Posts Tagged With: development

Development – the debate

Despite being part of the development sector for almost 7 years, I got introduced to the various theories of international development only during my master’s at LSE, 2 years ago. In fact that was one of the reasons I mentioned in my SOP for why I want to do the program. Over time I observed that the field of development is a constant debate and there are so many different voices, from around the world, contributing to the debate. While the arguments and suggestions they put forth may vary, all share the same goal of reducing poverty or more recently of improving ‘wellbeing’ of people.

While I have come across numerous examples, substantiating the observation, in literature; very recently I experienced it firsthand. When I was writing my last article on Ajeevika Bureau, somewhere in the middle of the article I went back to my article on Sahaj Foundation, and I was pleasantly surprised to notice the striking similarities in the problem yet two very different (almost opposite) approaches to address the same.

Both Dahod (where Sahaj works) and districts of Southern Rajasthan like dungarpur and rajsamund where Ajeevika Bureau works are characterised by low rainfall, single crop agriculture and small land holdings; thus necessitating the need to look beyond farm employment for sustenance. However, in both the regions, lack of local opportunities leaves little choice but to migrate to the nearby towns. But migration, as I also described in Ajeevika Bureau, is not always easy, especially for unskilled workers who face constant financial and physical insecurities when in city. In Dahod, unsuccessful migration also triggered high rates of violence and robbery.

In essence, both Sahaj and Ajeevika Bureau started with the aim of addressing the issue of migration for the wellbeing of tribal people living in their areas. The difference lies in their approach. While Sahaj, took the path of reversing migration by providing employment opportunities locally and training people to be self employed; Ajeevika Bureau worked towards facilitating migration, by providing financial services to assist in migration, support groups and advisory and legal services to ensure successful migration.

As goes with everything, both the approaches are right and none is wrong. While migration needs to be kept in check both to ensure the development of villages locally as well as to ensure that the cities are not congested; it is also important to understand that it cannot be completely curtailed. Thus efforts to enable successful migration are also equally important. It is therefore important to listen to all the voices and opinions in a development debate as most often there is no clear right or wrong.

Categories: development, LSE | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

From labourer to artisan…

A few days ago, a couple of friends were going to a village called Dahod to meet an NGO Sahaj India. Since they were going via Baroda, I tagged along. The route to Dahod was picturesque with varying shades of green all around. Closer to Dahod it seemed like we were driving in a lush green valley. Dahod is one of the towns in the tribal belt at the border of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.  For a long time Dahod was (to some extent still is) notorious for robbery and the Baroda- Indore highway was largely deserted during the night for fear of tribals.

When we met Ranvir, the co-founder of Sahaj India, he very naturally started talking about the villages, the tribal population, the problems and how the desire to end the violence and bring meaningful employment to the people of Dahod resulted in the movement called SAHAJ. All the time that he spoke, I wished for a voice recorder. His passion flowed in his words, but well I just had to bank on my memory and all that which follows come entirely from that.

While the landscape is green in the monsoons, Ranvir quickly pointed that come summers the land would be dry and parched. Water is scarce and agriculture is limited to corn, which provides employment only for a couple of months. There are no industries and thus people had little option but to migrate to towns. Life in cities for migrants is not easy. Looking for work daily and living on streets poses problems of health and safety especially for the women and children. Also migration meant leaving the elderly behind with no one to take care of them. Those who stayed back took to bows and arrows earning the place the ‘dangerous’ tag, which further discouraged new businesses.

A chance meeting in MSU Baroda, brought Ranvir and Jabeen, both residents of Dahod, together and from there started a journey of passion and commitment towards bringing dignity through meaning employment to the tribal population of Dahod. As Jabeen says “…and since that day we have been travelling together”.A follower of Gandhian philosophy, Ranvir was sure that the way out of poverty for the villagers was to develop cottage industries. The biggest challenge as Ranvir recalls was to convince people to learn the crafts and work for a living. The idea of an NGO was also very distorted in the minds of the locals. Their only interaction with NGOs was when certain organisations came to take some signatures and in return gave them some money. It took time to earn people’s trust and support. Almost 15 years ago, Sahaj started with 8 employees and 12 women artisans in 1 village. It has now grown to 80 employees, 60 villages, 3000 artisans and over 1600 products spanning different crafts like paper mache, jute and Bamboo artifacts, quilting, beading etc.

