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Charting a sustainable path towards development through community participation

As part of its CSR services, Samhita Social Ventures undertakes community needs assessment for companies to align the expectations and intentions of the company with priorities identified by the community that it seeks to benefit as a key stakeholder. This is accomplished by conducting door-to-door surveys, interviews with key informants in the village (such as sarpanch, asha worker, aanganwadi workers) and focused group discussions with the residents.

Through our intense and in-depth interaction with communities across the country, we have realized that community participation and acceptance are critical in ensuring the success of CSR programs. While the theoretical discourse on development has always acknowledged the importance of participatory approach (you may have heard of Robert Chambers and Paulo Freier), this takes on a pragmatic connotation for companies beginning to think about CSR in India.

Our work has shown that the aim should be to address social implications of corporate activities by securing community participation in decision-making and consideration of local knowledge and the environment. The community should drive and own these initiatives. Any tendency to superimpose or force CSR or other development initiatives top-down on communities could be disastrous.

So for example, during one such assessment in two clusters of Vadodara District, Gujarat it was observed that 87% people defecate openly every day. While reducing open defecation is a national and international priority, it was most interesting to note that communities in one cluster did not perceive it to be an issue. The assessment found that these communities defecated in the open not only because of the unavailability of toilets but due to low awareness of the potential health hazards, internalized behavior, accustomed practice, perception of high costs of maintaining and constructing toilets, caste based differences in terms of maintenance and cleaning, etc. It was seen that these communities appeared resistant to using toilets because of all these reasons. In this context, CSR initiatives of companies to set-up toilets for such communities to eliminate open defecation, disregarding the voices of the community, would be futile and bound to fail. The company would have, in effect, spent its funds putting up concrete structures with its branding – not used by anyone and soon falling into a state of disrepair and neglect. In fact, this is a very common sight in many villages dotted across India. One of the ways to then incorporate the community’s views and mitigate the risk of failure would be to start a behavior change communication or campaign on a long term and sustained basis. Another example flows from the needs assessment conducted in northern India. The study revealed rampant usage of traditional fuel for cooking. About 83% of people relied on cow-dung and wood as the means of cooking.  It was obvious to our eyes that this was leading to many respiratory problems among women and also causing indoor pollution. Surprisingly, the women did not seem to be too bothered. When we suggested using smokeless chullahs or stoves, most of them thought it to be flippant. Conversations with these women revealed that they preferred these smoke generating stoves because they believed that it kept the house warm, drove away insects etc. They said that they were accustomed to cooking in this way.  It is anyone’s guess as to what the results of a CSR initiative distributing free smokeless stoves to a community like this would be. Promoting smokeless chulhas in such households becomes challenging unless their beliefs are changed.

A similar reaction was observed in another needs assessment study when a group of women said they did not want personal taps and that they preferred community pumps as it was the only activity that gave them a chance to come out of their houses and socialize with other women.

In conclusion, we opine that CSR initiatives by companies or social developmental activities by NGOs should be planned in a participatory manner, in consultation with the community, literally sitting with them, and gauging their basic needs. We must take recourse to “participatory rural appraisal” and other mapping tools to identify the community needs. This, in turn, results in greater outreach and smoother implementation. And thus, a project is born.

Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE) invites proposals

Deadline: June 13, 2014

The PSIPSE funder collaborative just announced a $13 million call for proposals on secondary education projects supporting students in East Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, and India. The collaborative seeks to identify innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective education models that increase access to secondary education and improve learning outcomes for marginalized populations.  Selected proposals will receive in-country funding to accelerate innovation, link research and evidence with policy reforms, and effectively share learnings with key stakeholders.

The PSIPSE funder collaborative is made up of private donors and donor advisors including: Comic Relief, Dubai Cares, Human Dignity Foundation, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the MasterCard Foundation.

For eligibility criteria and application procedure, please click here.


Highlights of the mandatory CSR provision in the Companies Act, 2013

On February 27, 2014, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs notified the rules for Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013 which pertains to the mandatory CSR provision for companies. The CSR provision will come into effect from April 1, 2014.

