What ended up happening was that I paired up with an NGO in the state - Gram Tarang - which worked in rural areas in India but wanted to start targeting urban poverty as well. So together we carried out a preliminary survey in a nearby slum - Kargil Basti - and decided that's where we would create a pilot project for community development. These are pictures from that slum - one of the largest urban slums in the city of Bhubaneshwar. Very roughly speaking there are about 600 households in the slum, with almost 50% of them classified as 'BPL' households - "below poverty line".
Having spent the past 3 - 4 years in researching self-governance by communities, I jumped at the chance to create a real project along these lines! Further the NGO itself had extensive experience in implementing large-scale projects, especially those related to skills training and setting up micro-enterprises. This looked to be a perfect marriage!! So it was that I ended up designing what's going to be at least an 18 month project combining micro-finance and self-governance approaches in this one slum in India. At present we're in negotiations with various levels of the Government of India (centre, state, municipal) for getting project and funding approval besides different kinds of infrastructural support.
Now this is not a blog devoted only to what I do or think about various policy issues that I care about. It's also a blog devoted to my navigating a career in the policy / public / social sectors. It's painfully difficult to get job opportunities when one is just starting out in this field so I'm hoping that by chronicling not just what I do but also how I come across those opportunities for work, I help others who're either transitioning from research to practice, or just starting to build a similar career.
Thus this first post in a series of posts (all about my project work on urban slum development) will introduce the project, but mainly talk about how I created this opportunity for myself while on holiday back home in India, who I collaborated with, and how I came across these collaborators.
Here is an article on the UNDP site that discusses the recent apparently "shocking" ranking of the state of Orissa; shocking because it ranks the same as or lower than countries such as The Republic of Congo which most would believe is as closed to a "failed" state as it gets. I'm not sure where the "shock" came from, the extreme socioeconomic inequity in Orissa has been glaring for a long while now. It's just especially apparent now to the non-research layperson because the latest HDI measures factor inequality into the computation of the index.
So I went to meet this person. Turns out he has set up one of the largest management/technical education based private universities in the state, with a primary emphasis on making this education available to some of the most socioeconomically deprived sections of society in Orissa. Here is the link to this university - Centurion University. The university also provides an immense array of technical courses for people not enrolled in the university as full time students, allowing them to earn various training certificates for getting jobs in the industrial sector. There is a ton more that I am not going into, best read through on the university's website itself.
This was literally on the second day after I reached home by the way. Still jet-lagged and still utterly weary from Fall semester's emotional drama, I started designing a project. And re-designing it. And re-re-designing it. I got less sleep that first week of my winter break than during my finals week at school, but man, was I happy!! I was so happy!! Together with a couple of other people from all of these collaborating groups, I went off to do a preliminary survey after writing up a more theoretical project proposal.
During the survey we intended to qualitatively assess the kinds of economic activity the community was engaging in since we wanted to know if there were any small businesses that could be scaled up, or if community-based enterprises had to set up from scratch. Turns out there were quite a few ready to be scaled up but that's a post for next time. We also wanted to assess the receptivity of the community to our proposed project, whether we could get community leaders on our side etc. The idea was to bring the results of this survey back to the drawing board and create a more realistic project proposal.
What the proposal actually contained, as well as stories about rounds of visits to government offices (!!!) .. all of that will be described in the next installment.
In the meantime, fingers crossed for getting this project approved!