Project-community liaison, project coordinator, Basti secretary and community go-to guy.
My model of using a community leader - elected, selected, self-appointed, well-respected leader - is going well. In fact, he is the only reason it is going at all. Without his help, not one person would have walked through our nascent organisation's doors. Our project so far has not benefited more than 10 people vis-a-vis their incomes, although a far greater number have been linked to training and education opportunities via the linkage to our skills training partner. But we're not a recruiter for our skills training collaborator, so who are we?
I say that my decision to co-opt a community leader into our project team has proved to be a good decision not despite the above result, but because of it. Even the best planned and seemingly highly beneficial livelihood interventions have a high project dropout rate. And here we are, training and talking and workshopping and scurrying around confusedly and meeting people in our office.... and as far as I can see, not delivering the real bottomline - an extra Rs. 100 or so a day into people's pockets. And yet, community buy-in has remained. And yet people can be mobilised to come to our field exposure sessions (day trips to go see the production, trade, or service facilities being run by local entrepreneurs). And yet people are walking through our doors asking us what they should do about their 16 year high school dropout son.
And all of this is because of the guy in the photo. He goes around knocking on people's doors, chatting with them about our project. He gets excited by what our business centre will become and how he will run it (we have talked about how this is all joint ownership really, and he will be running the show when we open franchisees elsewhere and move out). He gets excited about starting up information kiosks, or integrated energy solution centres. He miraculously has 200 people show up for community workshop sessions.
- He's the entrepreneur really - the one that quit his stable banking job to come work with us.
- The one that's been doing community development in his own community for years.
- The one that now wants to go to Bangalore, visit SELCO, and see whether household solar energy units might be an appropriate energy solution for the households in a Basti that's been officially marked "untenable".
- The one that came up with all kinds of community registers and emergency funds, and who knocked on local electricity vendors' doors to get electricity to 200 homes in his Basti.
Inconvenienced by community support ?!!
Of course all projects will have some community buy-in at first, especially if it seems as if some free goods and services will follow. The rubber hits the road after the good has been distributed, or when the service takes too long to deliver the results promised. That's the stage we are at right now.
Our initial plan was to have a 3 month phase purely focusing on community assessment and surveys. That didn't happen because we did not have the (skilled) manpower to conduct the survey at a time when we wanted to get started as soon as possible. The project needed to start because the momentum of these things dies quickly.
- We initially thought it would take longer to get any appreciable levels of community participation, so that would buy us time while we figured out how exactly to design and proceed with the intervention.
- Unfortunately (?!!!) the community loved and embraced us. They came to every meeting. Men sent their wives, asked us to get their daughters admitted into our training partner's skill programs.
- We had to provide a service in return!! Services that were not supposed to part of our portfolio. We also spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out educational levels of youth, and how to help them with their career paths.
We want to be a business consulting centre but within the first month of operations, have become the institutionalized version of our project coordinator - we've become the community go-to guy.
How do I shift focus back to entrepreneurship development, and business training?!
Within the first day of opening our rented office's doors (we're across the road from our target Basti), we were flooded with visitors. They want to learn something but don't know what, they want to learn a skill but don't know why, they want to know what to do with their children, they want to know what vocational training is available, they want to know what to do with their spare time but when we say they can get wage employment they say they don't have spare time.
And I still haven't started our business training modules because I want to make it highly contextually relevant so I need to sit down with the local business & entrepreneur community and develop a program & a module, but I have no money to pay anyone for these services. One program manager is on loan from our collaborator (sister) organisation, one manager hasn't received his first month's salary yet, and the third is nearing the end of his first month and has been spending out of his pocket for sundry operational expenses.
Our operation is currently running purely on the fuel of community goodwill. That's what's going to get us past this bootstrapping phase. In just the one month since signing the MoU with the local government, we're already up and launched and starting to be functional. Community participation can be harder to procure than government money. Or government patronage. And we're so overwhelmed with community participation that we don't know where to get funds (or manpower) to provide the promised services to all these aspiring participants.
It's a strange feeling to be in this predicament, but a warm feeling as well. I can't imagine where we're be if we hadn't decided we wanted to formally hire the community leader into our team. Rather than think of "participatory mode" as an amazing model for livelihood or community development interventions, I'm now wondering, how on earth did such intervention projects ever run for years without being in participatory mode??!!!