By Konje Machini
As we edge closer to the end of the fellowship, we’re forced to begin the lengthy process of reflection. Yesterday marked my eleven month in India—the better part of a year. It feels like it was only last week that a group of some thirty or so strangers met in the lobby of Max Palevsky West dorm in Chicago. It was only yesterday that we all got on a sixteen-hour flight to Delhi only to then scatter across the country.
Fast forward many months and things are coming to a close. While we still have a lot to learn, we are no longer so green behind the ears. The Telangana team can hold their own in any conversation on irrigation in India; the team in Jaipur know the ins and outs of community participation in education and quite a bit on Aadhar enrollment for children; IIC SAST have become aces in insurance fraud detection. Even my team has become conversationally fluent in a few of the different dialects of development work. At times, I have felt a bit out of my depths; understanding the complexities of Delhi’s hybrid state-union territory governance structure, making sense of the science behind green crematoriums, or in navigating some of the formalities of proper email etiquette within Indian governmental bureaucracy. And, while I still stumble, it happens with less and less frequency—you could call that progress.
In a month’s time we’ll have to collate all our lessons learned into a digestible thirty-minute presentation. And for some, this reflection has taken place a bit earlier via the job interview process. The question, at the end of day, whether in a job interview or at the final presentations, is what impact have you made. I’ve definitely come to see our value addition as a team on all the projects we’ve been on, but attempting to quantify or qualify this has been a tricky task.
The limited timeline of our fellowship doesn’t necessarily allow us to see each project through to its very end. Of course we have planned with impact in mind, and are taking the care to ensure the sustainability of each of our projects, but this does not guarantee we actually get to see the outcomes of our outputs. Some of us will most likely be long gone before any of the impact takes effect. It’s this that’s led me to reflect not just on project impact but some of the other intangibles we’ll all be taking with us.
A keepsake that comes to mind easily is all that we have learned over the past year. Overcoming hurdles this year is not just a help to current projects, but future ones as well. We will carry with us all the lessons learned from this year and put them to use in future positions and roles. Slightly more tangible than knowledge, are the relationships we formed and can take with us. As a fellowship, unsurprisingly, the fellows have greatly painted my experience. The so-called strangers from the beginning of the fellowship have now become learning partners, resources, and great friends—especially in regards to my team. There are innumerable adventures, sights, friendships, mangoes, and so much more that I will take with me and that have made this fellowship impactful.
After all, at the end of the day impact is our focus. We spend our time designing, planning and executing our projects with the idea in mind of creating lasting, positive change. As we move to the final presentations aimed at addressing just that topic, I want us all to also take time to reflect on the rest of the puzzle. Even if we don’t see the impact of our projects just yet, it’s not hard to see the broader impact of our time in the fellowship.
By Rishi Razdan and Alexandra Tate
Most education experts agree that the poor quality of teachers, lack of personalized pedagogical methods, and absence of effective means to track student progress are key issues plaguing the Indian education system – resulting in low learning outcomes and poor retention amongst the 260 million students in Indian schools.
In response to this, a vibrant start-up community, enabled by impact-focused investors such as the Micheal & Susan Dell Foundation, Acumen and Unitus Group, has created an explosion of products and ideas in education. A number of innovative social enterprises, operating in different parts of the education value chain, have emerged from this explosion. ConveGenius is one such social enterprise that designs educational tabs with gamified content. It aims to boost student engagement and retention through fun, interactive pedagogy. The tab can be synchronised with coursework, to act as a supplemental tool, in class or at home. The fully loaded cost of a ConveGenius tab, called CG Slate, including hardware, software and course content, is about INR 7500. However, the cost drops down to as low as three rupees per day in a classroom-based sharing model when five students share one tab. The relative affordability of this product promotes greater social impact by making it accesible to the BoP.
Avanti, another young social enterprise, focuses on preparing high-potential, low-income students for college. Avanti Gurukuls provide educational infrastructure for students and arm competent, passionate teachers with technological tools that personalize learning and track progress. A third of Avanti’s students cleared the JEE mains in 2016 – a resounding validation of their potential to make an impact.
