About ACF

Friday, August 02, 2019

Mobilise to Generate Participation

When it comes to developing a rural community, unfortunately many interventions are undertaken by an external party and participation of the community in their own development is not always considered. At best, a general assessment of the needs of a community is undertaken and the willingness of the community to undertake certain activities is assessed during project formulation. As a consequence, when the project becomes operational, it is often misaligned with the community’s aspirations and priorities, even taking the target groups by surprise. 

On the other hand, community mobilisation, a concept closely linked with peoples participation, is a process whereby local groups are supported in clarifying and expressing their needs and in taking a leadership role in implementing development activities rather than just being the ‘recipients’ of grants and services. It is based on the philosophy that the people within communities, are better placed to identify their needs and priorities and solutions for addressing them. 

Community participation, engagement, and mobilization has been the crucial underpinning of all our projects at ACF - be it water resource management, livelihoods, or health. Our learnings from the ground support our belief that development for the people is unsustainable; on the other hand, development along with the people involving the communities from the commencement of the project and building their capabilities along the way, is the key to sustainability. Rather than passive participation or a cursory engagement, we aim to inspire true mobilisation, where communities organize and take initiative independent of any external actors. That way, communities reduce their dependence on outside aid, as they become adept at identifying and solving their own problems. 

A key highlight of all projects at ACF has been the amalgamation of modern scientific methods with traditional wisdom and traditions. Traditional wisdom is considered  static and outdated, and one tends to minimize or devalue it, but our experience has been to the contrary. Community members provide deep insights of local conditions be it climatic, soil, cultural or social contexts. This knowledge about the context in which projects are to be implemented, contributes to sustainable and equitable development. Community involvement brings crucial information to any decision, making the difference between a good and poor decision.

For community mobilisation to happen effectively, it is not enough to merely ‘invite or welcome participation’; community members need training in ‘participatory’ skills, activities to build their confidence, as well as measures to unite them around common goals. This is especially important for women who may lack the experience of contributing as also for the broader community members who may be diffident. By building the requisite skills and confidence, every member of a community truly has the opportunity, directly or through representation, to participate in the project, with a higher likelihood that the program accurately reflects their real needs and aspirations. 

We have experienced over two decades of work, pan-India, how community participation  has ultimately led to structural changes within communities, leading to lasting change. 
For instance, in our agriculture interventions, we’ve been able to mobilise farmers and collectivise them into Farmer Producer Organisations, developing a stronger capacity for collective bargaining. The FPO’s are now taking the lead on environmental issues as well. For example, burning of chaff in the fields and residue that remains in a field once a crop is harvested, to prepare the plot for the next season, a familiar sight in rural India. This harmful practice is one of the causes of poor air quality and is detrimental to the soil as well. A small group of farmers in Rabriyawas, Rajasthan, found a solution and took the lead in  selling this crop residue (also known as biomass) to local industries, as an alternative fuel source - taking home a small amount of income as a result. The FPO’s have since taken up the sale of biomass on a larger scale, eliminating middlemen, thus making it a profitable venture for the farmers. Another example is from our healthcare projects. We utilise the power of grassroot healthcare providers and train them  to manage a range of conditions - from child and maternal healthcare to communicable and non-communicable diseases. These front line workers - Sakhis, belong to the communities in which they work, hence intimately understand community needs and the underlying socio-cultural issues, and are thus able to engage with the community very effectively. Our Sakhis have played a vital role in increasing institutional deliveries and immunisations achieving 100% coverage in all our intervention villages.

A lot can be achieved when communities are united around a common goal and actively participate in both identifying needs and being part of the solution. Community mobilization is a powerful tool to help empower communities, enabling them to participate and control their own development.

Secrets to Success in Community Mobilisation

Sukhdeb discussing issues with the women group

ACF sat down with three of our community mobilizers who look after various programmes at ACF locations, to discuss innovative techniques and experiences in community mobilization. 

1.        Sukhdeb Gosh is ACF’s Community Mobilizer based in Farakka, West Bengal who currently oversees the goatery programme and is the agricultural livelihoods programme personnel. He previously worked as a government volunteer in a leprosy programme and at ACF assists in other programmes at block and district levels.
2.        Simran Kaur is ACF’s Community Mobilizer based in Nalagarh, Himachal Pradesh looking after the Women’s Empowerment Programme in 16 villages. She has a master’s degree in social work from Punjab University where during her education field visit had a chance to visit an ACF location – applying for a job after graduation.
3.        Nirmita Parmar is the Community Mobilizer of ACF’s SEDI centre in Ambujanagar, Gujarat. She has completed her Bachelors in Pharmacy and joined ACF’s SEDI Centre as a nursing trainer. In 2014, she was absorbed into the Soft Skill Training where she was utilized in the field, leading to her getting a promotion as a Community Mobilizer.

