When mothers become change makers

A group of women of Gutung village in Golaghat district of Assam have formed a Mothers’ Committee to monitor the activities of the primary school in their village. Over a period of time, they have evolved themselves into change makers, and helped the community as well.

“In our village we would see many of the children playing without attending the school. When we asked them the reason, they would say that they don’t like going to school. Also many times we saw that the teachers were not coming regularly. We as a community members wanted to do something to put an end to this” said Deepa Loying Doley, a resident of Gutung village.

In the year 2009, Aide et Action South Asia in partnership with North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS), started a project for Mishing Community in Assam. Gutung village was among the many villages where the project was operational. As part of the project, a Mothers’ committee was formed with the mothers of the children attending the school. The committee’s objective was to oversee the operation of the school on a daily basis. The members were trained on several aspects related to monitoring the attendance and personal hygiene of the students.

“If a child is irregular to school, we will get to know through the attendance register checked by us every day in the morning. We try to enquire from other children if the child is ill. If the reasons are different, we would visit the child’s house and talk to the child along with their parents. We would council them about the value of education and how education is important for every person. We try to explain that one needs education even if they become farmers.” said a visibly proud Deepa who feels elated that they are able to influence and convince the community to send their children to the school regularly.

The committee counselling a child and his mother.

The mothers’ committee also ensures that the teachers are punctual to the school. If they are late or absent, the committee members seek explanation from the teacher. If the reason for their absence or late coming is genuine and the teacher informs them in advance, few of the committee members who are +2 pass outs take classes for the students. Meanwhile the other committee members will help in other activities like cutting vegetables, washing utensils for the mid-day meal preparation, watering the school garden, cleaning the premises etc.

Apart from the regular activities, it is interesting to note that the committee is very active in encouraging children to take part in various cultural activities through the Child Club. “We try to inculcate knowledge about our Mishing (tribe) culture in the children. Every saturday, we organize cultural programmes where we encourage the children to perform dance and sing songs. We also share with them knowledge about handicrafts, handloom weaving and food practices. We invite our village elders to our sessions where they share folk stories, agricultural practices, history of the village etc.,” said Kalpana Pegu, a member of the committee. The children are also taken to the nearby forest on a regular basis and are introduced to many medicinal plants.

The weekly cultural event organized at the school.

When the committee noticed that the children in a locality are facing difficulty to study at night to due lack of electricity, they took the issue with the electricity department and ensured that electricity poles are erected and connections are sanctioned.

The formation of the mothers’ committee is not only helping in access to quality education of the children in the village but also the community. They created awareness within the community to gain access to various health and social entitlements. “We often meet our Panchayat president and other government officials taking up the issues related to the school. In this process, we came to know that there are many government schemes for the poor. So we try to help the community members in need of any such services” said Hunuti Doley, a member of the committee who recently got elected as the village panchayat vice-president. She completely attributes her political entry to the committee.

Chandra Kiran Katta, Manager – Communication, Aide et Action International South Asia.

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Innovation and brand identity: key to economic growth and development of a country

Innovation and brand identity: key to economic growth and development of a country

Innovation and niche identity is essential for development as it is a driver of economic growth. The identity based on niche areas of any company adds to its brand value and helps in economic gains in a competitive market.A systematic approach with longer term view to promote innovation and identity (brand) is also the way for overall development of countries like Sri Lanka. It is very important for the countries that are emerging economies or fast catching up to reach the middle-income country status. However, a robust institutional framework and well thought out policies would be required to promote innovation and brand- both in public and private sectors. The opportunities could be best captured for our advantage, if we do not wait for the best policies and institutional frameworks to come up; and instead of that immediately start taking up critical actions that promote innovation and identity.

In this context, it will be useful to have a look at the Innovation Strategy of OECD members (2015), which has been developed to promote a set of policy priorities that also apply to emerging and developing countries. These include: framework conditions that encourage entrepreneurship and the mobility of factors on all markets; openness to trade as global networks of innovation emerge; public and private investment in human capital, R&D and other intangibles. These principles need to be applied in ways which accommodate the different prevailing conditions of emerging and developing countries to support innovation in these economies.

While all the areas of OECD Innovation Strategy require time and financial investment, development of human capital and encouraging entrepreneurship are the areas that require least investment with most returns. The investment in human capital development also provides lasting results with respect to promotion of innovation and brand strengthening.

