Divorced to Sustainability [Puns Intended]

Aman Bhardwaj, PMRDF

Note: Those who have promised themselves not to listen to others’ private affairs may avoid reading this or can read it after chanting Hanuman Chalisha 108 times.
 
 
One of the few terms I heard and started using too often after joining this scheme is “Sustainability”​. No, I shall tell you the truth. Actually, I heard this in 4th year of my Graduation when after three years of teaching “how greedily to take out as much minerals as possible from ground underneath?” the same professor taught us to leave some of mineral down there, not out of generosity or the self-discipline stuff but enough to let the ground stay where it is or it may subside and fall into the hole. 
 
But, my definition of sustainability received a severe blow after I joined Coal India; blow, the kind you received while spending first evening in your district’s guest house. There, sustainability was like Harry Potter, just a fictional character. People talked about it and knew he existed, in stories of school of Magic. To become sure of his existence, they looked around and asked their brethren if they had seen someone selling pots or earthen vessels, but all of them denied. (To those who don’t know Harry Potter: Harry is anything but a Potter.) Most of them believed in their hearts that Harry Potter didn’t exist, but due to an important need to look intelligent, publicly they acknowledged that Harry Potter existed. Some of them, in fact said they even had had dinner with Harry Potter in Paradise, the Biryani Moghul in Hyderabad. Some even went lengths and produced vessels in front of public to show Harry Potter had sold it to them. But in their hearts they knew, they didn’t know him. 
 
Let me get straight to the point now. “Sustainability” was like childhood sweetheart, who would come along, whenever I am thinking something important, knock on mind’s door and would shout with a contorted face “Hey! You better not forget me.”. I felt trapped and even cried without tears. Trapped in ‘Sustainability trap’. She didn’t stop coming to me until I got her married to someone else (Yes. You’re right. I, in my mind, have married her off to someone in our current batch, 2nd Batch.) Now, I don’t think of her. 
 
Sometimes, I missed her. Sometimes. But I stopped missing her after I got a new girlfriend. Now, everyone must be wondering who the hell she be to replace sustainability. 
 
Must be some kind of greatsustainmanagexistecologyfriendlytimeless-bility. 
 
God’s promise!! She is not that. 
 
One of my mentors introduced me to her (better her to me). She is called “relevance”. Now, she doesn’t act as a pain in the ass; rather she helps me by enabling to ask questions like:
 
“Would the intervention, you’re planning to take, aims to make some positive contribution in lives of people?”
“Would the people involved like/love/benefit it? If yes, how many are those and how resourceful are they. if no, what powers and resources they have to stop that.”
“Still haven’t started, eh? Go on field.”
“Are there groups (Youth, NGO, Elderly etc.) who realize the intervention is relevant for people out there? Engage them and make them feel its relevance. Bring inasmuch as you can.”
 
I am happily dating her on some of the small drinks (read ‘ideas’). She neither asks me to think of the marriage propositions nor she hides the fact too long that she has deserted me. She is ruthlessly frank but simple and precise. Friends, she is one to be desired for. 
 
Now, I think I’d rather have better fallen for greatsustainmanagexistecologyfriendlytimeless-bility than falling for sustainability. 
For two benefits: 1. I’d have added this large word in my memory and would have sounded intelligent in front of you and others and 2. I’d not have been heartbroken so many times. 
But anyways, who knows? You know, fate, destiny…. fatalistic stuff. (We all secretly believe in this God-staged-drama story thing. Don’t we.)
 
(Friends…Regarding the first evening.. I know some of you had awesome evenings when your pious feet touched the motherly soil of your districts and your district collectors opened their arms like Shahrukh Khan of DDLJ and hugged you tightly like you were their long forgotten lost love. Please don’t reply with that story. Because in my part, I was like miserable Mr. Biswas of V S Naipaul’s “A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS”. I had to wait for five hours to have a look of my holy grace. The condition also didn’t turn better than Mr. Biswas, later on.)
 
