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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.

Sustainable Development Through Self-Reliance
A Unique Community Development Programme
Promoted by the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation

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.

Mugdha addressing the women of Jummapatti on the subject of small savings.

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.

Milestones of Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (Urban)
Awareness ?/font> Volunteers ?/font> Business Planners ?/font> Potential Business Leaders
1050 193 121 46
Milestones targeted on the journey this year (2002-2003) for the Urban Svayam
Awareness ?/font> Volunteers ?/font> Business Planners ?/font> Potential Business Leaders
300 150 100 50

Jignyasa (at left) and a friend set an example in Jummapatti by personally starting work on building an access road to a well. While surprised villagers look on, Jignyasa demonstrates that self-help is the only way to self-improvement.

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:

  • Tribals of forest villages, especially those under the Joint Forest Management scheme with a formal commitment to protecting their forests, directly and significantly contribute to save forest cover surrounding their village.

  • 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 hut of a widow in Jummapatti before Svayamís involvement.

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:

  • Afforestation to infrastructure development

  • Systemisation of small savings to income generation activities

  • Preventive health through herbal medicine to childrenís physical and mental development

  • Prohibiting alcoholism to introducing constructive means of entertainment and leisure

  • Rejuvenating traditional art and wisdom to learning scientific methods to enhance applicability and value of their resources.

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:

  • Active participation and ownership by beneficiaries

  • Networking with experts in various areas of development

  • Customised innovations suiting the exact needs and profile of the target group.

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
Svayam Project


Svayam ?The Idea

"I still remember her saying that if 10 Godrejs come together in India, we would be completely self-reliant," says Mugdha Shah, recalling the words of Usha Mehta, the late freedom fighter, in a video shown at the induction programme for fresh campus recruits shortly before the Godrej Centenary Year celebrations.

Mugdha, an M.A. in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and having an NCC background, joined Godrej in 1996 as Personnel Executive in E&E Services. After completing her studies, she wanted to become an entrepreneur, inspired by her research thesis during her Masters on how entrepreneurship can serve the bigger economy. But that was not easy for an honest person like Mugdha. In order to avail of Government schemes, she would have had to lie about her family income, claiming that she fell below the poverty line. Besides, when she heard her friends discussing underhand dealings in the business world, she changed her mind about becoming an entrepreneur.

But the induction programme came as a ray of hope for Mugdha. Stories of Ardeshir Godrej starting a lock business in a humble shed at Lalbaug deeply influenced her. When she learnt that the pioneering founder was also a man of values and committed to freeing the nation from the British, she once again began to believe that it was possible to be ethical, become an entrepreneur and serve the nation.

In the back of her mind, Mugdha had always had the desire to work on a development programme for youth. Her Vice President, H.N. Daruwalla, presented her proposal for an urban development programme to E.J. Kalwachia, Executive Director. Mugdha christened her project Svayam, and proudly wrote below that: "Inspired by Godrej".

Jignyasa Yagnik has a Masters degree in Social Work, specialising in Family and Child Welfare. Her main source of inspiration being Swami Vivekananda, she has been associated with the Vivekananda Kendra and its various activities. She was also associated with Gram Prabodhini, a Pune-based organisation working for village development in areas around Pune. Jignyasa, a former active NSS student, remembers Swami Vivekanandaís words that only the youth of India with a strong self-esteem can rebuild the nation. She chose Business Mentoring ?i.e. how an experienced businessman can help a younger one through guidance and mentoring ?as the subject of her Ph.D. thesis.

A programme similar to Svayam was being conducted by CII, with the focus on financial assistance. Business Mentoring was also one of the features. Realising that Mugdha alone would not be able to make Svayam successful, the Company approached Jignyasa who had a sociology background. Jignyasa and Mugdha both studied the CII programme for six months. They then carried out a feasibility analysis of Mumbai region and its surrounding areas. The two became a strong team.

A presentation was made to the late Sohrab Godrej and Jamshyd Godrej in the presence of E.J. Kalwachia. Sohrab Godrej was of a different view. Well aware of the problems of urbanisation in overpopulated Mumbai, he suggested that Svayam should not only be restricted to the city, but also work in the rural areas. That was the only way to discourage unhealthy urbanisation and improve the quality of life of people in the villages. Both Mugdha and Jignyasa understood his concern.

Jignyasa, particularly, has always been a lover of villages and nature. Mugdha would join her on weekend visits to Vangani village (near Badlapur) where Jignyasa would teach personality development to adolescents. When Jamshyd Godrej and E.J. Kalwachia were made aware of this, they asked whether the two of them would like to do social work through the Company, but not in Vangani where they were teaching in an individual capacity. Mugdha and Jignyasa were delighted and decided to choose a village that met the Companyís values. Jummapatti (a village between Neral and Matheran) was the answer.

After the project was approved, a presentation was made to the Trustees of the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation. It was decided that the Company would not directly participate in the programme but would do so through the Foundation. Legal formalities were taken care of by the trustees and advisors of the Foundation.

Svayam started in Jummapatti in 2000 and has been quite successful. Sohrab Godrejís vision of deurbanising Mumbai has been partially achieved. People who had left Jummapatti and settled down in Kalyan and Mumbai in search of jobs have started moving back to the village. With Mugdha and Jignyasa working as a cross-functional team (Mugdha contributing her managerial expertise and Jignyasa her expertise in social work), Jummapatti is becoming a model village.

Marriage is not on the young womenís cards right now as "thereís hardly any time to think about it". Their commitment is unflinching ?"itís either marriage or social work".

Rashna Ardesher