Artisans decorating Bamboo baskets and lampshades. 

Ranvir had himself trained the first few women in the crafts, who are now teaching other members of their community. Jabeen and Ranvir also travelled to different organisations like Shantiniketan and Auroville to understand the marketing of handicrafts. Today craft from Dahod is not only sold in all the major cities in India, it is going international and even international designers are coming down to contribute new designs and crafts to Dahod.

So what was the key to this success? According to Ranvir the success lies in the way the organisation is run. In his words Sahaj is a “Corporate NGO”. This reminded me of Pallavi from eyaas who had said “Heart of a non-profit, Mind of a business”. Sahaj is not a charity. When Sahaj started it had some support from it’s parent organisation: Sadguru Water and Development Foundation and it gets some minimal support from various government schemes like Adivasi Kalyan Yojna and Rashtriya sum vikas yojna. By and large Sahaj is a self-sustaining organisation, which is very much the part of the market and runs in accordance with it. The difference between Sahaj and any other for-profit handicraft business, as Ranvir puts it, is it’s key asset – the artisans. If the demand for Jute product in the market decreases, the for-profit business will stop sourcing from the jute artisan but Sahaj on the other hand will train the jute artisan in newer and contemporary crafts ensuring his/her livelihood. Fair trade and a commitment to the villagers are the core values that run through the organisation.

In the market Sahaj’s strengths lie in assured quality, contemporary designs and competitive rates. Sahaj sells affordable handicraft; thus tapping the growing middle class of consumers. Instead of selling one item as an art object for a higher rate and thereby bring income to just one artisan; Sahaj belives in selling 100 items at lower rate and thus bringing livelihood to 100 artisans.

Ranvir Sisodia in Sahaj's Dahod Showroom

We also got a chance to go into the villages and see the women artisan working. Most of the women collect a week’s raw material from the main office and return the finished product the week after. This allows them to work from home, look after kids and family and help in the farms when required. We met Kanta Ben who has been with Sahaj for over 10 years. She proudly tells her story that how Sahaj not only helped her pay off her loan from the local money lender (who was charging her 120% interest) but the regular income has enabled her to build her own home and also marry off her 3 children.

Just like Kanta Ben, thousand’s of women have found pride and a higher social status after joining Sahaj. Their message board rightly says:

“Together we have made a difference
Together we will make greater difference”

SAHAJ is a fair trade organisation working for empowerment of tribal women through art and craft based activities, providing opportunities and choices in life towards an equitable society. Visit online:


Other articles by me on Fair Trade:

Heart of a non-profit and mind of a business

In the market? Of the market? OR against the market?

Disclaimer: The article is a result of informal conversation with Ranvir Sisodia, Senior Executive Officer and Design Head, Sahaj and visit to Sahaj India operations in Dahod, Gujrat. Any factual errors, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are my own.

Categories: around us, development, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s in the Cloud!


Image by Toons4Biz at

As a kid I thought there was only water vapour in the cloud.. but well now there is storage space, money and telent! All in the cloud 🙂

In the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk about cloud computing with substantial growth in cloud services, companies and users. Cloud computing means services provided over the internet that replace the need to install applications locally. For example using word on Gmail instead of buying Microsoft Word application. Simply speaking all my presentations, documents and spreadsheets can be stored in a “cloud” which I can access through Internet.