Another impactful, innovative social enterprise solving a problem – albeit, in a different part of the value chain – is OnlineTyari. Government jobs in India, are primarily acquired by middle-class aspirants; those with access to coaching centres and crucial information regarding exam notifications. For lower-middle income groups, especially in small-towns, these entrance exams are a maze due to the lack of organized information, and minimal access to quality coaching or preparatory material. OnlineTyari, tries to solve this problem by providing government job aspirants with access to exam notifications and quality test preparation material – from e-books to news and mock tests – on their mobile app. Their user-base of nearly half a million daily users, with a majority based in tier-II and III cities, exemplifies how digital tools can amplify access to opportunity.
Improving ed-tech assesments using comparative practices
While technology-based innovations have augmented a re-imagination of education across the value chain, doubts regarding their actual impact persist. Education is perceived as an important social good, a consequential good that benefits society at large. Consequently, new products and services in education must prove their effectiveness before they are fully adopted. Proving, beyond reasonable doubt, that education technology products are effective and viable in the Indian system, is key to attracting more investment and driving adoption.
Clinical research practices, used to prove the effectiveness and viability of new treatments, can serve as a model on how to adopt similar practices in ed-tech. In fact, clinical research and educational research face shared ethical and practical constraints, as well as also many possible, shared solutions. For example, clinical researchers have been able to improve the generalizability of study results by increasing the rigor with which outcomes are assessed, e.g. tracking outcomes over a period time, instead of just at a single point. ConveGenius is a prime example of an ed-tech company that has already begun tacking outcomes over time. ConveGenius’ CG Slate consistently tracks student usage and learning outcomes for parents and educators.
Due to ethical constraints, students – like patients – cannot be assigned to another pedagogical method or treatment that researchers believe is inferior. To solve this, clinical researchers often determine the internal validity of a treatment by measuring pre-treatment and post-treatment outcomes, and report the underlying characteristics of the population. The same should be done in ed-tech. The underlying characteristics of the student population must consistently be reported and pre/post-learning outcomes should also regularly be reported. In order for the education sector to improve the external validity of product effectiveness and viability, product assessment tools and methodologies must be published and shared. The entire ed-tech ecosystem can also benefit from a standardization of assessment methods, making assessments more economical and generalizable. Standardized and improved assessments of product effectiveness and scalability will result in better technology for non-profits, safer investments for multilaterals, economies of scale while testing for enterprises, and knowledge sharing where possible for all involved.
Ensuring meaningful impact in rampant growth
The Digital India campaign is driving huge growth in digital infrastructure and digital learning. In order for new infrastructure to be utilized, there must be equal effort and resources spent to integrate and assimilate new technologies into the education system. Rural areas, in particular, have a low adoption-rate of technology due to a lack of technology enablers. Government, non-profits, ed-tech companies, and investors can all play a role in ensuring the seamless integration of technology into new environments and classrooms. This growth in infrastructure is encouraging the development of new ed-tech products as well as the demand for more creative and engaging content.
Ironically, the frenzy of innovation has become an impediment to proving the effectiveness and viability of education technology, primarily due to two reasons. First, a high degree of competition puts immense pressure on entrepreneurs to expedite product development and going to market. The time-constraint makes it impossible to steadily test product effectiveness across a large enough sample. It is widely believed, for example, that it takes three years to significantly impact students’ learning outcomes – time entrepreneurs don’t have. Second, the nascent stage of most Ed-Tech enterprises creates a resource constraint. Designing a great product is often step zero for an enterprise; enterprises need to dedicate a significant amount of resources to integrating their products into existing systems, by conducting trainings and customizing their products for clients. Conducting lengthy pilots with large samples of students is a poor micro-economic decision for them. These deep-seated problems can only be solved through stakeholder collaboration.
Stakeholder collaboration and buy-in on the importance of product assessment can ensure that rampant growth in the ed-tech sector leads to meaningful and lasting impact. Ed-tech start ups will only invest in intensive product assessment methods if investors demand it and the ecosystem values it. Government should encourage information sharing and standardization of assessment tools and methodologies; investors should mandate proper assessments by start-ups; ed-tech entrepreneurs should adopt and share the best practices for assessment; and non-profits should aim to promote and integrate only the products that have been assessed as effective.
