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Statutory Warning

This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

Monday, April 20, 2015

Of Reading and Documentation in Development Sector

In every field of endeavor, the one who reaches the pinnacle will be found to have built upon the knowledge and experience of someone who preceded him. People in development sector feel obliged to submit report to donor organization with complete focus on grants.There are suggestions from the expensive government project reports that end up just gathering dust on a shelf in India. Thousands, of reports on policy, poverty and development issues are released each year world wide. A lot of recommendations, solutions and findings are keep on piling in a PDF version. The citation of paper doesn't imply that it has been read. Even the reader looked only at downloads and citations to gauge the use of these report. The key question that comes in mind: Who will ever read them?

Even world bank is pondering over this question (Which World Bank reports are widely read ?) Recent findings suggest my fears:

The researchers contribute to their discipline's knowledge with the deep optimism of shaping decision making ability of the practitioners. However, practitioners very rarely read articles published in peer-reviewed journals. One of the ironies of development sector has been that researchers have envied practitioners and practitioners have undermined the academia. Practitioners label reports as long, boring, incomprehensible jargon and full of technical language.

Knowledge sharing takes place in many different settings—through seminars, presentations, & blogs. The slow pace and complexity of poverty, gender and development meant that the blog is more for enthusiasts and casual readers. In the eyes of detractors, such trend leads to the the art of reading the superficial books and blogs. But we must look for a long term vision and expanding the base of readers. The popular and easy will boost people's reading list, among many of whom are working with limited knowledge even with high literacy levels. These readers can gradually move towards domain oriented journals. Journals are essentials but have limited ability for the academia to engage people with all types of opinion ranging from stupid to innovative. There is an urgent need to promote new ways to increase impact and spread of the knowledge.

Why don't we see more books/films/blogs like this coming out of development? They do exist; we just have to seek them out and make them available for more than handful of readers. Practical knowledge is interdisciplinary, not confined to narrow pockets of domain. There is an open-access movement in access of journals that will allow practitioners from reading and understanding them. Through books, op-ed and blogs, there can be reach to a wider set of practitioners, journalists, citizens, students, entrepreneurs, civil society experts and other development actors. Even the most talented thinkers have to reach masses for shaping future's public debates or influencing policies. A good idea need to see the light of day. Only the eloquence and wisdom of the author's passion in writing can lead to the compelling reach of such idea for mass audience.

Still and all, most books published in the private market have few readers, most music fails to reach an audience, and most movies fail. Any popular medium of spreading knowledge like blog is no exception of this rule. However, marvelous an idea may be – cannot, on their own change very much the widespread believes. Working in isolation strongly holds back progressive causes and the effectiveness of enlightened minds and seasoned practitioners.

I have written a brief ;list of books and list of movies for spreading of basic ideas to all rather than tiny size of the intended audience. One can look for Understanding Economic Development Reading List by Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, Arvind Subramanian. Suggested Blogs for those who are still interested :

Organizations : World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Oxfam, CGAP , IFMR.
Academician : Illa Patnaik, Swaminomics, Ajay Shah. Tyler Cowen.
Practitioners :  Arvind Kumar, PMRDF.
Magazines : Down to Earth, India Together .

Friday, April 10, 2015

Naive Advices to Rural Manager

Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning. --- Mahatma Gandhi

I am driven by personal ambition and not selfless heroism. I look for perpetual returns with a field work backing up degree in rural management. Few Rural Managers work towards the development of the rural folks. One doesn't has to be born and brought up in villages and small towns. Empathy and an open mind will do the job really well.

Trial at the field level is much engagement and full of frustration for any rural manager while it's occurring, and and many can vouch for this. When the task is accomplished, the afterglow does provide a lot of satisfaction. Self Motivation is the key to perform in whatever condition one is placed into. As an rural manager, I learned that the most important thing is to listen and to be willing to re-invent himself. There are 11 pointers taken from the job :

1- Can you listen? No one has managed people by silencing dissent. So, Listen with patience all their complaints, stories and sorrow. That is the most important thing one can do for the people. In this field, one can't solve most of the problems of the people. But listening to the grievances, difficulties with empathy is one compassionate act that can be done by an individual. This part of job is non-glamorous but it is essential.

2- Please demonstrable integrity; Half baked promises will erode the trust and words really spread like the plague. That is why never promise what one can't deliver. Even a person managing the ground force of sales team will agree on this.

3- A man's intelligence can be tested by his ability to explain complex problems in simple terms. Rural Manager must be able to establish communication with target audience by giving examples from their real life and surroundings; I did learn few metaphors such as describing seed capital as a seed of plant and investment as nurturing tree. Simple example makes sense and attracts attention rather than pouring of bookish knowledge.

