As we celebrate 150 years of Gandhi, in this newsletter, we reflect upon some of his core philosophies and ACF's work to advance these philosophies for the betterment of rural India.
"If the Village perishes, India will Perish." Gandhi believed that unless villages were developed and made self-sufficient, it would lead to mass migration, overcrowded cities and urban poverty. Today we are seeing that become reality as many rural Indians flock to cities in search for better opportunities, only to find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of urban poverty.
Self-sufficiency is integral to all work at Ambuja Cement Foundation and underpins everything we do. In this article we talk with Anagha Mahajani, ACF's General Manager, Programme Research & Monitoring, to better understand ACF's work in building 'people's institutions' to support the self-sufficiency of programmes and communities - way beyond the involvement of ACF in the future.
"ACF's vision is to work for the holistic development of both the region and its people. Strong local institutions are integral to this process and ACF considers them as a vehicle for social change and social action." Anagha Mahajani said.
"Our focus at ACF, across programmes, has been to facilitate the creation, strengthening and empowerment of people's institutions to support self-reliance," Ms Mahajani said. "Having established over 2769 people's institutions across 11 states, we have seen the tangible results - how people's institutions are creating social change at the community level in agriculture, water-resource management, women and health - and supporting the self-reliance of communities." She said.
"The evolution of these institutions has been a stimulating process, both for the local community as well as ACF. Enabling a local institution to work towards a felt need; capturing a potential opportunity; or organising people for social action - each of these involve unique processes and challenges." Anagha said.
Through capacity building of communities, ACF has seen the emergence of both formal and informal local institutions. These vary both in nature and the magnitude of their impact. The journey of these institutions has been full of challenges but has led to visible positive change - these are just some of the examples of impact generated via ACF supported people's institutions:
AGRICULTURE:Farmers have grown stronger having come together in both Farmer Learner Groups and Farmer Producer Companies (FPC's). These have resulted in direct linkages with the market which have opened avenues; recognition for production of high quality, certified crops which has enhanced the self-esteem of the farmers; assured surplus incomes which have improved family life.
WATER:Participatory irrigation has contributed in incorporating a substantial section of the population who were previously 'out of the reach of irrigation' in drought-prone areas of Rajasthan. Safe drinking water became a possibility only with local management by water user associations across a variety of locations.
WOMEN:ACF has been gaining the participation of women via the formation of 2613 SHGs and many have gone on to form Women's Federations (Chandrapur, Ambujanagar, Farakka) These people's institutions have not only empowered women and given them a voice, they have helped them unite and kickstart initiatives to tackle diverse issues from alcoholism, domestic violence, widow's, digital literacy and income generation - all improving the lives of women across regions. Farmer-Producer companies have 1055 women members, and 2 cooperatives have been started and are being led by women, thanks to ACF support.
HEALTH:Anti-tobacco campaign have been driven by local people's institutions - contributed in improving awareness level by providing information on its ill-effects and today 5 villages and 46 schools are tobacco free. Sanitation is another key health initiative driven solely by local people's institutions - namely women's SHGs or Federations - and today 146 villages have 100% toilet coverage out of 207 villages having 80% coverage.
"These and many more examples are at a potential stage all around us and there are several such encouraging changes. People's institutions assure local ownership and sustainability of any initiative taken up by the community. They further assure that these efforts are headed towards making a difference to the economically and socially underprivileged by opening the doors for participation and information." Ms Mahajani said.
"We have witnessed the change and that inspires us and strengthens our belief in the capacities of the locals we work with." She said.
Gandhi favoured the idea of autonomous and self-contained villages in which there would be intimate human relationships and self-reliance -building social capital and ACF is playing its role in helping achieving that, to alleviate pressure on Indian cities and create prosperous rural communities across the country.