Innovations are extremely important to build-up niche competencies i.e. growth/ exports in sectors of comparative advantage, for example, Colombian and Ecuadorian flower industry and Malaysia’s palm oil sector. Innovations are also needed for inclusive growth where low- and middle-income households can improve access to business opportunities, for example, mobile banking services, and micro-credit provisions to promote entrepreneurship.

Some of the policy priorities (of OECD members) depend on many external factors,however, encouraging entrepreneurship and investment to develop human capital could be largely achieved through internal resources and political foresightedness. In this context, it is important to understand that at the top leadership level of industries there is capability of and consciousness towards innovation and identity, however, it would be important to develop a critical mass of professionals in the country at the middle management levels. These middle management level professionals, along with practicing innovations, could also provide required mentorship to upcoming young professionals at the entry level in any industry.

It is important to note here that in Sri Lanka,Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) under the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training is making huge efforts to incorporate strong soft-skills including innovative approaches, creative and critical thinking and strong communication and inter-personal skills in its curriculum and training programs. This will create an innovative and brand conscious professional workforce at the bottom of the pyramid of any industry or enterprise. However, the young professionals with vocational training would require constant mentoring to effectively imbibe and sustain the culture of innovative practices. These entry level professionals would also require support to connect with larger global industry environment to understand the innovations taking place at the international level. Hence, it is extremely important to develop innovation and brand sensitive human capital at the higher level of hierarchy in our manufacturing and service sector industries. The largest gap has been identified in the middle and higher-middle level management, which is crucial to promote innovation and brand of any company.

Aide et Action International, an international NGO working in Sri Lanka since 2005, has identified this gap through its work on vocational education program for underprivileged youth. It’s vocational education program that has trained more than 200,000 youth in South Asia (Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Bhutan) in past 10 years has given very impressive results of 76% placement rate. However, it has also identified the need for handholding support for these entry level professionals, particularly to strengthen their capabilities in soft-skills areas such as innovation and identity, communication and inter-personal skills, and team work and leadership. The best institutional mechanism to provide such support is through a middle management level workforce that is prepared to take forward innovation and brand objectives of her/ his company and provide necessary mentorship to entry level professionals in this regard.

Keeping this need in mind, Aide et Action International has recently launched a program to develop innovation and brand development capabilities of middle management level professionals of public and private sector companies in Sri Lanka. This is primarily with the objective to systematically develop a professional workforce at that level to regularly provide support to the entry level professionals in an active work environment. This will develop comprehensive capabilities at all levels of a company to promote an environment for quality innovations and sustained brand building.

Growth and wellbeing
As a broader policy, innovation helps to drive economic growth in the challenging socio-economic conditions. Many growth-enhancing innovations also address social challenges. For example, poverty-related effects can substantially influence opportunities for engaging in entrepreneurial activities (e.g. ill health reduces the potential productivity of workers), so that addressing social challenges can also encourage growth processes. In India’s Green Revolution of the 1960s, innovation led to the introduction of high-yield varieties and seeds and increased use of fertilisers and irrigation and this resulted in a substantial increase in grain production. This not only raised agricultural productivity but also directly addresses food scarcity among the country’s poor. In spite of its demonstrated benefits for meeting the immediate and long-term developmental goals of emerging and developing countries, the relevance of innovation for these economies is sometimes questioned. Such thinking is often based on a narrow view of innovation as high-technology. It is true that an exclusive focus on high-technology industries (“high-tech myopia”) can be costly if the potential for innovation in other sectors is ignored. Countries can incur high costs without reaping any benefits if they choose sectors that require expertise they lack and are internationally highly competitive.

One of the important lessons of the past two decades has been the pivotal role of innovation in economic development. The build-up of innovation capacities has played a central role in the growth dynamics of successful developing countries. These countries have recognised that innovation is not just about high-technology products and that innovation capacity has to be built early in the development process in order to possess the learning capacities that will allow “catch up” to happen. They also need innovation capacity and local innovations to address challenges specific to their local contexts (e.g. tropical diseases). Ultimately a successful development strategy has to build extensive innovation capacities to foster growth. While innovation is important at all stages of development, different types of innovation play different roles at various stages. In earlier stages, incremental innovation is often associated with the adoption of foreign technology, and social innovation can improve the effectiveness of business and public services. High-technology R&D-based innovation matters at later stages of development, when it is both a factor of competitiveness and of learning (which allows for completing the “catch-up” process).