4- Go Vernacular, Become “Unprofessional” in interaction with people. Most of us can become functionally able of speaking/listening a new language but rarely are those who are intellectually and emotionally excel in new language. It is better to live with the community for a brief period of time. And, one should never presume to lecture people about the choices they make. They make that choice with a lot of thought.

5- Have a Positive Attitude and communicate daily with your mentor and seniors. It is not necessary to like the people, but you must learn to enjoy the interaction itself. It is necessary to behave calmly and reply on the merit of comment not be overshadowed prestige of the person.  Hence, oft-heard "that's the way I do work" is simply not good to survive in this field. There is need of agile mind and quick action in every task performed.

6-  Few times, we have a tendency to dismiss or marginalize people we don’t understand. To live and work in rural areas requires special qualities: open dialogue, an interest in culture, a sense of curiosity and an immense energy. Baggage of degree from premier institute holds no good here. Basic knowledge of festivals, songs, taboos i.e. local culture will be a great asset and often can be used to break the ice between strangers (mostly women) at the field. It is needless to emphasize upon to be gender & caste sensitive.

7- I always assume that knowledge will always help in seeing the broader prospective. One must always know in detail the relationships among agro-climatic conditions, natural resources, production systems, markets and livelihoods of rural people. Theoretically valid ideas taught in close classrooms might not be implemented exactly as planned and that practices that worked well in one region might not be replicated to other domains. Even one is well versed with a degree, expanding into areas where they have no competence, do harm, not good. Don't confuse ignorance with originality

8- Leadership happens when people grow and develop under you. Give credit where it is deserved; a public acknowledgement wins more faith rather than monetary compensation. Any leadership with underdeveloped teams lack strong internal sounding individuals for ideas and concerns. In order to succeed, one must be given a chance to fail. That can one do for helping the subordinates.

9- Respect is something, a rural manager has to have. Preach what you practice. Example is little controversial but never drink in public and then lecture about ban on alcohol. Wrong person however close need not to be defended, sympathized with and passed over in silence. It will lead to conflicts whose resolution depends only on your respect as neutral. Unless one is just without becoming aggressive and dominant to every body, one will never gain respect.

10- Don't watch the trees too closely, you will miss seeing the forest; One must not work in haste in drawing conclusion on seeing few individuals, lookout for the ecosystem which nourishes/exploits them. Simply, it means so involved with the details of a situation that he loses sight of the larger issue. The reverse may also happen true where one can't see the trees for the forest. It is also possible to be too broad (macro) when looking at a situation. Never act like top managers who make impossible demands from subordinates. It will only suggest a complete unfamiliarity with the complexities of a project.

11- The best of rural manager is to knew when to be theoretical and when not to be. Education is not just about reading. It also involves observing and wearing down the nonsense through rational responses. The success depend on the capacity for hard work and an enormous interest in meeting people and absorbing whatever they conveyed. It takes a village… to make a rural manager.

The challenge as a rural manager is to develop high level skills through education and on-the-job experience that cannot be outsourced. Am I cut to be a working in rural areas ? If not, I must develop few qualities that can help others. I think that's any rural manager's responsibility really, to make world a better place and to leave the rural India an easier place to work for; to set foundations and guide with advice to upcoming managers and entrepreneurs. Somehow the belief that your work is helping improve someone's life by an iota makes it all worthwhile.But at the end of the day I think job is very simple: to work with the best of our ability, so that to inspire younger generation to excel given standards. Legacy, Career are of utmost important but life is about loving what you do and doing what you love, while gaining fresh pleasure, wisdom and maturity.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

GoI circular on FPO

GoI had issued a circular for Farmers producer organisations (FPOs) on 11th February 2014. As per circular, FPOs may be treated at par with cooperatives and other quasi- governmental institutions providing common service facilities to the farmers/users in Rashtriya Krishi vikas yojana (RKVY). Please check the circular on the government website.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Young Professional @ Odisha Livelihood Mission--- 2

Young Professional (YP) is a short term work opportunity (three years) to experience development and gain exposure to the government operations and policies. Panchayati Raj Department, Odisha is the agency in implementing National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) program delivery and interface in Odisha serving to the marginalized section of the population. While government is always reluctant to share or de-valuate power to community, NRLM has tried to build sustainable community institution at Panchayat level. YPs served the either district or block administration level. In simpler words, YP is just another name of Management Trainee in government agency doing contractual job without any power.

Why I joined Odisha Livelihood Mission?  One can't have the right to voice their disappointments unless one understand the functionality of the government. I have also the appreciation that government as the biggest development agency in India. Hence, it is utmost importance to understand governance in India. Corporate look into so many people as consumers and term them as "Bottom of Pyramid" . In contrast, OLM was trying to build capacity of people without throwing away subsidized schemes.These are few of the many reasons why, I was able to work with the state.