Dare  you not ask me who has been married to sustainability? )

‘Simple, Innovative Solutions Keeping In Mind Constraints’

Chintan Raj                                             Image

Working as a Prime Minister’s Fellow, I’ve observed that a critical root-cause of various developmental challenges and conflict is in-efficient utilization of public funds on account of serious issues with the processes and current manpower.

Top-management is most of the times in-efficient, over-burdened & sometimes improficient.  Processes are over-complex and become even more challenging to implement on account of ad-hoc target approach instead of planned/realistic approach by states/districts. Grass-root teams continue to remain understaffed, shoddily-trained and without proper incentives leading to promotion of fraudulent practices. Silos work is prevalent and win-win collaborations, both within and with external organizations are still at a nascent stage. Further, endowing people with information and functionaries so that they can take up need based projects is infinitesimal, while the top-bottom movement continues to be capacious. To illustrate, vital initiatives such as empowering executive committees of gram panchayats with funds &functions, financial inclusion for NREGA beneficiaries and SHG status mapping are rolled out in-a-flash without a plan or stakeholder co-ordination and with unrealistic timelines. NREGA work types are often pushed from top and imperium command is utilized to subjugate the gram sabha/panchayats to approve what may not always be needed/be priority creating disaccord. Mandatory compliance letters instructing tasks and demanding reports are issued at an extremely high frequency. Most of these letters create superfluity, add complexity and garble what is already mentioned in the pre-arranged comprehensive NREGA Operational Guidelines.

The aforementioned governance aberrations have resulted in a permanently perturbed state of affairs at district level ensuring that most tasks become execution checkmates! Hence, staff gets little time to respond to needs of people and delivery of schemes doesn’t meet expectations. Adding to misery, ithas given rise to an un-written, mutually-beneficial arrangement between the grass-root staff and elected-representatives. By quickly utilizing the funds, staff meets targets and representatives extract short-term benefits. Well-intended representatives, interested in useful community projects, too have Lilliputian choice on account of no skilled functionaries (engineers/agriculturists).Therefore, people see public funds as a tool for ‘immediate benefits’ which creates short-term gratification but no long term, sustainable community empowerment which could reduce dependency. This also signifies the need for a paradigm shift in the practiced communication from government to its people.

I’m able to spot these issues because of my background of working in diverse environments (multi-nationals, start-ups, collaborative-initiatives) and hence the ability to analyse relatively.  On a lighter note, if this is how Samsung, Microsoft, L&T, BHEL and counterparts would be managed then computers, mobiles, metro-rails and power-plants would continue to be dreams and would have sunk all shareholder money! We can debate on capitalism-v/s-socialism and workfare-v/s-welfare later, but first let’s get the basics right!

Time is an important dimension and constructive improvements need to happen soon. It is therefore important to acknowledge, take responsibility and focus on systemic improvements that can improve the core. Hence, ‘simple, innovative solutions keeping in mind constraints’ has been my approach in all initiatives that I’ve taken as a PM-Fellow. After showcasing results, we move to scaling/recommending various improvements. To illustrate, we have focused on supporting need based creation of self-sustainable livelihoods for small/marginal farmers through horticulture works on private-lands using NREGA. We’ve partnered with agriculture specialists, given power of information to people through marketing brochures and made processes simplified and self-motivating for staff. The farmers are excited that their income is going to multiply in the limited land! The pilot project is also approved for scaling-up across district!

Our district is fish eating but most fish now comes from AP/WB because many ponds have become defunct and fishermen migrate in search of work. We worked with fishermen groups to refurbish government ponds using NREGA. The immense success of pilot has created a wave and all government ponds will be refurbished before 2014 monsoon! Many panchayats had mammoth (e.g. Rs. 57lakh) NREGA liabilities built-up since 1-2 years and Rs. 3/5/6/10lakh allotments from state would get used towards past dues, leading to slowdown in current work, delayed wage-payments, loss of faith in NREGA and constant protests. Special camps were organized where data was collated scheme-wise, records certified and entire liability cleared (some panchayats done, others in process). Training for timely MIS-updating and uniform physical record-keeping was conducted. The benefits of the latter are immense when it comes to improving delivery & transparency. Many other NREGA initiatives such as panchayat-wise monitoring, need-based convergence, partnership with civil-society, asset use-mapping, micro-planning and social audit pilots have been tried out success fully. Policy papers on process/HR improvement have been co-created and presented to state.