As per the provisions of Section 135, a company with a turnover of INR 1,000 crore or more or of a net-worth of INR 500 crore or more or net profit of INR 5 crore or more is required to spend at least 2% of its average net profit of the past three years on CSR activities. Further, the Act provides that if, for any reason, a company is unable to spend 2% of their average net profit on CSR, they are required to explain the reason for not doing the same.

In order to provide clarity on the rules, Samhita Social Ventures has prepared a brief document highlighting the workings and implications of the CSR provision. You can view the document here.

For a more detailed interpretation of the CSR provision by Samhita’s Managing Director Krishnan Neelakantan, click here.

TechCamp Bengaluru – Empowering social sector leaders with the technological resources to make impactful change

Over 50 leaders from the social sector and over 30 technology experts, journalists and university students from across the state of Karnataka came together for TechCamp Bengaluru on February 28, 2014. The event, organized by the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai and Samhita Social Ventures, sought to empower them with new and emerging technology resources to help them solve real world challenges and build digital capacity.

The keynote speech was delivered by Mr. Aravind Sitaraman, the President of Inclusive Growth at Cisco, who is a key proponent of using technology to address the many challenges that society faces. He stressed that technology will help developing nations leapfrog developed countries. However, the real challenge of the day was reaching out to remote areas and ensuring lasting impact in those areas. Speaking on the effective use of technology to maximize impact, he said, ‘Building a technological solution isn’t enough. It is necessary to build an ecosystem around it. To reach the masses, technology must be made keeping in mind computer literacy and local languages.’

The session that followed was a panel discussion on ‘Using Technology Effectively’. The panel was moderated by Ms. Archana Sahay of Cisco and consisted of Mr. Shridhar Venkat, Executive Director at the Akshaya Patra Foundation, Mr. Mahantesh GK, Founder and Managing Trustee of the Samarthanam Foundation, Mr. Gunjan Patel, CSR head at SAP Labs India and Mr. Manickavelu M, Program Director at Mindtree Foundation.

The delegates were then broken up into 4 groups and proceeded to separate sessions with trainers who have expertise in both technology and nonprofits. The themes of the breakout sessions were as follows:

  • Effective Branding & Fundraising conducted by Shrinath V, who has worked with companies such as Nokia and Motorola and is now a product consultant
  • Networking & Data Gathering conducted by Nisha Thompson of DataMeet
  • Crowdsourcing platforms conducted by Sajjad Anwar, a hacktivist and programmer
  • Aggregating & Optimizing Data by Praveen Selvasekaran, founder of SimpleTechLife

The breakout sessions sought to enable participants to engage with technology experts in order to collaborate and find solutions to problems they are trying to address.

The highlight of the day was the address by Ms. Jennifer McIntyre, the Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, who also emphasized on the effective use of digital tools to address social challenges, especially spearheaded by students and youth leaders.

About the TechCamp movement

TechCamp Bengaluru 2014 is the latest in a series of such technology training camps being conducted across the world as part of former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative. Past camps were conducted in Mumbai as well as in countries like Israel and Kazakhstan. The effort aims to galvanize the technology community across the globe to assist NGOs by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to enable them to harness the latest Information and Communication Technology advances to build their digital capacity.

TechCamps bring together technologists and CSOs in a particular country or region to brainstorm on challenges they currently face in their communities. These groups work together to develop real time solutions to address these challenges. After a TechCamp event is over and problems have been identified, CSOs are connected to global networks of technologists, sponsors and digital volunteers interested in helping implement solutions.

Samhita’s role in TechCamp Bengaluru

Samhita was a key organizer of TechCamp Mumbai 2013 along with the U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai. Furthering their link with TechCamp, Samhita joined in as the implementation partner of TechCamp Bengaluru. Samhita had the responsibility of identifying NGOs, conceptualizing the event, identifying technological solutions for various challenges that social organizations face, as well as overall outreach and managing the event.