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A Study In Self-Reliance
Svayam is no ordinary project undertaken by two young entrepreneurs. It is a well balanced programme for urban and rural development. Mugdha Shah has taken on the leadership of the urban development section aimed at supporting young entrepreneurs in and around Mumbai, and for the rural development scheme, a tribal village has been chosen for comprehensive and sustainable development under Jignyasa Yagnikís leadership.
Mugdha and Jignyasa conducted a door-to-door survey to determine the needs of the Jummapatti villagers. They received two extreme reactions from the villagers. It was either: "We donít want any superficial sympathy from outsiders" or "If you are backed by Godrej, you must be having a big budget to support the launch of a poultry farm and other projects! How many lakhs can you give us?" It was tough for the young women to convince the villagers that they were in Jummapatti to help improve the quality of their lives, but without charity. Says Jignyasa: "It took us one year to change the mindset of the villagers and get them to prioritise their own needs." Every time Mugdha and Jignyasa received a negative response, they persevered to change it into a positive one. The villagers would simply say: "Each one of us has different needs, so call your officers and we will speak to them as you are only the survey girls." But a list of needs had to be made and a common charter drawn up for the village. Step by step Mugdha and Jignyasa, by being kind, firm and assertive, laid the foundation.
The villagers themselves were asked to contribute to the charter and to make a firm commitment to the self-help projects. Only then could they justify asking for help from outsiders. Through this process they managed to win the villagers?commitment in terms of time, effort and labour, amounting to more than 83 per cent of the project cost.
Mugdha and Jignyasa have done some great work. They share Svayam with readers in their own words.
Development Through Self-Reliance
Community Development is a process of enabling people to improve their lives and develop their community themselves. Hence, the task of community development can be best performed by a mature leader who can successfully pass the ultimate test of leadership ?inspiring others to be their own leaders. Godrej has always upheld its philosophy of freedom through self-reliance right from the days of its founders and has sustained it to date. As a result, when Svayam, whose motto is "Sustainable Development Through Self-Reliance", got the go-ahead from the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, it was the ideal starting point for its journey towards community empowerment.
Started in the year 2000, Svayam consists of two wings: the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (Urban) and the Sustainable Community Development Programme (Rural).
Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (Urban):
The Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme not only provides financial assistance, but also facilitates entrepreneurial spirit in youth so that they become capable of and confident about leading their own careers. The two main objectives of the programme are:
1. To assist deserving but underprivileged youth to set up or expand their business ventures (including financial assistance in terms of small loans on terms favourable to young entrepreneurs).
2. To facilitate the development of entrepreneurial ethics, qualities and capabilities for their sustainable development (by providing effective mentoring, training and monitoring).
The Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme started off with a financial assistance scheme in the year 2000. The scheme focuses on talented youth (between the age group of 18 to 35 years, residing in or around Mumbai and belonging to the lower middle class) wanting to start or expand his/her business in the service or manufacturing sector in or around Mumbai. The merit of each applicant is tested through a stringent but swift process of site verification and technical evaluation. Deserving cases are presented to the Entrepreneur Selection Panel, consisting of experts in various fields, who approve a soft loan of up to Rs. 50,000. This loan is given without any security or collateral with a customised loan repayment plan, need based business monitoring and free of cost mentoring to the entrepreneur.
In 2001, the first annual review of the financial assistance scheme clearly indicated the need for introducing more proactive educational intervention as an integrated part of the programme. The intervention was in the form of customised educational modules and competitions on the subject of entrepreneurship in various educational institutions in and around Mumbai. There are two main objectives of the educational modules:
1. To inculcate entrepreneurial qualities and competencies among youth as they reach the final stage of their formal education. In fact this is the time when they are at the peak of their enthusiasm, ambition and risk-taking abilities ?the ideal time to invest in the foundation of their business career.
2. To enhance the image and accessibility of entrepreneurship in the eyes of the educated and energetic college youth, whereby they can perceive entrepreneurship not only as a respectable career option, but also as a well recognised route towards self-reliance in the long run for self, family, society and nation.