In community-led total sanitation, in partnership with MeghPyneAbhiyaan, a tola has been made nearly open-defecation-free using ‘Ecosan-toilet,’ an innovative concept where human waste is segregated at source and both urine and faeces are used as organic fertilizer. Since it has direct linkages with livelihood (less fertilizer input costs and better crop productivity) farmers instantly connect! ATMA funds were also used to educate farmers across the district and we will soon promote Ecosan-toilet construction under NREGA too!

Honey bee keeping in forest areas has high potential, but never took off because the boxes are distributed by KVIC/Horticulture Dept. without any technical training. Boxes were becoming threats since bees would sting children! We used ATMA funds to provide training and create farmer-interest-groups leading to happier farmers and some initial honey produce. Focus is now on dedicated training & community enterprise creation.

A district disabled rehabilitation centre and soil testing laboratory have also been setup and pilot results are encouraging.

Going ahead, planned is a ‘rural business incubator’ to support our small/marginal farmer groups to innovate and at the same time create a productive, systematic channel for utilizing massive funding available from NABARD/PMEGP/Agriculture-Dept.  Additionally, the north-Bihar floods disaster problem has been understood and community-led mitigation plans are being made. NREGA and external technical assistance will play a big role. I would like to thank my mentor and boss, the current District Magistrate Mr. Sridhar Chiruvolu for encouraging various initiatives, utilizing my competency regularly and helping me understand the system’s challenges better. I’ve seen positive change when I use the ‘simple, innovative solutions keeping in mind constraints’ approach and would like to continue working on innovatively implementing various ideas/policies/5-year-plans, recommend constructive policy changes and a move to simplicity.

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Chintan is placed in West Champaran District, North Bihar. Prior to joining the PMRD Fellowship, he co-founded a Social-Enterprise and was a Manager in Enterprise Risk & Sustainability at Larsen-&-Toubro. He has also spent time as Fellow at Foundation for Universal-Responsibility of HH Dalai Lama, as Journalist at Education-Times and as a Researcher at Greenpeace. For achievements in embedding Environmental-&-Social Risk-Management in Core Operations at L&T, he was invited as a speaker by The Project Management Institute. His Social-Enterprise GreenAdd was incubated twice by Unltd India. He is an Engineer by qualification and recipient of the ‘International Award for Young People’ for all-round achievements during school & college.

Assessment Process for selection as PMRD Fellow:

Selection involves a three tier assessment process, which includes:

I. All India Competency Assessment Test (AICAT) (Online): 28th December 2013,        from 2-30 PM to 4-00 PM

AICAT is an assessment of the applicant’s understanding, orientation, and problem solving abilities in a positive manner. Applicants will be shortlisted based on their performance in the AICAT.

II. Written Test (Issue based, narrative) of shortlisted candidates: 16th January 2014

III. Personal Interview: 16th & 17th of January 2014

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Framework for AICAT Paper:

AICAT is an objective type test. The test aims to assess the competency on the following aspects:

- Reading Comprehension

- Data Interpretation & Inference

- General Awareness

- Logical reasoning

- Knowledge about National Programmes and Schemes

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AICAT duration: 90 minutes

Number of questions: 90

Sections: 5

20 marks for each section

1. Reading Comprehension: 2 passages with 5 questions each

2. Data Interpretation & Inference: 4 Data Sets

3. General Awareness: 20 Questions

4. Logical reasoning: 20 Questions

5. Knowledge about National Programmes and Schemes: 20 Questions

Each question is for 1 mark [For Reading Comprehension each question is for 2 marks]

Negative marking:   – 0.25 [No negative marking for Reading Comprehension]

Each question to have 4 options

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For more clarity, try the mock test at http://www.digialm.com/EForms/Mock/Template/index.html?164@@138

“The rural poor are the best entrepreneurs – across diverse demography’s”

SWASTI PACHAURI                                        Image

PMRD Fellowship has been the most satisfying professional and personal journeys thus far because not only has this Fellowship offered me the platform to apply management & social research methodologies to community contexts but has also encouraged me unleash my creative potential in the context of rural development.