 I always wanted to have balance between theoretical and practical work. It is different to know name of something. A course in rural management is not offering subjects that make their students ‘understand’ the rural people. Even with a bit of knowledge acquired in the college, I was looking for a job as practitioner not professor. I have written in detail on this topic previously Young Professional @ Odisha Livelihood Mission

I worked as YP since April 2013 to January 2014. I had found opportunity of working with the Government and the community jointly. This time span has the good, the bad and the ugly moments. I was able to show true character and talent by taking up the challenge and worked with a zeal to learn.

The Good:

The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness is the amount of help that peers do to each other. A bunch of YPs were no exception of the rules. Our workplace has qualified men and women with diverse professional, academic and cultural backgrounds from educational institutions like TISS, NIRD, IIFM, XIMB, XISS, & KSRM recruited as YPs. Diversity is reflected in our inclusive environment that embraces all sort of values and ideas; The best part was having people who weren't sycophants rooting for their college brand rather than cross-engaging for new collaborations.

I developed decent understanding in Odiya. Rural India has been transformed over the last half-century, the people are more free and filled with aspirations; but the old values continue to extract a toll. What I saw was how significantly social networks influence people’s decision-making. There are people out there who didn't get the option to graduate or study in regional medium alone but have sound knowledge on development. There is also a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard’ is the dimension of being voiceless; I tried to reach out to many people as possible and ask tons of questions. Typically, people don’t like to be questioned, but it is essential to engage with people in a friendly way and listen to them in the field. Its a bit like an investigative journalist checking narratives of the beneficiaries, non- beneficiaries, government officials, & elected representatives. I was also lucky to interact with H.K. Pradhan, a senior faculty member of XLRI spearheading an initiative in Balasore. And yes, there are government officials doing honest work in thank less job.

Ours simple assumptions like simplifying schemes, running awareness campaigns and make the public goods widely available were critically reassessed in the light of new evidences. There is a wide gap between community, market and government - like coordination problems, and inequality in access to power and information. I was able to oversee as an insider working of Indira Awas Yojana, Mo Kudia, Mo Pokhari, MGNREGS, Gramsabha, social audit of government programs, and Panchayat administration. I learned two lessons on public policy and government.

1.Efficiency isn’t always the goal of policy as one has to give attention to social and cultural complexity. Public policy requires fairness, that do not lend to the most efficient policy, but are virtues nonetheless.

2. Government is anything but well-tuned, acting coherently and consistently in pursuit of a well-defined set of objectives, captured by a single social welfare function. Government is a crucible of interest groups, rather than a black box of noble intentions.

The Bad:

It is necessary to get the first step right to reach the solution to the problem. Once the first step incorrect and the entire problem gets way too complicated. The study of the old projects of our government shows more tweaking rather than new design of new programs. Hence, the failure rate of government is utmost high. There was quite low emphasis on Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) job. Too much value was given on old government programs; I have written in detail on this topic : Why Government Schemes Fail? and Why Government Schemes Fail? -2

Even Lord Curzon has complained, "Round and Round like the .... revolutions of the earth goes file after file in the bureaucratic & daily dance, staely, solemn, sure and slow". Guidelines, plans, programs or projects tend to be neatly prepared for submission, but agencies and individuals return to business as usual once it comes to implementation. Meetings are important. that gives part of thought process of various govt department. But in short, there was more time wasted in process than in results.

The Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has established that unfairness is a larger motivator for action than fairness. YPs were assigned different salary even with same job profile that was unfair and issue was pushed down under carpets. It puts the act of cohesion and coordination in jeopardy.

The Ugly:

Appointing consultants on contractual basis, instead of employees on the rolls, is a common practice adopted by companies but most NGOs as well. It is done to evade the responsibility of providing PF benefits which are mandatory under labor law. And, this was done to YPs by an agency working behalf of government department.

The problem isn't that the staff don't contribute, it's that the official who take feedback don't think of themselves as ignorant enough to learn something new in face of new proofs. Even officials are not cold to the problems faced by them but they are more tied in the tight framework of government norms. But, it was indeed an hierarchical institution with less space given to honest feedback as it may undermine the authority and raise questions. Shooting from the hip in presentation is easy way out, but do dig a little deeper people will tell real story on the field. There was more risk aversion than performance in the staff.

Why I left Odisha Livelihood Mission? Personal reason was to work close to home In northern India. Due to being vocal initially, a lot of negative image was build over period of time. Yet, lack of mentor-ship, not clarity on the role and working without powers was frustrating experience to me as professional. Hence, the scope to take any concrete work was quite limited. I am a work in progress and don't want to stifled in starting phase of career. Hence, I shifted to another grass-root organization.


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