What are some innovative techniques you use in Community Mobilisation?

For Sukhdeb, good community mobilization is all about generating strong rapport with people.  And the secret to doing that lies in the small things.  “Keeping eye to eye contact while talking to the beneficiaries is one of the techniques I use, and I also try to keep a very low tone of voice and speak in their dialect to avoid being considered an ‘outsider’. The movement of the eyes also reveals the seriousness of the person towards the issue –  it helps you read them better.” He says.  He also believes that punctuality is integral - especially when a meeting is arranged. “Interested villagers see to it that they come on time for meetings and would lose focus if we are not present.” He said.

Nirmata harnesses a variety of techniques to mobilise the community. “I used a door to door technique talking to potential youth about the opportunities one can receive by getting trained at our institute. I also conduct career counselling sessions to guide them on the courses they should select or how they should go ahead in life, narrating my own life story.”  She also believes it is important to adhere to timings that suit the community for success, and as such night meetings are conducted for beneficiaries who are unavailable during the day.

Simran talking to women about new initiatives

What do you do when the Community doesn’t respond, or when you face challenges?

We work in very poor areas where the situation is dire, thought processes are often very conservative and women are considered to have ‘no voice’ in the presence of men and village elders.  In the face of these challenges, we take the following approaches:

·           At their own pace: If they are not yet convinced, we don’t hound them. We reduce our engagement and reflect on the situation, try to identify better techniques we could use, and practice a few changes to our way of approach.
·           Involve other stakeholders: Involving other outside stakeholders helps, as the beneficiaries then trust the ideas that we put forth. For example, in regard to financial support, we organize meetings with bank staff, Self-Help Group leaders from other communities and government personnel to discuss provisions for monetary savings.
·           Changing topics: Villagers lose interest if the same initiative/topic is talked about continuously. So, we educate them on other initiatives that we are working on with case stories and try to spark their interest in engaging in that. Once they get started and see results, they come around and are open to other projects and initiatives.
·           Hand holding support: Many beneficiaries are skeptical about trying new initiatives. Hand holding support is required to help guide and support them as they tentatively start their journey.
·           Breaking barriers: We break barriers by connecting with village leaders of the area who encourage their community to be open to change and understand the need for a solution to their problems.

Tell us how you harness ‘community influencers’ to help in Community Mobilisation?
Sukhdeb believes gaining the buy in of community leaders is critical. “I look out for community, tribe or religious leaders and build their trust in our programmes. I take them to our other locations and show our work for which they get convinced and encourage their people to also participate in our programs. I keep in touch with them on the phone even when I am unable to visit the village and invite them to office whenever they need help. This helps build a relationship with them which makes it easier to initiate any programme or activity in the village.” He said.

For Simran, identifying the most active woman is the key.  In regard to Women’s Empowerment Programme, we find an active lady who leads the community of women, and harness them to influence others about our programmes. If it is difficult to find a leader of the community, we develop a leader for every cluster and build her as an influencer for the smaller groups.” She said.

Nirmita taps into the power of ex-graduates, parents and teachers, to influence others. “I source for ex graduates, parents, teachers who can provide word of mouth publicity about our courses and placement opportunities. They are now formed into clubs to understand their views and opinions based on experiences and feedbacks after joining the institutes which helps us to amend our models.

Share an anecdote where a mobilisation activity really worked.

Nirmita not only has to mobilise and convince students to study at SEDI, but also needs to gain the confidence and support of their parents.  “In Pitchwada village of Gujarat we had 15-20 ladies come and visit our centre interested in enrolling in different courses. From the group there was one girl who wanted to take up a course in a male dominated sector and her sister wanted to enroll in the nursing course. But due to financial circumstances she couldn’t pay the fees and didn’t have a supportive family. With no luck in changing her father’s mind she approached me to convince her father. I sat with the family one evening over dinner and narrated my success story to them – opened myself up to build rapport, and show them the possibilities for their daughter. It took a great effort to convince the whole family, but today both the sisters are trained and placed in good organizations earning a salary of at least Rs. 20,000-25,000 and are able to financially support their ailing father, who is now suffering from cancer,” She said.