My corporate/management consulting métier spanning four years centered around strategy design, needs/impacts assessment principles and different global discourses on development with the multilaterals/INGOs. An amalgamation of all these convinced me that in addition to diligent process improvements required for effective program delivery, a focused community demand driven analytic approach clubbed with the right managerial methods is imperative for successful translation of developmental goals into pragmatic vision of growth with equity. PMRDF appealed to me primarily because I wanted to implement these very managerial and social research learning’s with communities in focus and the ever evolving facilitating strategies which I was assimilating since my association with the sector dating back to 2005. Additionally, I wanted to travel the unexplored territories and contribute to ethnographic anecdotes pertaining to rural peripheries of India.

At the onset, therefore as a PMRDF, in addition to my program and community interfacing with MDM, IAP, SGSY stakeholders & beneficiaries at the district, block and Panchayat levels, my efforts in the rural marketing space has kept me immersed into understanding the relevance of developing market linkages in the peripheral zones of my district Seoni in Madhya Pradesh.

My work involved conceptualization & design of a product catalogue titled ‘Indigenous Talents’- for urban consumers and the CSR arms of corporations thereby promoting the concept of Eco or Sustainable gifting. The central idea was to reveal the ‘hidden invisible hand’ behind the aesthetics and crafts that the rural households of hinterlands engaged in, with adept quality and finesse in geographies laden with an accessibility deficit and thereby equipping these communities with the right market capital.

It is in this pursuit that as a PMRDF, I am undertaking several initiatives focused on product promotions strategies for handicrafts, handlooms, organics, forest herbs procured and developed by artisans, SHG women and farmers. Additionally, I am working on diverse program portfolios such as understanding the Mahua economy, Corporate Social Responsibility & Community Investment strategies for PPPs and livelihood diversification plans for villagers.

My work for SHGs at the moment, supported through DPIP/SGSY/SRLM includes the development of an e commerce driven portal for the Government of Madhya Pradesh which would provide a one stop shop for tourists, online shoppers and customers thereby taking Madhya Pradesh arts, crafts; talents, aesthetics to the global map of traditional resources and artistic acumen.

Individually speaking, as a PMRDF I have had several moments of personal realizations and reflections. At the inception of this esteemed Fellowship Program, I felt that it marked a watershed in one of the most significant areas of human capital enrichment of India. The field and ground experience offered by this fellowship serves to hone the demographic dividend which India boasts of today while also addressing developmental constraints in micro & macro-economic contexts. The multi stakeholder approaches and perceptions one unravels while also understanding implementation related challenges through an administrative and a grassroots lens are the defining attributes of this program.

Most importantly, however, I feel that PMRDF has provided me with greater depths of humility, patience and other daily life skills thereby adding hues of depth to my personality. I feel a stronger person with each day now that I see how the basic services such as water, electricity and roads for instance are luxuries for majority of populace inhabiting remote areas. It deepens therefore, my motivation and determination to continue working and contributing to development indices of our country and strengthening social capital subsequently. I would therefore recommend PMRDF as a life changing experience a satisfying sojourn to every young professional looking forward to making a difference!

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Swasti Pachauri is based at Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. She is a gold medalist in Economics at graduate level from Hindu College (University of Delhi) and a post graduate in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Swasti worked for five years in diverse sectors like Grant Management, Organizational Development, Agrarian Distress, Crop Economics, Water and Sanitation, Livelihoods, CSR strategy, program design and community investments before joining the PMRD Fellowship.