By Jane Huber & Shriyam Gupta
Over the past few years, Rajasthan has made significant strides to utilize technology for better governance. The Education Department, in particular, has created several Management Information Systems (MIS), wherein data concerning all elements of the education system are uploaded, verified, organized, and managed, with the aim of using them to monitor progress and inform decisionmaking. The possibilities of these portals are immense. Embedded in the Rajasthan Department of Education, as a part of the International Innovation Corps, we observed that there are several opportunities for the government to fully utilize these MIS. By drawing on examples from our last 9 months in the department, we highlight three main areas.
First, the difficulty in consistent datasets became evident when, while enrolling students in the Aadhaar system so they could apply for scholarships, we struggled to collect accurate data across districts. We aimed to collect data after every Aadhaar camp, requesting District Education Officers to report details based on their enrolment efforts. Acquiring this data required us to call District Education Officers personally and create proformas to collect this information across districts, with countless follow-ups. However, data reported from DOIT, our proformas, and the Rajasthan MIS systems were showing wildly different numbers about enrollment in schools. For instance, while the DOIT data showed regular enrolment numbers, they was not reported with updates in the Education Department MIS. Thus, we did not know real student enrollment numbers, stopping the accurate identification of schools where camps were urgently needed for scholarship students. What we learned from that exercise was that, because there are several datasets pertaining to education and students, these datasets must be integrated effectively in order to ensure the most accurate information possible. Without this, it will be hard to find quality, “authoritative” data.
Second, we realized that, while there is often motivation and drive in the government, there is not always capacity to understand complex technological systems or how to use them by frontline users. The Litigation Information Tracking and Evaluation System - or LITES - is a good example. To manage the legal burden on the state, the Justice Department created an online portal to track and manage all the court cases to which government is a party. The Education Department, partly due to its size, bears one of the highest legal burden in the state. However, it has been unable to effectively utilize the portal’s functioning. Staff across the state lack training on how to upload/update the cases. Furthermore, there was no clarity on roles played by the Directorate and district offices regarding case management. To address this, we conducted trainings for staff across the Elementary and Secondary Departments, including both Directorates. We followed this up with regular calls to the district offices. In a short period we started to see increased traction on the portal. Technology in itself does not create transparency or streamline processes. Its impact is a direct product of the capacity and efficacy of its users. Unsurprisingly then, for truly transformative governance, technology must necessarily be accompanied by capacity building of its users.
Third, even when the government has good portals and competent users, collecting information is only as useful as the ways in which it is applied. When developing an online funding portal for the department, we utilized this sort of thinking by using data already gathered through the Department’s MIS. Instead of reinventing the wheel and developing new forms and systems to collect and collate data, we are able to channel information on school infrastructure needs, enrollment, and staff, among other data in the existing MIS. This information will be shared in an interactive way with a range of stakeholders in order to develop and fund various projects in schools across the state. Utilizing the MIS in this way will also allow for greater accountability and transparency as status updates of project implementation will be input into the existing MIS and reported on the new portal. It is key that we look to portals already in existence and channel them in creative ways to improve how the government is able to address their infrastructure and funding gap.
MIS are a tool with significant potential for transforming how an education department functions, but it is only through increasing their application to more facets of governance that these tools can begin to reach their full potential, changing the way that both the government and the public interact with data. The International Innovation Corps recently hosted a conference to share learnings from such efforts and put government officials in conversation with civil society and academia. A number of states - including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan - have already devised mechanisms to transform how such MIS are developed and utilized in the education sector. While such developments have started taking place, learnings from these interventions have not been shared as much as widely as they should have. It is our hope that through sharing experiences and learnings, India can begin to truly transform its education governance and ultimately, the lives of its children.
Jane Huber and Shriyam Gupta are Project Associates at the International Innovation Corps, at the University of Chicago. For more about the International Innovation Corps: http://www.iic.uchicago.edu/
By the IIC-ASCI team
It is mid-March in the town of Palacole in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district where three cesspool workers, Mosid, Naganna and Sethi Babu prepare to desludge a local septic tank. These three workers have the critical, yet often times unsafe and unglamorous profession of removing and disposing of waste from septic tanks. The three of them drive their vacuum truck to a small house on the southern side of Palacole, where they park as close as possible to the septic tank to begin the emptying process.