Nirmita and women empowerment team after a community meeting

Transforming Community Resistence Through Mobilisation

For the women of Farrakka, chickens were bad news. Many of them had lost large sums of money investing in poultry farming with encouragement of the Government - but with limited support, training or veterinary services, the efforts were disastrous.
So, when ACF came along espousing the benefits of rearing chickens, the women literally ran them out of town! They'd been down this road before.
After all, they were happily earning money from rolling Bidi's, even though the toxic fumes and dust from the process was impacting their health. At least their families could eat! Not to be defeated, ACF persevered. There were arguments and fights. Disagreement among the women. Doubts prevailed. Staff were ridiculed by women at village meetings. The going was tough.
But having seen the success of chick rearing in other blocks, ACF staff continued to push. Finally, 4 women came forward and agreed to give it a try. 
Activity started with 2060 chicks with an investment of Rs. 93,137/-. The pressure was on - this trial just HAD to work.  To ensure success, the ACF team visited the poultry farms thrice daily to regularly monitor the progress. At the end of 21 days, the group sold 3000 chicks and made a net profit of Rs.26,863/- within just 21 days. Other women gathered to hear the results - and after a long silence, slowly a smile spread over each of their faces.
Over the next 16 months, nine batches reared 39,625 chickens and hauled in a profit of Rs.4,32,176/-. 
Today the group acts as 'mother NGO' to teach other groups and districts chick rearing, and poultry is now the most important income generation activity for rural women in Farakka.

Getting Community 'Buy In'

When you visit a village in Rajasthan, you are bound to find a ‘talab’ close by – a village water pond that supplies water for drinking, domestic and livestock purposes. One of the most ancient and traditional structures for rainwater harvesting in the dry desert state, it is estimated that there are about 83,000 talabs in Rajasthan. 

But the changing social milieu has meant that many of these water bodies have fallen into disrepair – due to improper maintenance and the advent of modern forms of water supply. Across communities, talabs seep water, have become polluted and are full of silt – reducing the quality and volume of water available. 

In 2003-04, ACF decided to revive 4 talabs in Rabriyawas but knew, that in order to make the project sustainable for the future, they must involve the local community – to ensure they embrace and manage each talab for future generations. They got to work mobilizing the communities of Balada and Lakholav – ACF outlining their commitment to supply machinery for the de-silting of ponds, whilst outlining the need for the huge manpower and transportation required for the removal of silt soil from the site, to be provided by the community. 

Whilst there was initial push back, ACF took the time to explain the benefits to them - the soil was high in nutrients and provided a great resource to add top soil to farmer fields and build farm bunds to trap and channel water. 

So, hand in hand, they got to work. ACF deployed machinery for pond excavation, shaping and de-silting, whilst women and men rolled up their sleeves – bringing in tractors from fields to shift the huge quantum of soil to nearby paddocks. 

Together they revived the talabs, resulting in an additional 10,880 m3 water storage capacity in Balada, and 3626 m3 additional water storage capacity in Lakholav. And the ripple effect in the community was unbelievable ... 

Farmers were able to bring 120 acres more land under cultivation, wells in the surrounding area were recharged, and soil fertility improved. There was a 66% decrease in dependency on piped water and 57% decrease in tanker water. Expenditure on water reduced 67% in Lakholav and 14% in Balada, and expenditure on health reduced by 22% (Balada) and 47% Lakholav. 

And the best part?  By getting community buy-in in the beginning, ACF ensured that the community would take responsibility for protecting the resource for the future.

Common Mistakes in Community Mobilisation

Knowing what to do in Community mobilization is important, but it is equally important to know what NOT to do.  Here, our community mobilization experts outline some common mistakes that organizations make in mobilizing communities:

1.      Adopting a superior air and approach - Many times, someone comes from the outside ‘thinking’ they know it all and behave with authority.  There is no surer and faster way of destroying relationships with the community and having them pit against you, than taking this approach.  Similarly, adopting a bad and superior attitude, with a lot of pride, portraying that you have a lot of money.  This is a sure-fire way to lose the confidence and trust of the community.  There is a need to put ego’s aside, work alongside the people, with the people, and support them in driving the identification of community issues and solutions.
2.      Making promises and not fulfilling them - Time and again, we have seen outsiders come into the community and make promises – promises that go unfulfilled.  When people come espousing big ideas but not following through, villagers will lose confidence in you and will not participate.  The better approach is to start small, go for small wins and small, low hanging fruit, so that the community gains trust, builds confidence and sets their sights higher.
3.      Not taking the time to understand a community – many development organizations enter a community and commence work without taking the time to understand the community, get to know it, connect with the people who live there.  This is an important step in building trust, rapport and relationship, which is so important when undertaking community mobilization and engagement. 
4.      Taking a short-term approach – Many organizations enter a community, focus on one or two projects, and once completed, they withdraw.  This does little to help the community in the long term and it is important to connect and engage with a community in the long term.  You have to connect with them right from sitting with them to standing by them in times of need.
5.      Putting aside agendas – As mobilisers trying to gain people’s participation, it is important to put our own agenda’s aside. It is important to focus on their needs and not our needs. There won’t be any long-term impact if we focus on our own needs and ignore the pressing needs of the local community.
6.      Making decisions without gaining buy-in – Research and experience have demonstrated time and again that any kind of change or critical decision-making process is more likely to succeed with support. But what isn’t so widely understood is that having input into a decision often helps to generate support – even when the final decision isn’t the one chosen by your stakeholders. It is therefore important to gain the buy-in of the people and making decisions for and on their behalf prior to this, is a big no, no.
7.      Looking at the issue through your eyes – This is a common mistake that can easily occur at the onset of an engagement process, with even the best intentions in mind. Each of us as human beings, are hard-wired to view things through our own eyes, and as a result, even good leaders can sometimes make the wrong assumptions about how a decision will impact their stakeholders; based on their own unique lens of the world and what they believe to be true. Therefore, tools like stakeholder mapping –the process of identifying and categorizing all your unique stakeholder groups – is a proven method that helps draw out the many perspectives of an issue, problem or even a solution.
8.      Allowing a vocal few to dominate - One of the many roles of a facilitator is ensuring that equal time and energy is allotted to each group or perspective. And while you can’t force people to participate, collaborative facilitators have an inherent responsibility to ensure that reasonable measures are taken to remove barriers to engagement. In small engagements this may mean ensuring that more introverted or less confident participants get a chance to present their ideas in a way that feels safe and comfortable.