Other factors that promote

Innovation
There is evidence that R&D played a key role in the take-off of Asian economies such as China, India and Korea. What is more, many emerging economies have industries or firms that are at the technology frontier and need to innovate to compete.
Mainly for emerging economies and middle income countries it is important to climb the value ladder in global value chains. Some of the classic examples are the automotive industry in Malaysia amd India’s software industry.

Apart from R&D, growth of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) accelerates development and sharing of innovation and brands of a company or industry. ICTs are a key channel for the transfer of ideas as they extend reach to remote locations and previously marginalized people/groups. They can be essential for enabling to start off innovation processes as new ideas are disseminated more widely and put to new uses. ICTs themselves offer many opportunities for innovation.

Initiatives to promote innovation
Sri Lanka’s first National Summit on ‘Foresight and Innovation for Sustainable Development’ in May 2016, organised by UNDP and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, was an important initiative to promote innovation and identity for better economic growth and social development. This two-day summit focussed on starting a national dialogue on the importance of foresight and innovation as a value addition to traditional development planning to achieve sustainable human development and the 2030 development agenda.

Aide et Action International, with its understanding of needs and aspirations of youth trained for vocational education and currently employed in various industries, has embarked on an ambitious program to develop innovation and brand consciousness with appropriate skills among the middle management level professionals, who could then provide sustained mentorship to entry level professionals trained by Aide et Action International and various other private and public institutions like Vocational Training Authority (VTA) and National Apprentice & Industrial Training Authority (NAITA). Aide et Action has conducted one such workshops in Colombo and plans to have more workshops on innovation and brand solutions that would be facilitated by international experts who will bring in global knowledge and expertise to Sri Lanka. In this series, three one-day workshops are planned on 19th, 20th and 22nd October 2016, which will be facilitated by Mr.Sanjeev Kotnala, a senior expert from India.

Ravi Pratap Singh, Regional Director, Aide et Action International South Asia.
The article originally was published in The Island, Srilankan News paper. Click here to read

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Voting rights to internal migrant workers

Voting rights to internal migrant workers

In the month of July 2015, Hearing a petition to provide voting rights to Non Resident Indian which the Government of India has already agreed to bring out legislation for granting the voting rights of NRIs. Further, the Central Government in its reply also has informed the Apex Court for drafting a law to make provision for postal ballots for internal migrant’s workers in India.

A bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra and Amitave Roy was hearing a petition for extending the postal voting rights to NRI being filed by one Mr. Nagender Chindam and Mr. Samsheer VP both are NRIs.

The Election Commision, earlier did not favour extending the same benefit to migrants in the country. ” Scheme of the Representation of Peoples Act is that a person can be enrolled only at the place where he is ordinarily resident, the question of any person migrating to a different place from his native place, enrolling himself in the electoral roll of his native place does not arise, the poll panel had said in an affidavit.

However, during the July 2015 hearing, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) PL Narasimha, who was representing the central government, told the court that a committee to consider such a law has already been set up and is expected to submit a report by September 15 after advocate Prashant Bhushan suggested that the government should consider extending the facility to the country’s migrant population. The bench added that the Election Commission was considering such a law.

Voting rights for the migrants was voiced in this blogspot earlier and it is a welcome step that millions of migrant workers in India who are being excluded from exercising their democratic rights to vote will now be considered to cast their right to vote even if they are away from their native constituency. It is also hearting to know that the petition which was argued to provide voting rights for the overseas NRIs is also being extended to give the same privilege and rights to the internal migrants.

It will be a historic day when the law will allow the poor, disadvantage unorganized migrant workers will equally participate in the democratic governance of the country.

Umi Daniel is a noted activist on the issues of migration and is heading the Migration Information Resource Center, Aide et Action South Asia.
The post was originally published in Odisamigration.blogspot.com

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Drought, destitution and distress migration

Drought, destitution and distress migration

Half of the 688 districts in India today are reeling under the extreme situation of drought. Some of the regions, particularly the western part of India has been consecutively experiencing drought but during 2016 the intensity of drought has become more severe and widespread. Odisha has a long history of drought and this year too it is under the firing line of the nature and facing drought with varied degree of impact and intensity. According to the government of Odisha, out of the 30 districts in Odisha, 28 districts have been affected by drought. Of late, the Government of India has released Rs. 276.54 crores as drought assistance. It is alleged that, the Govt. of India’s release of drought assistance is much less against its commitment of Rs. 815 crores.

