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.


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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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