World Youth Skills Day celebrated at SEDI

World Youth Skills Day was celebrated with gusto and in style across SEDI locations, but at the forefront was SEDI Bhatapara, launching the first ever ‘women only’ mason training batch, for women who are working as mason laborers or as an MNREGA laborers to develop their skills and provide them with better options for advancement. 

Additionally, as part of the festivities ACF signed an MoU with Krishnashray Foundation to launch a new Skill Training Centre in Mathura District of Uttar Pradesh – which will see a total of 1950 youth between the age of 18-34, trained in courses like Beautician, Industrial Computer Accounting and Patient Assistant Courses over a five-year period.

SEDI trainee Varsha Sharma was felicitated as the ‘Skill Ambassador of Rajasthan’ by Shri. Ashok Chandna - Minister of State in charge of Skill and Employment; Mr. Naveen Jain – Secretary Labor, Employment, Skill & Entrepreneurship & Commissioner, Labor and Employment, Government of Rajasthan; and Dr. Samit Sharma – MD, RSLDC. This honor was given to the best trainee in Rajasthan and Varsha’s story is meant to be an inspiration for other youth in the state as she was the only girl in her entire village who turned into an entrepreneur on completion of her training in Documentation Assistance. The effort taken by ACF was highly commended by the Honorable Minister. 

Celebrated globally, to raise awareness about the importance of youth skill development especially in the unemployed and unorganized sector, the day aims to showcase ‘skills’ as a viable career path to achieve better socio-economic conditions for today’s youth, and as a means of addressing the challenges of unemployment and under-employment. 

Activities across locations included skill exhibition and orientation, activilties like sports drama, posters, quizzers and co-curricular programmes. An inspirational lecture was also delivered by Sabyasachi Banerjee from Pantaloons and Sudipto Chakraborty from Technocon Yamaha. A ‘Quality Control Lab’ was also inaugurated at SEDI Nalagarh by ACL unit head Arun Jhan and Sunil Singhal, AGM – HR, Alkem Laboratories on the same day. Alkem Laboratories is funding the total training cost of 40 trainees and part of admin cost of the centre. Industry representatives from Cipla, Havells, TVS, and Glenmark apart from community were also present wherein the current trainees exhibited their skills by showcasing models and creative arts developed by them. There were also visits from partners, donors and management officials appreciating the work of the skill training centres and motivating trainees to continue to accomplish their goals. 

Celebrating World Environment Day

In fact, World Environment Day was celebrated across locations on the theme 'Air Pollution' in association with the United Nations initiative to encourage worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment. Self help groups created awareness about the issues and concerns on the environment and solutions towards it as well as distributed jute bags, organized rallies and cleanliness campaigns and encouraged to avoid using plastic bags by converting old jeans into carry bags distributed in the villages.

Rallies across surrounding villages were conducted by school children followed by speech and painting competition. In some locations plants like neem, gulmohour, jamun, kanji and peepal were planted in the ACL premises and villages by the ACL staff. Toilet constructions were also discussed in some villages.

World Environment Day also saw ACF bestowed with the ‘Himachal Pradesh Environment Leadership Award’ for 2018-19 by the Department of Environment Science and Technology, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh. The award appreciates ACF’s excellence in promotion of environment conversation and sustainable development and was given by the Honorable Chief Minister of HP, Shri Jai Ram Thakur.