Palacole is located in the southern, coastal region of West Godavari district, surrounded by vibrant, green rice fields and coconut groves. Despite the idyllic surroundings, the town struggles with the challenge of how to effectively manage its septic waste. While many strides have been made over the past few years to improve sanitation and cleanliness under Swachh Bharat Mission, there is still significant progress to be made in improving fecal sludge management (FSM). Toilet coverage and usage has increased dramatically in Andhra, but the question remains of where does the waste ultimately end up. In the vast majority of cases, the septic waste still ends up in local water bodies and fields. Efforts are required to look further down the sanitation value chain, beyond toilet construction, to figure out how to ensure that waste is safely and hygienically disposed of. In this process of improving FSM, cesspool workers have an essential role to play.
After removing the cover from the septic tank, Mosid and Naganna use a pole, water and washing detergent to loosen the waste inside. Once the waste has been sufficiently liquefied, they insert a fifteen-foot tube connected to their vacuum truck and turn on the motor. It then takes about fifteen to twenty minutes for the truck to suck up the sludge. They perform this whole process without wearing any type of protective gear.
In Palacole, there is one FSM operator with eight vacuum trucks, each with roughly a 3,000L capacity. There are also workers, drivers, and administrative personnel employed in his cesspool emptying business. In total there are twenty families in the town that are financially dependent on this enterprise. Three workers take part in each septic tank emptying job. Two of them do the majority of the cleaning work, and the third drives the vacuum truck. Depending on the size of the septic tank, they may need to make multiple trips to complete the job and charge accordingly.
The eight trucks in question were acquired only fifteen years ago. Before the trucks were purchased, the current cesspool workers made their livings as manual scavengers. Manual scavenging refers to the practice of entering drains, septic tanks or sewerage pits and removing the septic waste by hand. Needless to say, this practice had devastating consequences for workers, and in 2013 the Government of India passed the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act in order to outlaw it.
While major strides have been made towards improving the lives and human rights of these workers through the passing of this act, those who have made their professions as cesspool workers are still vulnerable to a range of health problems, alcoholism and abuse. The workers in Palacole do not use any sort of protective equipment, and often perform a desludging with bare hands while wearing shorts and chappals. These unsafe practices put them at high risk of contracting skin, gastrointestinal and other devastating health issues.
Once the desludging has been completed, Sethi Babu, Naganna and Mosid drive to the outskirts of town to dump the waste in a nearby drain. Currently, there is no mechanism in place to facilitate the safe and hygienic disposal and treatment of fecal waste. As there is no treatment plant or prescribed method of disposal, the workers have no other option but to dump the waste they have collected in local drains or open fields. In Palacole, most of the drains surrounding the two towns eventually flow into the Godavari River, which provides a critical water supply to towns and villages downstream.
As they begin to dump waste in a drain along the sign of the road, an enraged resident arrives yelling abuse. The man is a buffalo farmer whose animals drink from the drain now filled with septic waste. He approaches the van and turns the switch to stop the emptying of the truck. The workers know better than to try and stop him, and they drive off quickly before the situation escalates any further. Too often in these situations the threats of violence become acts of violence and it is highly common for the workers to be abused and violently beaten. Another cesspool worker in Palacole was once beaten so badly that his skull cracked open. These workers receive no protection from the abuse they face and often do not have the financial resources to properly treat the injuries they sustain on the job.
Twenty minutes away by auto from Palacole on the banks of the Godavari River is a town called Narsapur. The fecal sludge management business here is run primarily by a woman named Venkatalakshmi. It is unusual to come across a woman in this profession, much less one who is in charge of her own operation. Venkatalakshmi started up her business in order to provide for her family once her husband became unable to work and her son-in-law left her daughter. Apart from one competitor, she dominates the FSM market in Narsapur and has purchased the rights to advertise her services in high trafficked locations throughout the town. Despite her own personal triumphs, her business and workers voice many similar concerns that Palacole’s FSM workers have, including the increased incidence of diseases, maltreatment and psychological hardship. Venkatalakshmi herself has been beaten several times. On one occasion the beating was so violent that she lost three teeth.
