June 24, 2019

PEOPLE’S INSTITUTIONS: The DNA for sustainable development

Developing institutions which are managed by their own members, is accepted as an important function for those committed to making development people-centric and sustainable. Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) has, from the very beginning, involved the community in charting their own future and whilst the process may look difficult in the beginning, has found that it actually pays in the long run.
Having spent 25 years building people's institutions, ACF shares some of its key learning in its publication, 'Building People's Institutions.'  This free resource, chronicles insights, learning, experiences, outcomes and the journey ACF team members have gone through in forming and working with various SHGs, Water User Associations, Farmer Producer Organisations and Federations.
In a lengthy article, Nabarun Sen Gupta, a Rural Development and Rural Livelihoods Expert and Consultant who has worked extensively with ACF, explores the process of building people's institutions - highlighting key philosophical and operational attributes that contribute to their success.  Here are some extracts from his article:
a. PHILOSOPHICAL LEVEL - This refers to the ideology that the facilitating agency wishes to follow, that guides the agency to do something and refrain from doing something. The ideology/philosophy that was central to ACF's process of institution building consisted of:
  • People are central to the initiative and not their institutions. ACF went ahead with its initiative to motivate people to join the institution and take advantage of the work. However, once it had succeeded in creating interest among the people to be part of this process, ACF led the people to chart out the process that gave expression to what they wanted to do. It did play a mentor-ship role, but did not go overboard to 'make' things happen. All decisions that helped the process to become sustainable were taken by the people.
  • Freebies are of no use. ACF firmly believes that contribution should come from the people. It also believes that people must pay for the services that they want their institutions to provide to them. For example, a drinking water intervention at ACF illustrates this philosophy - ACF had promised to provide the cost of an R.O. plant, however the cost of the premises to house the plant, getting the water point drilled and all other incidental costs came from the villagers. The R.O. plants have been running since the last seven years and people have been paying for the water. The institutions manage the operations and take care of the expenses to run them. ACF has made paying for services the habit of the community.
  • Outsiders must refrain from deciding. Many a time the 'big brother' attitude clouds the approach that agencies take. 'We know and therefore we decide what people need to do and how' - is a self-defeating approach. ACF chose not to go that way and has never been in a hurry to establish its credentials. It went at the pace of the people and gave the members the right to decide. The Bhatinda Farmers' Producer Company members decided on the site for their own shop. The decision was theirs. The members decided what was best for them. Similarly, the selection of the Volunteers to run it was not done under pressure from a powerful lobby, but ACF facilitated an honest decision to allow the farmers to decide who from among them must be trained to pass on agriculture related information. The farmers knew that their interest would be best served in the long run if they made the right selection then.
b. OPERATIONAL LEVEL - These operational principles have been the very cornerstones to the success of the efforts made by ACF on the institutional front.
  • Ownership comes when even small decisions are taken by people. The ACF team steered clear of the rush mentality. It allowed people to realize for themselves what was good and what was not. Wherever needed the ACF team played the role of explaining to the people the pros and cons of their decisions. But they never suggested solutions. We have the example of the selection of the name of the Farmer Producer Company in Chandrapur. Farmers' suggestions were sought. The same principle was followed in the case of buying the seeds for the farmers in Bhatinda. The ACF team could have ordered the seeds directly from the traders and ensured availability. It chose not to tread this path. It took the farmers along and asked them to see for themselves which seeds they would like to purchase. These details help in developing a feeling of ownership.
  • External agencies must facilitate the process for the institutions to tread the unknown path. The fear of the unknown path is often the reason that stops people from going ahead. This happened in case of the plastic waste collection by women SHG members. Though they were told to come and collect the garbage, they had apprehensions. The ACF team accompanied them to the houses. Similarly, when it came to the collection of share capital for an FPO, the farmers were initially reluctant to put in the amount. ACF decided to go slow on the matter and finally the farmers were convinced.
  • Showing the institution members 'good and workable' examples works. At all interventions across locations, the team used the standard operating procedure of 'getting people to see in order to believe.' Farmers had no idea of how they could and also why they should have their own Farmer Producer Company. The word 'company' was an alien word for them. The ACF team took farmers and their representatives on exposure visits to see the work of other FPOs in practice - this helped them in clarifying their doubts about the venture, and moving forward.
  • Invest in people and their institutions. This is what will make efforts sustainable. This operational principle has guided ACF to invest its time and resources. ACF could have used other mechanisms to take knowledge to the people. For example, in the Ambujanagar case ACF chose to invest its resources on developing a cadre from among the farmers. Similarly, it went for training the community members as facilitators to carry out training in case of the WUAs. Even in the case of SHGs in Balodabazar involved in supplying plastics to ACL plant, ACF decided to invest in building the capacity of members in the finer aspects of institution governance. All these have paid rich dividends.
We hope you take these lessons forward in your work on-ground in communities and succeed in building viable, sustainable, profitable people's institutions.

Nabarun Sen Gupta is a freelance consultant who has worked on rural development issues for almost two and half decades. He specializes in supporting organizations / agencies involved with various kinds of developmental efforts focusing on livelihoods. He also is a prolific trainer on Gender and poverty perspectives around Rural Livelihoods. He has worked with grassroots agencies, in corporate social responsibility and with research and academic institutions. Apart from his exposure to development work in India, he has worked on overseas assignments in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. Nabarun is also involved as National Resource Person (NRP) for rolling out a recently launched programme of the central government on Sustainable Agriculture and Livestock. He provides his services to the National Rural Livelihood Mission and also to a few State Rural Livelihood Missions.

June 24, 2019

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