“Live and let live is good but live and help live is better”

DIPTI PARIDHI KINDO                                            Image

 

I did my BCA with distinction but after realizing my zeal to work for developmental segment, I joined in PG in Rural Development at Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi. I had undergone internship in the most arid region of the country with CGPL, A Tata Power Company in Kutch, Gujarat for “A Study on Feasibility of Potential Enterprises: An Assessment of Women SHGs in Project Area” under the guidance of Dr. (Fr) Alex Ekka SJ, Director of XISS, Ranchi .  I worked for 8 months with an NGO, KNNA in Gujarat as a Cluster Coordinator for strengthening self-governance PRI structure, Natural Resource Management, Health, Livelihood and Education. Working with a grassroots NGO in my preliminary professional journey, assisted me to implement my theoretical classroom learning into the practical and enhance my working potential with interfacing the ground veracity. Thereafter, for three months I worked in SAFAL Project, Jharkhand as a State Coordinator for promoting livelihood opportunities for rural poor women. Consequently, to work as a facilitator towards the empowerment of the deprived so that; they can shape their own destiny, I joined PMRDF Scheme.

With just 11 months of work experience in development sector, I joined as a PMRD Fellow in Ranchi (Rural), Jharkhand in June 2012. Last one year’s journey was full of turbulence, sometimes frustrating whereas sometimes persuade. I faced so many challenges but taking all of them very positively, mostly, I got involved in four schemes viz. MGNREGA, NRLM, IWMP and IAY. I contributed in the preparation of Annual Shelf of Projects (2013-14) in MGNREGS in which focal point was inclusion of more schemes which would resultant to establishment of durable assets and improve ecological balance in rural areas. My role was vital in-order to ensure the same; I had to conduct the workshops for the officials of MGNREGS of all the 18 Blocks of the District so that Cluster Facilitation Team can be formed. This CFT can assist each Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat to prepare a holistic perception plan including newly permitted works in MGNREGA, which were neglected earlier. I worked with the Gram Panchayat by regularly attending Gram Sabhas wherever needed and as a result, each block’s Panchayat has proposed the Shelf of Projects with new/additional works permitted under MGNREGA in 2012, which can be converged with other major schemes like IWMP, NBA, NRLM and NRDWP. From day one onwards, I was also engaged in preparing a proposal for “Model Panchayat” in consultation with my DC. There were no provisions of any extra funds for this concept whereas the proposal was an initiative to bring all the existing schemes of a village in a convergent framework at Jariya Panchayat of Bero Block. After completion of Report from the Primary Baseline Data and its analysis, now I am working on its implementation part. I am also involved in the implementation of NRLM trying to mobilize the SHGs for more monetary transaction. During my frequent visits in the villages, I found a scope of setting a silk reeling enterprise in Angara Block under the fund of IAP for which submission of a detailed project proposal has been done.

My, out of the ordinary focal point is on convergence of the different schemes with one of the largest flagship scheme “MGNREGA”.

Under NRLM, I am also trying to assess local skill gaps and monitor the training and placement for rural unemployed youth who can go through the capacity building and training exercise by Placement Implementing Agencies (PIA), this is because it would enable them to either secure placement in the industry or pursue sustainable self-employment opportunity through Micro Enterprises.

After one year, since July 2013 I’ve been given extra charge in RDD, Jharkhand where I’ve been instructed by Principal Secretary, Jharkhand to assist in monitoring of AwaasSoft of Jharkhand State (MIS of Indira Awaas Yojna).

I find working as a PMRDF and providing developmental support in a LWE District, as the most tremendous contribution to the society. I am pleased to work for the community, who were being neglected yet. I find it more heart touching and smell the fragrance of satisfaction when I find even a little bit of facilitation from my side in making their live better.

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Dipti Paridhi Kindo is based at Ranchi (Rural) district in Jharkhand. She is a Post Graduate in Rural Development from Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), Ranchi. She worked as a teacher and also in rural development sector addressing issues of communities related to livelihoods, Panchayats, natural resource management, health and promoted SHGs and women empowerment for around two years before joining PMRD Fellowship.

