What issues to work on?
I mentioned in my first post on this subject that the two entities I was working with were the NGO called 'Gram Tarang' (which had extensive experience in implementing rural development projects) and Centurion University (a university which had extensive experience in creating multiple social enterprise projects and in providing vocational training to people from less privileged sections).
Given the focus and expertise of these organisations, we decided to focus on the economics of this slum community.
But as one can see from these first couple of pictures, economic activity did not have to be the primary target in this slum. The slum had come about on some abandoned mining land next to the railroad. This meant that there were large pits in the entire area, pits that were full of scum covered sewage water. So there one had a striking public health problem. Also as is common in every part of India, there were these large garbage dumps throughout the area. A sanitation project would not have been an irrelevant thing to have focused on either. And a million other things of course - what about a school for the children in the community? Daycare for working mothers? Adult literacy? - and on and on and on. But battles must be picked, and we decided to invest our efforts into an economic enterprise program.
When we went to do a preliminary economic assessment of this community, we had two ideas in mind. Based on the typical micro finance based small enterprises that are usually set up by rural development agencies, we thought we could create some small, on-site production-based enterprises in the community - production of specialty food items (snacks especially), garments etc. The other idea was that if there were individuals already self-employed in various ways, we could finance them but also help them organise so as to make their enterprises more profitable.
These photographs provide examples of some economic entrepreneurships that community members have already created for themselves.
The automobile mechanic : Owns land, but is under-employed
In the photograph above you see a young man who left his village in Orissa and went to the metropolitan city of Mumbai to see if he could find a job. That was many years ago. He returned to Orissa but decided to set up in the capital city Bhubaneshwar instead. His wife and kids live in the village, taking care of the land he owns back there (possibly doing some agricultural activity, I'm unsure). For multiple reasons the land doesn't yield enough benefits, so he's in the city, trying to make it.
The skill this young man trained in while in Mumbai was automobile repairs. When he came back he decided to set up a repair shop, so that's what he does now. There is one other person he works with - an assistant. Money and labour limit how many assignments he can handle of course, but he was quite willing to work with us on this project to jointly figure out ways for scaling up his existing enterprise.
The woman in the fore of the photograph above was carrying out snack food production as were many other women in the same community. The particular snack foods in question are this crunchy wafer-like snack called papad (which everyone's eaten in an Indian restaurant if not in India I'm guessing?!). These wafers are made of dough, and then sun-dried which is what's going on in the adjacent photograph. This is in the front yard of one of the slum houses.
Economic networks: Now what was the production and sales strategy of these women? Turns out they were engaged in a program with one of the biggest snack food manufacturing companies in India ('Lijjat') and the deal was that these women got the pre-mixed dough from the company, made the foods in their houses and sold the dried end product back to the company that then marketed it under their brand name.
Now I love social network analysis and am always looking for case studies (that please let someone else collect data on and collaborate with me for analysis, please?!) ... so we asked the woman in the above photograph how she found out about this scheme. She said she found out about it from another woman - a neighbour and friend - when she lived in a different neighborhood in another part of the city. Then when she moved to this community, she told her neighbours here about it and so the word spread until a large number of women in this community were engaged in this particular activity via this specific scheme.
(Job hunting networks don't operate that much differently for newly graduated student in the US do they?! It's all 'he said, she said...." everywhere you go).
Quick conclusion : Diversify / Scale up / Generate
Anyway, so there you have it. These are the kinds of issues we found when we visited our target community. As I said, a number of issues need working on here (if folks reading this want to jump in and help out in any other way.... yes please!) but we chose to focus on the economic aspect because that was our joint area of expertise, and where we could pull together the most resources. But saying "we decided to focus on economic issues" is easier said than done because the specifics of what we thought to do depended on what was already going on in the community. Which is where the quick assessment helped since it allowed us to get some sense of the kinds of economic markets these people were already participating in. Our goal then was to help the people already employed to either diversify their set of activities or scale up their activity so as to generate greater benefits and enhance their income. On the other hand in order to target those who were under-employed and had inconsistent access to jobs, we thought we would help create some new enterprises that would provide a more stable source of income but would supplement their current income not replace it.
For more updates, another post coming along soon!