Another unfortunate outcome of working in the FSM business that can be witnessed in Narsapur is the high presence of alcoholism amongst workers. Venkatalakshmi’s husband used to be in the fecal sludge management business, until his alcoholism caused his business partners to remove him from their enterprise. Some of Venkatalakshmi’s male employees have said that alcoholism is common among cesspool workers due to the challenging and undesirable nature of the job. The emotional hardship of doing such a dangerous and thankless job has taken its toll on many. The effects of the physical abuse these workers sustain while disposing of the waste they collect also has an impact. The stories of the workers and operators in Palacole and Narsapur highlight just one example of the human cost of incomplete sanitation that comes with lack of regulations, limited community awareness and insufficient infrastructure.
It would be simplistic and misguided to suggest that there are easy solutions to the challenges and maltreatment that these operators and workers face, however, there are currently efforts underway to improve fecal sludge management practices, which has the potential to create a positive impact on their practice. Capacity building and government initiatives can work to ensure that operators have access to and use proper protective equipment and desludging methods to protect them from contracting diseases. The planned building of fecal sludge treatment plants in Palacole and Narsapur would provide a safe and hygienic way for workers to dispose of waste without polluting the environment or risking their personal safety. Moving forward in the goal to achieving a Swachh Bharat (Clean India), it is critical that interventions are developed and implemented keeping in mind the challenges facing so many of these unsung heroes in the sanitation sector.
Link to desludging video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2knhrdl254q2iri/FSM_Operators_V1.mp4?dl=0
By Alexandra Tate
When I first found out that my team, the International Innovation Corps’ Social Enterprises Team, would be working with OnlineTyari, an ed-tech startup that helps aspirants prepare for government exams in India, I was skeptical about the kind of social impact our team would be having, to say the least. My mind instantly jumped to thoughts about how we would be helping only the privileged and wealthy sections of society pass the most elite exams to get the highest paying and most prestigious jobs. After a year of working on trafficking issues in Jharkhand, helping the rich get richer and keep the best jobs was not my idea of social impact.
But there we were, cramped in my teammate’s apartment hunched over her laptop with endless tabs open of articles on government exam preparation in Mukherjee Nagar, a coaching hub for students in north Delhi. After a quick team meeting on how to structure our field visit and interviews in Mukherjee Nagar, we took off into the hot and sunny streets of a mid-September day. When I imagined a test prep hub, images of a buzzing college campus like in the U.S. came to mind, streets dotted with neatly dressed, peppy students heading to class. Of course, I knew it would be a bit different from a U.S. college campus, but what we found in Mukherjee Nagar was a far cry from my idle imaginings.
Our first and most important stop on our field visit was the Batra Cinema building. What was once an old cinema hall has now been converted into a venue for coaching center seminars as well as a meeting point for students. As we walked in through an unassuming doorway, accompanied by a stray dog, the air grew decidedly stuffier and mustier. The hall was narrow and dark leading to a retro looking elevator. Leaflet after leaflet dotted every available space on the walls of the hallway, advertisements for coaching center classes, tutors, and private libraries. Just as we were about to hop into the tiny elevator to go explore, the power clicked off. I vowed to take the stairs for fear of getting trapped in the elevator. As I walked up the stairs, students lined the steps. There were on break from their coaching center classes. Most of them were working furiously on what appeared to be late homework assignments others were trading study tips.
As we neared the first floor we finally got a glimpse into a coaching center. Class was in session. Desks were stacked side to side, in dense rows from the front of the classroom to back. It was unclear to me how anyone got in or out of a row or how students had enough room to flip a textbook page without whacking their neighbor in the nose. I unsuccessfully tried to picture myself studying in such an environment. As the bell rang, singling the end of class, we managed to blockade one of the less hurried students outside the door. Her name was Neha, and she was studying for the IAS exam. Neha told us that she had recently graduated and left her hometown of Lucknow, along with all her family, to come study at a top coaching institution. She shared a room with two other girls in a small flat nearby. Since the cramped living situation made it difficult to study at home, she also belonged to a private commercial library (basically a quite air-conditioned study room with Wi-Fi) where she would study after her coaching class. She reported spending about eight hours studying a day, including weekends, and expected to continue like this for as long as it took to pass her exam, perhaps around two years she guessed.