All including the IMD predicted a deficient and low rainfall during 2015. The farmers and the people on the ground were all aware about the situations and started their own contingency plans to face yet another drought. Nonetheless, in India the administrative ritual is quite cumbersome and hasn’t transformed since the days of British Raj on drought management. The colonial process of the district collectors’ crop cutting report is considered as significant administrative paraphernalia to announce drought or deny drought in a particular geographical area. Once the ground assessment is done, another high level bureaucratic exercise is conducted by the central government and based on their field report the drought assistance is determined. The sequence of events for declaring drought and initiating relief work hang back hugely and fail to address the immediate and most vital human sufferings and effects like distress and mass migration. This is because, in the absence of timely administrative action to generate rural employment and contingency plan on provision for agriculture, irrigation and drinking water force the vulnerable and poor people to move to urban areas for employment and survival. And thus, along with landless agriculture workers, due to crop failure, the debt ridden farmers also join the bandwagon of wage seeker migrants. While drought is bane for poor people, it is boon time for labour traffickers and middleman who earns good dividends due to sudden spurt in men, women and children predisposed to work as migrant labourers.

India has got a long history of implementation of drought relief programmes and particularly wage employment schemes during drought. The Maharashtra state employment guarantee programme of 70’s was one of the successful drought relief mass employment generation programme ever implemented in India. India had in the past formulated string of rural employment generation programmes, however the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2005 (MGNREGA) was considered as a historic and ambitious rural employment generation programme to combat rural unemployment, distress, rejuvenate natural resources and create permanent and productive assets for poverty alleviation.

In view of the drought situation, the Central government has increased the number of days under MGNREGA from 100 to 150 in all the drought prone regions. The Government of Odisha has added another 50 days and made it 200 days employment for all the drought prone districts. However, the enhanced employment days under MGNREGA so far has failed to deliver on the ground. In a calamity situation, people will not wait for all the trumpet beat and declaration of additional days of employment under MGNREGA. It is quite visible that, the people on the ground are slowly losing faith on MGNREGA due its poor deliverables. After half a decade of its formulation and implementation, MGNREGA is today marred with lot of structural problems, failed and unsuccessful experiments, corruption and is struggling to reach out to at least 25% of its registered job seekers with 100 full days of employment. In Odisha a massive 66 lakhs people have registered for employment under the MGNREGA, unfortunately it could only provide 100 days of employment to less than 1 lakh people.

In India, the days of food for work, calamity relief work, fodder schemes and emergency feeding programmes are more or less being phased out or are in transition. Despite having loopholes in these emergency programmes, some programmes such as food for work, emergency water supply, adaptable agriculture, fodder for the cattle and emergency feeding for the destitute in the past have greatly benefited the people to reduce vulnerability and confronting the affects of natural calamities.

In 2009, India launched its National Policy on Disaster Management with a vision to build a safe and disaster resilient India. The policy aims to develop a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster oriented and technology driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response. However, the capacity, knowledge, skills and infusing timely and appropriate budget for both short term and long term planning is lacking. The National Climate Change Action plan and the state plan of action on climate change needs to be implemented on a priority basis to create a resilience community to combat drought and vulnerability. There should be a paradigm shift in managing drought in India. The flagship MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act (NFSA) has got much needed ingredient to provide relief as well as long term solutions on drought Mitigation. While the Food Security Act will prevent hunger and destitution, MGNREGA need to be made more receptive and accountable to create durable assets for agriculture, land & water conservation, forestry and should be proactive in providing employment and timely wages to check distress migration.

Umi Daniel is a noted activist on the issues of migration and is heading the Migration Information Resource Center, Aide et Action South Asia.
The post was originally published in Odisamigration.blogspot.com

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Ensuring school readiness to young migrants

Ensuring school readiness to young migrants

I get lunch at the Centre which is very good in taste. I get to play with my teachers and friends. I like to come to the center daily,” says six years old Jama Majhi. She is one among 1749 children who attend the Child Care & Learning Centers started for the benefit of children of migrant workers in four cities of India -Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. The project is being implemented by Migration Information & Resource Centre, AEAI with support from Bernard van Leer Foundation.

aide-blog-2The objective behind opening the centers is to promote and ensure school readiness for young migrants particularly in the age group of 3-6 years and create better living conditions for them in the worksites. The project also aims at creating linkages so that migrant children (0-6 yrs), pregnant women & lactating mothers can access nutrition, health and education programmes run by the government.

