Thursday, March 12, 2015

Young Professional @ Odisha Livelihood Mission--- 2

Young Professional (YP) is a short term work opportunity (three years) to experience development and gain exposure to the government operations and policies. Panchayati Raj Department, Odisha is the agency in implementing National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) program delivery and interface in Odisha serving to the marginalized section of the population. While government is always reluctant to share or de-valuate power to community, NRLM has tried to build sustainable community institution at Panchayat level. YPs served either at district or block administration level. In simpler words, YP is just another name of Management Trainee in government agency doing contractual job without any power.

Why I joined Odisha Livelihood Mission?  One can't have the right to voice their disappointments unless one understand the functionality of the government. I have also considered government as the biggest development agency in India. Hence, it is utmost importance to understand governance in India. Corporate look into so many people as consumers and term them as "Bottom of Pyramid" . In contrast, OLM was trying to build capacity of people without throwing away subsidized schemes. These are few of the many reasons why, I was able to work with the state.

I always wanted to have balance between theoretical and practical work. It is different to know name of something and actually observe or experience it. A course in rural management doesn't offer subjects that make their students ‘understand’ the rural people. Even with a bit of knowledge acquired in the college, I was looking for a job as practitioner not professor. I have written in detail on this topic previously Young Professional @ Odisha Livelihood Mission.

I worked as YP in OLM from April 2013 to January 2014. This work gave me opportunity to work with the Government and the community jointly. This time span has good, bad and even ugly moments. I was able to show true character and talent by taking up the challenge and worked with a zeal to learn.

The Good:

The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness is the amount of help that peers do to each other. A bunch of YPs were no exception of the rules. Our workplace has qualified men and women with diverse professional, academic and cultural backgrounds from educational institutions like TISS, NIRD, IIFM, XIMB, XISS, & KSRM recruited as YPs. Diversity is reflected in our inclusive environment that embraces all sort of values and ideas; The best part was having people who weren't sycophants rooting for their college brand rather than cross-engaging for new collaborations.

I developed decent understanding of Odiya language. Rural India has been transformed over the last half-century, the people are more free and filled with aspirations; but the old values continue to extract a toll. What I saw was how significantly social networks influence people’s decision-making. There are people out there who didn't get the option to graduate or study in regional medium alone but have sound knowledge on development. There is also a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard in the corridors of power.

To counter the dimension of being voiceless, I tried to reach out to many people as possible and ask tons of questions. Typically, people don’t like to be questioned, but it is essential to engage with people in a friendly way and listen to them. It's a bit like an investigative journalist checking narratives of the beneficiaries, non - beneficiaries, government officials, & elected representatives. I was also lucky to interact with Dr. H.K. Pradhan, a senior faculty member of XLRI spearheading an initiative in Balasore. And yes, there are government officials doing honest work in thankless job.

Ours simple assumptions like simplifying schemes, running awareness campaigns and make the public goods widely available were critically assessed in the light of new evidences. There is a wide gap between community, market and government - like coordination problems, and inequality in access to power and information. I was able to oversee as an insider working of Indira Awas Yojana, Mo Kudia, Mo Pokhari, MGNREGS, Gramsabha, social audit of government programs, and Panchayat administration. I learned two lessons on public policy and government.

1.Efficiency isn’t always the goal of policy as one has to give attention to social and cultural complexity. Public policy requires fairness, that do not lend to the most efficient policy, but are virtues nonetheless.

2. Government is anything but well-tuned, acting coherently and consistently in pursuit of a well-defined set of objectives, captured by a single social welfare function. Government is a crucible of interest groups, rather than a black box of noble intentions.

The Bad:

It is necessary to get the first step right to reach the solution to the problem. Once the first step incorrect and the entire problem gets way too complicated. A sharp glance on the old schemes of the central and state government shows more tweaking rather than innovative design of new programs. Hence, the failure rate of government is utmost high. There was quite low emphasis on Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) job. Too much emphasis was given on framework of old government programs; I have written in detail on this topic : Why Government Schemes Fail? and Why Government Schemes Fail? -2

Even Lord Curzon has complained, "Round and Round like the .... revolutions of the earth goes file after file in the bureaucratic & daily dance, stately, solemn, sure and slow". Guidelines, plans, programs or projects tend to be neatly prepared for submission, but agencies and individuals return to business as usual once it comes to implementation. Meetings are important as they give part of thought process of various govt department. But in short, there was more time wasted in aligning process than measuring qualitative results.

The Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has established that unfairness is a larger motivator for action than fairness. YPs were assigned different salary even with same job profile that is unfair and issue was pushed down under carpets. It puts the act of cohesion and coordination in jeopardy.

The Ugly:

Appointing consultants on contractual basis, instead of employees on the rolls, is a common practice adopted by companies but most NGOs as well. It is done to evade the responsibility of providing PF benefits which are mandatory under labor law. And, this was done to YPs by an agency working behalf of government department.

The problem isn't that the staff don't contribute, it's that the official who take feedback don't think of themselves as ignorant enough to learn something new in face of new proofs. Even officials are not cold to the problems faced by them but they are more tied in the tight framework of government norms. But, it was indeed an hierarchical institution with less space given to honest feedback as it may undermine the authority and raise questions. Shooting from the hip in presentation is easy way out, but do dig a little deeper people will tell real story on the field. There was more tendency of risk aversion than performance in the staff.

Why I left Odisha Livelihood Mission? Personal reason to work close to home was the primary factor behind the decision. Due to being vocal initially, a lot of negative image was build in the central team. Yet, lack of mentorship, not clarity on the role and working without powers was frustrating experience to me as professional. Hence, the scope to take any concrete work was quite limited. I am a work in progress and don't want to stifled in starting phase of career. So,I shifted to another grass-root organization.



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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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