Community resource persons are torchbearers of a resurgent countryside

Tribal communities in Jharkhand fear losing their land. (Photo credit: Wasim Raja)
Local tribes protest changes in Jharkhand land laws
April 3, 2017
A moringa crop is ready for harvest at a farm near Rajkot town. (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)
Organic farming for better yields takes wing in Gujarat
April 7, 2017
Human Capital

Community resource persons are torchbearers of a resurgent countryside

The silent revolution of community resource persons fanning out across the country in the past few years to deliver last-mile services needs to be strengthened to bridge the divide between shining and deprived India
Community resource persons are reaching far corners of India to deliver the promise of development. (Photo by Asian Development Bank)

Community resource persons are reaching far corners of India to deliver the promise of development. (Photo by Asian Development Bank)

Beyond news headlines, there are many transformational stories that either go unnoticed or find a scant space in the media. One of the many stories is that of a silent revolution sweeping the country, from east to west and north to south, in hundreds of villages. The champions and torchbearers of this silent revolution are none other than hundreds of community resource persons (CRPs) building foundations of a resurgent countryside.

Over the years, civil society organizations have been struggling with the uncomfortable question of how to reach a large number of citizens in many locations? It is rather a disturbing question since many of the NGOs engage with village communities as a so-called outsider. The NGO professionals come, interact with the village community, work with them but when the deadline of the project is over, most have no option but to wind up their operations or wait for another project to begin. Very few continue to engage with the community in the same area with their own resources.

More than the phasing out of the projects, the fundamental question has been about the community taking charge of its own developmental processes and ownership what in academics is known as agency. Do communities continuously remain in the mode of recipients or is there a way out when they become not just initiators of their developmental agenda but also become torchbearers for other communities outside the geographical boundaries that they belong.

Creative solution

The idea of CRPs is a creative solution that believes that the poor can be the best extension workers for many communities. The idea is not just a theoretical proposition but has been silently practiced over last several years. It is time now to celebrate this success.

In different parts of the country, women from various communities are taking the lead in sharing with other women what development means to them and what it has done to them. The nomenclatures are different but the spirit is the same. In the work of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) with lakhs of women in western India, they are called aagewans (those who lead from the front in Gujarati). The aagewans have reached out to hundreds of villages in Gujarat to spread the message of self-reliance and dignity, a task that SEWA staff on their own could not have done.

The National Rural Livelihood Mission of the Government of India popularized the concept of CRPs who spread the message of organizing women into self-help groups (SHG) of 15 each, organize their training and provide directions in undertaking livelihood activities once enough financial and social capital is accumulated in the SHGs. Hundreds of trained CRPs worked in states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The familiar sight of accredited social health activists (ASHAs) and anganwadi (day care center) workers is another manifestation of the village-based professional spreading the messages of better nutrition and health practices among mothers and young children.

Opening new frontiers

But the work of CRPs is not just limited to forming women’s groups and or motivating them to adopt saving or better health behaviors. Hundreds of women are now venturing into territories that were otherwise seen as taboo and or male bastions. The pashusakhis of UMED, Maharashtra’s Rural Livelihood Mission, are village-based veterinary professionals, all women, trained by a professional agency, the Goat Trust in Lucknow. These pashusakhis, 500 of them, are village-based veterinary caretakers. They are selected from the community, trained intensively in the task and placed within the same community they hail from.

Then there are krishisakhis, the women in agriculture who are spreading message of sustainable agriculture. They have got training in using video cameras, have recorded better agricultural practices and then have moved to share their practices using small Pico projectors to neighboring villages to spread awareness. There are innumerable stories of women accountants and auditors in villages, meticulously auditing transactions, keeping tabs on loan repayment and so on. Not to lag behind, they are using android and computer tablet applications to perform the tasks efficiently (See: Tablet girls of Jharkhand storm digital bastion). Recently, UMED trained more than 50 matsyasakhis, women resource persons to improve livelihoods in inland fisheries. There are similar initiatives across the country.

The contribution of these silent professionals has been manifold. Firstly, they have ensured last-mile connectivity. There are scores of instances where CRPs have travelled to far corners of Telengana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir as a part of the National Rural Livelihood Mission. This was unheard of a few years ago. The CRPs, with their sheer hard work, dedication and self-experience, persuaded local women to join in the SHG movement, form groups, start savings and begin a journey of self-development.

High credibility

Secondly, the fact that a woman is sharing her life story with another woman has brought credibility to the process of development. In Maharashtra, more than 100 women (vardhinis) travelled from Wardha district in the east to Ratnagiri on the west coast to share the messages of the livelihood mission. Who else can be more credible than a Chhattisgarh woman telling her neighboring villagers the benefits of improved rice cultivation as propagated through the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)? No wonder the SRI revolution has caught up the imagination of farmers across the central India that has led to significant improvement in productivity and reduction in costs.