These educational modules are developed in consultation with the respective academic authorities of the institutions. The methodology of the modules includes indoor and outdoor games, group discussions, presentations by participants, field visits and questionnaires. Special focus is given on developing the entrepreneurial spirit through experiential learning. The module ensures the complete involvement of participants in actually developing an innovative business idea of their own ?from its conceptualisation to a complete business plan. The plans are then assessed and rated by a panel of experts to test their innovativeness and business feasibility.
The module also has a unique provision of providing Long-Term Support to the young leaders in two ways:
1. Preference to certificate holders in availing of financial assistance scheme of Svayam.
2. Candidates with meritorious performance in Spreading Awareness and Planning are invited to join the Trainers?team of their respective institutions.
In 2001, educational modules were successfully initiated in partnership with chosen colleges in Mumbai.
The future plan is to encourage a higher level of participation from educational authorities in and around Mumbai through innovative campaigning and reinforcement.
The journey of Urban Svayam so far indicates that a combination of education and financial assistance works significantly better in terms of outreach, impact and effectiveness of the programme.
Sustainable Community Development Programme (Rural):
At Svayam, the rural programme involves more than just infrastructure development. It helps to facilitate empowerment of the community so that the villagers themselves become committed, confident and capable enough to make continual improvements in all aspects affecting the quality of their lives, their community and the environment around them. For this purpose, it was decided to select a forest village near Mumbai working under the Joint Forest Management scheme of the Forest Department. The key reasons for the decision were:
These tribals, generally, are deprived of developmental benefits offered by the government or non-governmental organisations because of their lack of ownership of land and complications in obtaining complete support from the Forest Department (working under the Central Government) in every matter.
A combination of the above two factors directly contributes to high dependency of the tribals on forest resources for their very survival resulting in deforestation activities.
Starting with only one such village will ensure greater focus, in-depth analysis, faster implementation and effective follow-up towards comprehensive development, which can serve as a model to be replicated in other villages in future.
Hence, it was clear that appropriate developmental efforts of such forest villages would not only help the villagers, but would also directly contribute to saving the endangered forest cover around Mumbai.
Jummapatti, one of the 12 forest villages recommended in Thane and Raigad by the Forest Department, situated between Neral and Matheran, was selected under the programme in the year 2000. The selection was mainly based on its potential to influence the endangered forest cover of Matheran, unity of the villagers and their readiness for self-help, the proximity of the village to Pirojshanagar and assured support from Forest Department officials.
The programme started with awareness generation and a detailed need-assessment plan, including rounds of weekly discussions, meetings and events with a core group of villagers. A door-to-door survey covering every household in the village was conducted. Needs were then prioritised, based on the level of urgency and contribution committed by the villagers, its alignment with Godrejís focus on self-reliance of the village and regulations and constraints of the Forest Department.
High priority Self-Help Projects identified for the present phase of the programme consist of a wide range of areas for comprehensive and sustainable development of the village. These range from:
Taking into consideration the socio-economic condition of the villagers and the nature of the projects, an alternative plan of implementation was designed. As per the plan, all the villagers offer a written commitment to each of the projects through a formal Gramsabha, also backed by signatures from each household of the village. The commitment is mainly in the form of villagers contributing in kind towards the implementation and maintenance of the projects. For the purpose of local monitoring and maintenance of the projects, the villagers specially created a village management committee, the Gram Vyavasthapan Samiti. The Deputy Conservator of Forest ?Raigad (the top IFS official of the Forest Department in the region) ensured the villagers of support from IFS officials.
Summary of Our Learnings:
Sustainable development of the community can be achieved at much less cost (time, effort and money) through continual focus on three areas:
The journey of Svayam has just begun, the long path stretches beyond the horizon and the Svayam team is marching forward with conviction in its endless yet enriching endeavour of spreading the message of self-reliance for a better future.
Mugdha Shah & Jignyasa Yagnik