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Local Empowerment

 

The relevance of local response to economic development needs of a community has increased in recent times, what with climate change and issues of food and water security developing hitherto unexpected dimensions. A local community which through its governance and participation structures is able to generate employment, stimulate local production and ensure the well being of the most vulnerable of its people would become a role model of inclusive growth. The confluence of Kudumbashree’s community structure with local governance provides the ingredients for the development of just such a model of local economic development.

Kudumbashree developed its form almost simultaneously with the Peoples’ Plan Campaign, which saw the placement of the organization in the heart of the decentralized governance systems. The structure of the community based organisation itself portends of both the potential strengths and challenges inherent in contextualizing it in the local self government.

The decentralized planning guidelines gives the CDS representation in all working groups of the local government. The core objectives of the Peoples’ Plan as enunciated in the eleventh five year plan guidelines are the revitalization of agriculture and promotion of local economic development with improvement in public service delivery with focus on the poor. Separate plans for integrated watershed management, local economic development, governance, integrated ICDS, health, poverty eradication, SC development, tribal development, women development, water supply, energy, connectivity and sports are to be prepared as part of the five year plan. Kudumbashree has a direct stake in most of these sectoral plans, and at least an indirect interest as manifestation of the community need of weaker sections of society.

Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the ADS of the Kudumbashree are already involved in the execution of projects. Community participation in labour intensive projects is an opportunity for the community based organization of Kudumbashree at the grass roots to bring women to the forefront of the local decision making process, and to address concerns of gender equity in participation.

Coming to self employment, it is possible to look at enterprises from three angles – one, of poverty alleviation, two, of local economic development, and three, of enhancing productivity. The perspective that is brought into the plan will influence the focus of the interventions proposed. For instance, a focus on technical aspects of production alone may not address commercial aspects of marketability of produce, and a business angle may overlook the poverty dimensions that can make seemingly viable enterprise opportunities non starters. The challenge in an integrated approach would be to bring in all three perspectives in adequate measure.

This is where the Samagra approach adopted by Kudumbashree becomes relevant. This approach is product or occupation specific, in that it looks to bring in all backward and forward linkages related to technical components, business planning and capacitation support together on one platform as an integrated project. Intense facilitation by supporting agencies is required, and the leadership on the local self governments in holding the project together and in coordinating the various departmental and other stake holders is crucial for the success of the project. The space of Kudumbashree network is as beneficiary, participant and manager – the space of the poverty eradication mission is as facilitator. Samagra is precisely the kind of project where the detailed planning framework of the five year plan becomes relevant. It is concerned with the participation not only of the grama panchayat, but also of the higher tiers of the block and district, whose involvement and contribution are of immense significance to the scope and success of the project.

The experience with government sponsored micro enterprises has accentuated the need for leadership at the local level to take on the challenges faced by micro enterprises in their battle for sustenance. Integration of subsidy support with training, technology upgradation, market intervention support, procurement support, quality improvement and standard setting are necessary for survival and enhanced returns from the enterprise, while reducing the risks borne by the individual entrepreneur to the minimum. These could only be done at the local level, under the leadership of local governments. State agencies at best could provide professional support and facilitation for product standardization and development of protocols, associating technical organizations for quality upgradation, and exploring larger market opportunities. Kudumbashree has been involved in evolving a responsibility framework for stakeholders at all levels through the learning curve that the implementation of Samagra has been providing.

The day to day facilitation of the enterprise, leveraging trainings, arranging financial support, developing procurement mechanisms, etc are the purview of the local self government. Very often enterprises slip due to the lack of further local level facilitation to overcome teething troubles. Whereas the CDS today plays a role in facilitating these enterprises, it is only befitting that the LSG with its greater human resources, devotes time, energy and said resources, to the continued support of enterprises within its purview.

Convergence does not mean convergence of government linked resources alone. A local economic development strategy would look at matching community need for work with a local economy’s capability of absorption of work, as well as with the need for services and goods. For this there would need to be an assessment, both of the need for employment, and the nature of employment that is feasible, as well as of the scope for provision of goods and services within a local community. For both the initiative needs to be generated locally. The demand led CDS action plans which try to encapsulate the thrift and credit, farming, enterprise development and wage employment needs of the network are certainly a sounding board for the LSG to undertake local economic development planning to a higher level than is presently being undertaken, and to attempt to have a far more integrated view of the needs of such development, calling for convergence of resources of both departments and civil society organizations/individuals.

Kudumbashree has a role to play in facilitating local economic development that pertains to identification of the constraints and challenges facing a particular micro enterprise, resolution of interpersonal issues that crop up in group enterprises, facilitation of bank linkages, following repayment patterns, assessing training needs etc. This is not a role that can be played out in isolation. It requires constant support and redressal on the part of the LSG for effective facilitation.

The strength of the community based organization is the strength of its network – the lakhs of women who meet weekly to disburse thrift and credit. It is already seen that less than 10 % of these women are taken up with economic activity beyond thrift and credit. Mobilising them and their families into viable economic activity would first require strengthening of the thrift and credit mechanism. It is through the network that the clarion call for enhanced economic participation is to reach the community. It is this network that has to develop the necessary gender ‘muscle’ to be able to take gender dimensions into the core of policy planning and governance at the local level. There has to be a reworking of roles and responsibilities all round for the LSGs to be able to meaningfully take on the myriad functions pertaining to local economic development and for formulating and executing projects that will make a sizeable contribution to improving the quality of life of the people they serve. The evaluation committee of the CDS under he leadership of the Panchayat President/ Municipal Chairperson is envisaged as the forum where this convergence can be brought about.

It is the mission of the Kudumbashree programme to strengthen both local governments and the women’s community network to take on these challenges and develop their own unique, sustaining model of local economic development.