Children with volunteers in CCL Center in Bhubaneshwar in sending their children to the center after properly dressing them. Initiation of the CCLCs has brought in holistic development in migrant children. The volunteers make use of the teaching learning materials to teach the children based on their game of thrones season 7 knowledge levels. These TLM include posters, short story books, slate, drawing materials, colors etc.

Special focus is laid on improving the cognitive and motor skills among the children by encouraging them to play with toys and games. “I feel happy when my children sing songs and dance. We are very happy” a mother says joyfully. Also, the CCLCs have been painted with child friendly artworks so as to make the ambiance attractive for the children.

Activities performed by children are often documented by the facilitators and are shown to the mothers during the Mothers Committee meetings. This makes the mothers realize the importance of their children attending the center and motivate other mothers to send their children to the centers.

The uniqueness of the project lies in witnessing the positive transformation of the children in just six months. Children have gained confidence to speak up, share their thoughts, sing, dance, act etc. Few among them have even taken lead in practicing cleanliness and keeping the centre clean.

On the other end, it is observed that exploitation of migrants has reduced to a large extent in the places where Aide et Action has been working. The owners of the brick kilns and construction sites have been proactively supporting the project by way of providing safe space for the construction of the CCLCs and basic amenities like drinking water, electricity etc.

Story : Chandra Kiran Katta, Communication Manager, Aide et Action South Asia

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Educate Girl Child, Educate Nation

From the past three years, the girl child enrollment is increasing and slowly school drop outs are coming back to schools says Bijaya Kumar Sethi, block development officer (BDO), Nabarangpur district, Odisha.

Aide et Action South Asia on the occasion of ‘National Girl Child Day of India’, presents you a inspiring tale of tribal girl child, a native of Jharigaon block, Nabarangpur district, Odisha.

Bhavani Majhi (14) is the eldest among three girl children in the family, studying in Sixth class. However, her younger sister Uvaasi Majhi (13), is a Ninth standard student in the same school.

The stark educational difference between these siblings is attributed to the fact that the older child of the family was involved in sibling care and household chores in the house.

Khem Singh Majhi (35), father of Bhavani says, “We are daily wage laborers depending on petty works to get our meals. Having three children in the home, we felt Bhavani can take responsibility of her sisters and help in household chores when we leave to work”.

Sibling care and household chores are the primary roles for tribal girl children and one of the main reasons for highest school dropout ratio at primary level education in Nabarangpur district.

The literacy rate for tribal girl children is around 6% in 10 Gram Panchayats (GPs) including Chittabeda, Gurusingha, Kutrichhappar, Banauguda, Telnadigaon, Ekamaba, Phupugam, Palia, Chaklapadagr, Badtemra in Jharigaon block according to Bijaya Kumar Sethi, block development officer (BDO) for A, B, D, O blocks.

It is only after Aide et Action South Asia in association with JOCHNICK foundation initiated “Aamar Nani” (which means our girl) project (2011) in these 10 Gram Panchayats (GPs) that a major transformation has been brought about among the tribal communities.

Aamar Nani project was able to improve access, assimilation and retention of the tribal girl children of communities in the primary education system with the help of various committees including child clubs, star clubs (a program that focuses on the talents of children), animators (motivating parents to send children to school), Aamar nani committees ensuring strong monitoring on the implementation of the Right to Education in the project areas, strengthening the institutional capacities of the local CBOs, PTA’s, School Management Committees (SMC’s) and Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI).

In the case of Bhavani, the animator, Bimala Harijan’s motivation helped her get re-enrolled in the school. “Bimala didi (sister) counseled us and explained the benefits of what a girl child can do with the help of education”, says Rukmini Majhi, mother of Bhavani.

Teaching Learning Materials (TLM) provided by teachers and animators helped Bhavani regain her confidence. “I will become a police officer and give strict punishment to those men who harass their households after consuming alcohol”, she says, talking about her life’s aim.

Story : Amoga Laxmi Sukka, Communication Officer, Aide et Action South Asia

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