“I feel that I was tested with the hardest of things in my life whenever I tried to join the fellowship, but I kept going with all that came my way”

Jechonia Islary            Image

 

During my Masters in Social Work, my urge and passion grew for the health issues and policy analysis and research. I have always been an active participant in all the public discussions and class room presentations. I had under taken up research titled, ‘Indigenous Medical Practices of Bodo Community.’ Health, education and community Development is what I feel can bring changes in our society—both in urban and rural areas. During my data collection and analysis, I learnt that health is not just a bio-medical phenomenon, but is being influenced by a host of social, cultural, political, economic, geographical and psychological factors.

After experience of working in Sambalpur district, Orissa, one of the IAP districts, I felt that I would be able to contribute effectively to communities through my skills and talent, being one in the community. So, an urge grew within me to be a part of PMRDF recruitment process. It was quite a few months long wait and I was happy to make through as a fellow. I joined 1st batch in Hyderabad for the training but unfortunately, I lost my elder brother in a road accident on the 3rd day of training. So, I moved back home and decided to leave the programme. But, since the 2nd batch was starting only 3 months later, I and my family were able to settle things and I was back to fellowship in the 2nd batch in June 2012. During my training in the batch 2, again disaster struck my home locality with kind of social unrest due to arm conflict between two different communities. My village was badly affected by the conflict and all of them were in the relief camp for days at the go. I had various thoughts in my mind about the fellowship and the things happening to me. But my class XII logic paper kept me reminded of fallacy called “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” literary meaning that it is merely correlation rather than causation. In fact I feel that I was tested with the hardest of things in my life whenever I tried joining the fellowship. But I kept going with all that came my way.

During the state and district selection, I had no option to opt for, for I was not sure of any of the IAP districts that were left over after the ones allocated to the 1st batch fellows. I then moved to Jharkhand and finally to Giridih district. I had never heard of Giridih before I reached Ranchi. I was welcomed with open arms by DC of Giridih when I reached there as a fellow. It is really great that I have a brotherly love and care of the Deputy Commissioner of the district. The work plans were made and I am submerged deep into it. I am also given with the best of facilities like housing, vehicle and many other immeasurable entities. On the same I am also demanded with the works and I am really performing that is giving me inner satisfaction and appreciation from the reporting authority and from others in the district.

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Jechonia Islary is based at Giridih in Jharkhand. He has a Masters in Social Work (Health and Development & Social Policy and Planning) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Jechonia worked for three years with NGOs and in health sector including one year with BISWA, Sambalpur in Orissa as Deputy Manager Programmes (policy and planning) and for two years with NRHM, Assam as District Community Mobilizer, Chirang District in Assam before joining PMRDF.

“Rural Development is the main pillar of nation’s development, so I wanted to be part of this journey as a PMRD Fellow”

Priyanka Kumari                     Image

 

I always wanted to contribute to rural development as I believe that it is one of the most important factors for the growth of the Indian economy. Fortunately, I got information about PMRDF scheme through newspaper and I instantly decided to apply and join PMRDF and live my dream of contributing to rural development. Rural development, off late, has assumed utmost importance and now receives global attention especially in the developing nations. Similarly, it has great significance for a country like India where majority of the population (around 65%) live in rural areas. Rural development in India has witnessed several changes over the years in its emphasis, approaches, strategies and programmes. People’s participation is one of the foremost pre-requisites of development process both from procedural and philosophical perspectives. For the development planners and administrators, it is important to solicit the participation of different groups of rural people to make the plans participatory.

Working with the administration is a different ball game and a store of surprises. One needs to have a lot of patience for everything. I received full support from the administration and my DM. Best part of my experience with the administration during a year into fellowship is that it is a lot different from any regular employment where life is somewhat predictable. I believe that it is not a charity that I am doing instead, it is just giving it back to the society that helped me to have a decent life. In Jehanabad district, during the strike of Panchayat Rojagar Sevaks, we started NREGA works with the help of Self Help Groups in which a high number of women participated.

As PMRDF my present strategy is to mainly focus on poverty alleviation, better livelihood opportunities, provision of basic amenities and infrastructure facilities through innovative programmes of wage and self-employment to the beneficiaries.

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Priyanka Kumari is based at Jehanabad in Bihar. She has an MBA in HR and Marketing. Priyanka worked as HR in Solar Tech for four months before joining PMRDF.