Thirdly and most importantly, the CRP movement has broken the barriers imposed by the stereotypes and patriarchal beliefs long cherished by the society. Why can’t a village woman use software to calculate the interest spread and portfolio at risk (PAR) on the loan that is outstanding for her federation? Why cannot a woman tell the difference between organic farming practices? Why cannot a woman do measurement of a toilet under construction and issue work orders? There are innumerable examples that illustrate the breaking of the norms that prevented girls and women from performing tasks that are considered to be only men’s prerogative.

Our responsibility

What can we do to strengthen this silent revolution? We can do several things to sustain the momentum that has begun all over the country. The CRPs and their contribution need to be recognized. Their work and participation need to be seen with appreciation. They are performing a herculean task in their local context and that deserves a certain reward. The least we can do is to label them as barefoot paraprofessionals. Accord them the dignity that they deserve.

Lastly, they are not just CRPs. If the country has to bridge the divide between shining and deprived India, the community resource persons are the country’s resource persons. These are our most critical human capacity ushering in changes in all parts of the country, at the last mile. Let us give due recognition to these CRPs.

Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant for Tata Education and Development Trust and a Member of the research team at Centre for Development and Research in Pune. Prior to this, he was Program Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi. He taught at Institute of Rural Management, Anand, during 1992-1995.

Ajit Kanitkar
Ajit Kanitkar
Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant for Tata Education and Development Trust and a Member of the research team at Centre for Development and Research in Pune. Prior to this, he was Program Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi. He taught at Institute of Rural Management, Anand, during 1992-1995.

10 Comments

  1. Neelkanth says:

    Really CRP based activities is changing the way traditional Ngo based activities was carried in project approach. Still we have to work towards developing their skill and credibility so that they become independent of project based honorarium rather local institutions arranges honorarium for their services.

  2. Rajasekhar says:

    Good narrated.Need more focus to strengthen capacities krushisakhis.

  3. Amit Asnikar says:

    Thanks Ajitji for this article . Yes, the CRPs are doing excellent work. Recognisition of these CRPs in their individual expertise area, by established govt. agencies is very much needed. The scale achieved by CRPs in reaching other community members is worth appreciating. There are many instances where the CRPs are appreciated for their development work, by the Gram Panchyat of the new villages entered. They can be surely said as Country’s Resource Persons.

  4. Jose Sebastian says:

    This is very good write up. I think the concept of CPR need not be confined to livelihood related areas. Our country needs CPRs to propagate scientific temper in the community. In Kerala there was a Chief Minister(C.Kesavan) who had the audacity to declare that ” when a temple is gutted, that much false beliefs will come down. This was when famous Sabarimala temple was gutted by fire. Today after 40 years, the whole state is under the grip of false religiosity. No difference between religions. CPRs propagating scientific temper in communities can go a long way towards helping people to take ownership of their own destiny. Now the emergence of BJP is a big threat to a culture of scientific temper in the country. The concept of CPRs is eminently suited in Indian conditions considering the fact that most state governments are undergoing fiscal stress. Not only that, the agricultural graduates, veterinary and fisheries graduates appointed at high cost in government rarely go to the field( referring to Kerala experience only !). I think there is need to institutionalise the whole concept to put in place permanent mechanism for giving scientific training to CPRs in all possible areas. Kudos to Kanitkar.

  5. Kumar Vikash says:

    Nice Article…Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society has been actively trained more than 10,000 women as CRPs. The training which was provided to these women from hinterland has changed their lives. Even to improve their communication Skills JSLPS has initiated a two days effective communication training to all community Cadres( CRPs).

  6. K S Gopal says:

    Good article on the effective outreach by community resource persons. Drawing from one’s life and sharing among equals is surely motivational and Ajit has given examples of how it is leading to grass root development initiatives and with new actors on the horizon.
    Cadres in BJP, CPM, CPI, Shiv Sena and MIM lobby with officials to reach services to poor of ration/MGNREGS card, housing, pensions etc. Capturing their story and strengthening their performance will tackle last mile delivery bottleneck and reach govt. welfare schemes. May be this too is worth capturing and telling Ajit.
    K S Gopal

  7. Anuradha Bhandarkar says:

    Thought provoking.

  8. varun says:

    Thanks very much for shining the spotlight on the CRPs, indeed its a silent revolution.

  9. Sudhir K Sinha says:

    Development for people can only be sustainable if it is done by themselves. A very good initiative. We surely need to create more such professionals at the local level to see the development becomes people’s own agenda. NGOs and corporates can lend support and help people to help themselves- a sustainable model of development. No paternalistic approach.
    Ajit- a very well written article. Let our CSR fraternity take some cue from your article.

  10. Jitesh Kumar Panda says:

    Well written; There is need to facilitate multiple income sources for CRPs.