What goes into making a dream village, a self-reliant and sustainable community?

March 22, 2021 2:07 PM

Read this if you agree that ground realities and native wisdom have the power to transform vision and provide solutions to some of the most difficult challenges.

dream villageFor creating permanent positive change, the community has to take the lead and strategize.

By Mangesh Wange

Read this if you agree that ground realities and native wisdom have the power to transform vision and provide solutions to some of the most difficult challenges. The successes of Sh. Anna Hazare’s Ralegaon Siddhi and Sh. Popat Rao Pawar’s model for creating sustainable villages are not new. However, even after so many years, such examples have served more like anecdotes and have been replicated only in a few villages. I often get frustrated with our inability to scaleup these and build the kind of villages we often dream of? This has fuelled my quest to understand what it takes to make our villages a preferred place to live.

One visit to Pali in Maharashtra’s Raigad district towards the end of 2020, revived my hope and introduced me to the possible road map to build “Dream Villages.” One of my colleague invited me to attend a meeting of a group of Village Development Committees (VDCs) from 10 villages quoting that it will be a milestone in my quest. Doubtful about finding a recipe just from a meeting of villagers, I made it to the meeting, unaware that my hope will restore.

Representatives of ten VDCs had gathered to discuss the progress of their village development plans (VDPs) and had almost equal participation of women, men, socio-economic backgrounds, and age. I was an audience to their regular monthly meeting, so they first shared the concept and agenda with me.

These VDPs would help them define their way to make their village a “Dream Village”. My curiosity doubled because these villagers were talking about self-sustaining villages. One of the members shared that they wanted to create hundreds of such “Dream Villages” by 2022, when we celebrate 75th year of India’s independence. I didn’t waste any time and asked what stopped them till now? Rajaram, head of one of the VDC shared that till now it was NOT their “own dream”; but the “dream of others” (governments, NGOs, or Corporates). He expressed, the vision of “others” is common for all villages, but each village has different sets of aspirations and challenges.

Rajaram quoted Swami Vivekananda, “All the wealth of the world cannot help one Indian village if the people are not taught to help themselves.” He shared that the massive positive change these VDCs witnessed was that all the 10 villages were working with complete ownership, commitment and a shared vision of all villagers. The VDPs were made jointly by all villagers for their village. This VDP would look follow 360-degree approach for the village empowerment and it focused on water, sanitation, health, education, and livelihood to make EACH household self-reliant. So this was the first ingredient for the recipe of a “Dream Village.” Rajaram informed that a non-profit supported them in formation and guidance for running these VDCs besides building their capacity for leadership and “Participatory Rural Appraisal”.

One of the elder members expressed that the community’s biggest learning was that any external party can only support them for a limited period. For creating permanent positive change, the community has to take the lead and strategize. Thus having community ownership is the essential second ingredient. It helps in maintaining and operating the current infrastructure and resources in the village.

I experienced this aspect of ownership as the meeting progressed. Each village presented status of their plan, sharing their challenges and success stories of the previous month. I was impressed with the positive energy and belief among all VDC members. There was healthy debate, support that each VDC could extend and exchange of best practices and failures. Such peer learning with mutual trust among VDCs from same geography can create an empowering ecosystem of village development.

I also learnt that after seeing the drive of the VDCs over last few months, gram panchayats and concerned government officials have come forward to support VDCs to leverage government schemes.

However, tremendous changes do not happen without resources. Many infrastructure-related projects like drinking water schemes, roads & buildings need financial and technical resources. Here the private players can help the VDC’s. Rajaram shared that it could be more impactful “if the private players also share the dream of the villagers” and supported them at cluster level in part-funding their VDPs instead of adopting one or two isolated villages and implement their own programs.

The final necessary ingredient from that meeting that ended my quest for what actually is required to make a dream village is the alignment of all stakeholders with the “Purpose”, “Principles” and “Process” with the VDC for the timely achievement of the goals of VDPs.

On my return journey, my heart was filled with many possibilities to create “villages of our dream”. To add to my happiness, my colleague shared that similar VDC’s were formed in 100 more villages and are working on their VDP’s to become “Dream Villages”. I experienced the ABC – Aspirations, Belief and Commitment led & owned by communities. Anyone involved in the development space, reading this article would agree that the approach of expecting large scale transformational change by just donating and the mindset of “giving support” has a low shelf life. Creating self-sustaining villages requires the will & ownership of the villagers to prosper and to have “True partnerships” with non-profits, government, and corporates. Dream villages are a possibility, and we can make it happen.

(The author is CEO of Swades Foundation. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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