Her only time limit was the cap on her savings and the limit to how much her parents could support her. Rent and food was expensive here in Mukherjee Nagar, compared to Lucknow, and her parents could only afford to help her out for so long. Coaching classes in cities like Lucknow or Delhi can cost anywhere from 75,000 to one lakh rupees a year. Yet, clearing the IAS exam was her dream and she was determined to do whatever it took to enter the Civil Service.
We encountered many students like Neha in Mukherjee Nagar. Some had been living in Mukherjee Nagar for no less than six years, still tirelessly trying to clear their exam after several failed attempts. After devoting several years of their life to studying for this exam, many felt that they had nothing to go back to in their hometown. Giving up on clearing their exam would mean letting go of a dream that had become their life for the last few years. Many students worked part-time jobs to support themselves and a few were lucky enough to have help from their families. But this support comes at no small cost for many families. Some families resort to selling ancestral lands in order to support their children studying for an exam.
But what is it about a government job that makes so many willing to give up years of their life and, in some cases, even give up their birthright? Neha couldn’t really give us much of an answer, as she was late in meeting a friend at her private library, but the 50 or so other government exam aspirants our team interviewed started to give us more of a picture.
For the next couple of months, it was my team’s mission to interview government exam aspirants in cities across the Hindi Belt on their usage of Online Tyari’s mobile exam prep app. We interviewed aspirants from all over Delhi, Panipat, Jaipur, Patna, and Allahabad, most of them between the ages of 18-35 years and holding a graduate degree. Our goal was to investigate usage patterns, document user feedback, and map out OnlineTyari’s place in the exam prep cycle. However, my personal goal was to figure out the seeming obsession with obtaining a government job, at almost any cost.
One such exam aspirant was Anisa. After completing her Bachelor of Arts, Anisa participated in a teacher training course in Panchkula. While there, she would often observe the physical drills in the cantonment area. She soon fell in love with the uniform and decided she wanted to join the army or become a female police officer. Anisa believes that a government job will lead to a stable and honorable career path. Her parents support her decision and also think that a government job is the most secure path. In order to prepare for her exam, Anisa must commute 16 kilometers to Panipat, where her coaching classes are. She also participates in physical training drills at a nearby sports stadium in the afternoon. Although coaching classes are her main source of study, Anisa uses mobile apps, like OnlineTyari, during her commute to utilize otherwise downtime. OnlineTyari gives her access to free content, such as recent current affairs, she otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
It struck me how determined Anisa was to make use of every possible minute of her day, every possible free resource, how willing she was to give up everything to pass this exam. Like Neha’s parents, Anisa’s parents also bought into the dream of a better life through a government job and were determined to support her studying for as long as financially viable. They view her steep coaching center fees as a once in a lifetime investment for a shot at a much better way of life.
Priyanka, from a small village in Haryana, is an exam aspirant also lucky enough to have her family’s support. Priyanka, who is recently married, is currently studying for the IAS exam. Priyanka left her new husband and family to move to Jaipur so that she could have access to better quality coaching centers. She currently lives alone in a girls paying guesthouse. She is the first in her family to pursue a government job. She believes entering the civil service will not just guarantee good working hours, job security and a nice financial package, but, more importantly, it will be a matter of great social prestige for her family.
The unsaid truth, however, is that incredibly few aspirants end up passing these highly competitive government exams. Some exams like the IAS are so competitive that your chance of passing is about equal to your probability of being struck by lightning. Last year, nine lakh candidates sat for the Civil Services Aptitude Test and less than 200 were selected. Of the few that do pass, the average age is now 28 years and most do not pass until their third attempt. Many of them are aspirants from the UP or Bihar, whose families struggle to support them. The growing number of candidates from Bihar and UP may point to a lack of other opportunities in these areas. Many of these aspirants believe that the power one can wield in a government position necessarily leads to wealth, but wealth does not necessary lead to power.
For those that never make the cut after numerous attempts and for those who have made passing the exam their life, it’s hard to give up. Many end up becoming coaches or private tutors for those still trying to pass. Although there are of course the random success stories of students that come from nothing and end up having an amazing career in the civil services, many that end up passing are from the most elite schools, with comparatively unlimited resources for private tutoring, and have family already in government or brothers/ sister that have already passed these exams.