Recently I was doing a research on social enterprises in India and in one of the companies model’s I came across “cloud financing”. Fancy term to use, but I was confused on what it really means and how does it work? Internet search didn’t tell much. All I got was IBM cloud financing, which is financing solutions for companies moving to cloud computing. So during the interview, I asked about cloud financing to the enterprise’s VP. He explained that cloud financing was raising capital through Internet from individuals. So I would say it means the same as  ‘crowd financing’, which simply means raising money from different people. The idea is not new,  NGOs have been doing  this since long (remember the collection boxes at payment counters in supermarket and malls) but Internet now has made it very easy to reach out to the crowd. Not just NGOs but startups and social entrepreneurs also seek support from the crowd. More recently it has been used by a Bollywood Production house for the movie I AM. Production money was raised through twitter and facebook. The director, Onir, offered supporters co-production credits and a share in profits.

Just like crowd financing is for raising capital; crowd sourcing is used for raising talent by tapping into the customers. So many companies now have customer forums on their website to give feedbacks, ratings and provide solution to fellow customer’s problems. Customer feedbacks and user generated media such as blogs and Wikipedia are reducing organisation’s research expenditure.

Businesses don’t just depend on customers for demand of their products but a lot more. As Jeff Howe, the author of crowdsourcing says

“The Power of Crowd is driving the future of businesses”


Categories: around us, development, digital living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times

13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times.

Different departments of the state need to work in tandem for realistic development. This fact has been again and again emphasised by many working in the field but rarely is it taken into consideration by our state machinery..Here is a perfect example to show that development does not happen in water-tight compartments. Primary school teachers are put on census duty in the months preceding the annual examinations. Teachers to stay out of school for almost a month from Feb 14th to March 5th. Municiple corporation says education does not fall under their department and education department says Census is national duty.. who suffers? the children and their education.

Categories: around us, development, education, work | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From volunteering to volunteering…

I’ve been asked this question again and again. Why did I switch my career from engineering to development? Well I thought I’d better answer that now!

Graduating from IIT, a job in a well-known MNC was an obvious choice. I was designing circuits for various mobile applications. The job was challenging, interesting, I learned a lot but the most important thing, which made me stick to it for 5 years, was the opportunities my company provided towards community development. Before TI, “giving back to society” for me, mainly meant donating money/material. It was only later that I saw how important and how much more difficult (and thus more satisfying) it was to donate my time and my skills. Writing a cheque was easy, but it was easily forgotten as well. TI India Foundation gave me an opportunity to volunteer my time at various NGOs. I was a companion to old people, a teacher to under privileged children or a friend to special kids. Sometimes a fundraiser, sometimes a marketing help for an NGO. It allowed me to take up so many different roles and go beyond my daily routine of being a design engineer. The impact was observable immediately; the satisfaction was delivered just as soon.

But it wasn’t easy being a volunteer every time. It’s different to see poverty from outside and think about doing something about it than to experience it and work within it. I would just like to recount an instance here, which made me question my efforts towards volunteering as well as strengthened them.

I was once trying to convince the parents of a 10-year-old slum girl to allow her to continue school. I gave all the regular arguments of the vicious cycle of poverty and that until she gets good education, there is no way out for her. The father of the child, made his 6 children stand in line in front of me and simply said, if she doesn’t work the rest go hungry.

I was dumbfounded by that response. That time I just left, went to my mentor and cried my heart out. However, she insisted that I go back and try harder. I did and I succeeded and it gave me such pleasure that no other achievement of mine could stand in front of it.

I’ve had my share of disappointments as well, but in this field one success is worth tens of disappointments.

While the desire to contribute more grew, time was limited and that’s what triggered the change. From a part-time volunteer, I became a full time volunteer with save the children and then a full time employee with iVolunteer, where I get to manage and interact with volunteers from different walks of life eager to give their time and skills to change lives. Along with ensuring that their skills are best utilised, I am back to part time volunteering again!

PS: I’m sharing this post for the alternative’s Bucket-a-hope campaign.  Grab your “bucket”, fill it with hope and share your giving story with

Categories: around us, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: