are thousands of functioning SHGs in the country. NRLM has taken step for transparency through data collection about SHG. MIS of NRLM is hugely important for tracking effectiveness of programs that would serve in a long way to establishing accountability at each level.

ICDS is already working with SHG movement in Odisha with Mission Shakti since 2003. Through validation and gradation of SHG in December 2012, Panchayati Raj Department was able to verify total number of SHG in the Odisha. Still, there was no concrete record of name of all SHG members. Name of President and Secretary can only be obtained through all given data. I formed a template as required for MIS and termed this E-NRLM format. Our OLM team at Bhanjanagar and Surada block of Ganjam district used Aagan Wadi Workers (AWWs) for collecting data about SHG.

Data collection exercise is a tough thing in India. Education of the most of the AWWs varies mostly from class 7-12 range. They are overloaded with core responsibilities and other auxiliary works. Other hurdles in data capture is Demand of Information in English Language. This is a huge problem at all India level as the necessary level of English is not achieved by  AWWs, GRS or any other extension staff. If we collect data in the regional language, it will be very tough for translating them in English for data operator sitting at block level. One more precaution should be taken while collecting data at rural level. Agriculture season shouldn't be selected for the exercise as women members are busy in all activities. That will add burden to AWWs and make process more tedious.

Gathered information is static in nature. We need to re-validate all old SHGs each year for any change in members, amount of savings and bank linkage history. There is need to colled basic information also need about new SHGs formed each year. There will be upcoming need to update BPL(Below Poverty Line) data related to SHGs in near future. Currently, 1997 BPL census data is used in Odisha for any scheme. 2011 BPL data will be soon made public and must be incorporated soon.  Why this is important ? Each government schemes has guidelines to select beneficiary mostly on the basis of either SC/ST or BPL card per household. Hence, a more transparent way will emerge with the help of this MIS.With each opening of bank branches (public and private) in the locality, they should be readily integrated in MIS data.

In a review meeting, we were battered by a senior officer for not taking ownership of the mission in data collection exercise. This task was not possible without having a single field staff dedicated for NRLM at our disposal till December 2013. And, nobody remembers all big talks of convergence of various government agencies! I was working at Balangir district where few villages/GPs name were missing from MIS. We readily took help from MGNREGS MIS software. Now, that is a fine example of convergence. We are collecting BPL card number instead of just writing yes or no in BPL column for e-nrlm. That is ensuring much transparency in the system. It is plan to do this data collection exercise each year conjoint with re-assessment schedule of all SHG. That will ensure much light on proper SHG health.

Social investment is not being done just be formation of SHG and quality is not being maintained as government is only chasing numbers. Our huge ignorance of how good or bad SHG works is barrier to their development. MIS is a tool that will be give quantitative answers. There is still need of huge qualitative data to explain the numbers. NRLM need rigorous and reliable information of impact assessment studies, social audit, panel studies etc. Open data-Base is a new kind of 'public good' that can be generated through this mission. With this huge amount of publicly available data disseminated to policymakers, industry, bankers, researchers, Academia, students and others can give more understanding social reality.

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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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