The founders of OnlineTyari created their mobile study app to help level the playing field and provide middle and BoP students, unable to migrate to a larger city for coaching classes, with accessible, free or low-cost study material. The app is specifically designed to run on low-end android phones and is not currently available on iOS. Having seen the grit and dedication of these exam aspirants as well as the disparity of resources, I now understand the impact the founders of OnlineTyari wanted to make.
While I think OnlineTyari provides inspiration and exposure to study material otherwise inaccessible for those with limited resources, it’s one-step out of so many required to pass these exams. Every time we interviewed an aspirant, especially for exams like the IAS, I felt like there was an elephant in the room. Don’t you know how small your chances of passing the exam are? Do you really want to give up everything to take that small chance? It almost felt unjust that so many people and their families end up dedicating years of their life and scarce resources only never to pass. At the same time, the sheer determination and dedication of aspirants was incredibly inspiring and I was certainly in no place to judge anyone’s dreams. One thing is clear – as an outsider, it’s impossible to understand the almost mythical level of honor and prestige that many aspirants feel a government job will bring to his or her family. It is an aspiration deeply embedded in the culture and consciousness of the Hindi heartland.
*Note first names have been changed to protect interviewees’ privacy.
By the IIC SAST team
In our experience, before implementation, or monitoring, extending or modifying any government scheme, the first issue to address for any project is the problem of funding. Government funds alone are almost never sufficient for everything that needs to be done, so finding other sources of funding, or other organizations to fill in these gaps becomes important.
One of the first sources usually suggested is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding. When it was first suggested that our IIC team should investigate how to secure CSR funding for our organization, it was portrayed as a mystical source of funding that was just waiting to be used for government purposes. Through secondary research, informal interviews, and information-sharing with other IIC teams we have found that the reality, is a bit more nuanced and difficult than that.
Though many private companies have a long history of philanthropic work this practice has been formalized and regulated in India in a unique way. The 2013 update to the Indian Companies Act mandated that any company with a net worth of Rs500 crore, a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, or a net profit of Rs 5 crore is required to spend 2% of its average net profit on CSR activities. CSR activities must take place in India, and are required to be ongoing projects or activities with a large multiplier effect, effectively ruling out “cheque-book charity”.
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has clarified that in-principle CSR funds should not be used as a funding source for government schemes and should have a larger multiplier effect. That said, the CSR board is able to decide to supplement a government scheme if all other components of the law are complied with. This means that a company is not able to donate funds to a pool to fund government programs, but they are able to coordinate with government departments to develop programs which support a government scheme in some way.
From informal interviews on the topic, it seems that if a company is interested in allocating CSR funds towards a given project, there are generally three broad methods by which CSR funds can be donated and managed. The first method is for the donor company to both fund and implement the project by itself. Though companies do not necessarily have to use their own employees in this case, this is encouraged, to some extent, under CSR regulations which allow companies to count the cost of employee “volunteer time” towards requisite CSR targets. The second method is for a company to partner with a third party organization, usually an NGO, which implements the proposal on behalf of the company and sends them reports on progress. The third, and less traditional method is for money to be donated directly to a fund which the government organization uses in implementation of the scheme and is responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the program and keeping the company donating funds apprised of the situation. For IIC teams working within the government, the advantage of this final method is that it allows the government control over implementation, but it comes with significantly larger administrative efforts to manage the project and the responsibility of monitoring and evaluating the project and updating the donor company.
In sum, while CSR is by no means a quick-fix for underfunded departments trying to make up the shortfall, it can be very effective at “filling in the gaps” in government implementation. While advising governments, we must first identify demonstrated gaps where public funding meets a shortfall and propose projects so that this implementation gap can be filled through CSR funding. Increased coordination along these lines could enable government and private organizations together to make big strides in social development work.
Note: Special thanks to Dhruv Gupta for sharing his findings from a CSR conference
By the IIC Mission Kakatiya Team
Two years ago, in March 2015, the Government of Telangana announced a massive, rehabilitation program that would be undertaken by the state’s irrigation department over a five-year period. This program - called Mission Kakatiya - was launched with the ambitious objective of restoring all minor tanks (small, man-made reservoirs) and lakes in the state of Telangana: all 45,000 of them.
The significance of this program stems from the value of these tanks in increasing the water supply in rural Telangana, especially as water availability becomes increasingly volatile in large part due to climate change. Tanks allow for the collection of rainwater, and also serve to recharge groundwater levels in adjacent areas. With the help of mostly gravity based channels, farmers use the water in these tanks to irrigate their crops.
While renovating these tanks is undoubtedly a monumental task, perhaps a harder challenge is identifying what comes next. Tanks are a particularly difficult resource to manage as they are what economists call ‘common pool resources.’ Common pool resources are non-excludable and rivalrous - on the one hand, it is difficult to stop someone from using them, while on the other one individual’s use of them reduces their availability for other users. In the case of tanks, individual users have a strong incentive to use as much water as they need. One user’s actions do not affect the tank as a whole. But since every individual faces this same decision-making calculus believing their use of the tank will have a negligible impact, all users try to use as much water from the tank as possible. This can lead to a situation where a tank is completely exhausted.
A relevant example in the context of India is the case of groundwater. Groundwater regulation in rural India is almost non-existent: the number of farm holdings is too large and the political incentives for providing a relatively stable source of water are too high for the government to decisively manage the use of the resource. Starting in the 1970s, the technology available to abstract groundwater has become far more efficient and cheaper. Concurrently, electricity coverage has increased dramatically across different parts of rural India, and electricity charges are free for farmers. This creates strong incentives for farmers to utilize large amounts of groundwater. After all, individual usage of tubewells is not going to affect the overall level of groundwater. However, when millions of farmers face these same incentives, we arrive at the present situation where close to 30% of the districts in India face a semi-critical or worse level of groundwater.
The challenges of the tragedy of the commons are of course amplified in the case of Mission Kakatiya where there isn’t just one common pool resource, but over 45,000 of them! Furthermore, these tanks are located in villages that vary on a number of dimensions, from social parameters such as caste composition, to ecological parameters such as rainfall availability, to basic administrative questions such as which people use these tanks.
Against such factors, having the government manage each of these tanks is almost impossible. There are simply too many tanks for the government to effectively monitor the situation at each tank. The task of the government is further complicated when one realizes that each tank usually has its own dynamics, where social factors like occupation and caste can play a crucial role in determining what the tank users think is a just distribution of the tank’s water.
There is therefore a critical need to devise a new mechanism to manage these tanks - one that doesn’t rely excessively on the government for the day-to-day management.
One promising solution is to create local, community tank management organizations that are headed by committees. These organizations are known as Water User Associations, while the committees are known as Managing Committees. WUAs are comprised of users of the tank. By virtue of their proximity to the tanks, as well as their constant engagement with it, users are best placed to decide what the tank needs and what it doesn’t, and to make decisions regarding its functioning. Logically, the next step is to determine how to harness that local knowledge into effective management. WUAs are a useful tool in achieving this step - they provide an outlet for community members to organize their knowledge and energies. The maintenance and management of the tank can be delegated to WUAs, with the government playing more of a supporting and supervisory role. In this manner, the government will be able to conserve precious resources, while also fostering a sense of ownership and accountability among users.
Community-based models of tank management have already been tried, and there are lessons to be learned from these experiments. The largest such pilot occurred in united Andhra Pradesh, with mixed results. Some tanks were better managed - most of the 100+ farmers we spoke to on the field said they preferred the WUA system to a government managed system. However, challenges along the way of the WUA programs implementation led to the de facto abandonment of the policy. Managing Committee members were elected. The election process meant that a lot of money was spent by candidates on campaigning or lobbying particular people to endorse or vote for them. Managing Committee members who were elected would then use their position to allocate themselves or their families maintenance contracts, in effect recouping their investment in the campaigning process (in addition to making a tidy profit). In order for future iterations of Water User Associations to be successful, alternative methods of selecting Managing Committee members need to be explored. Furthermore, in order for these WUAs to remain sustainable, they need to be granted the power to control their own finances - thus, they need to be granted the authority to collect water user charges from their users.
In a world with increasingly unreliable supply of water, a community-based approach ensures that all farmers are aware of the others’ usage, and also designates a set of individuals whose responsibility it is to manage the tank. This kind of approach, where collective decisions allocate resources and responsibilities, will help avert the tragedy of the commons, and provide valuable insights for managing common pool resources in the future.