Rushi Sanathra: Nurture Rural Social Entrepreneurs
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
Rushi Sanathra, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine, is partnered with Lok Mitra in Dedhuki, Gurjarat. During his Fellowship year, Rushi is developing and implementing cutting-edge social entrepreneurship models to generate additional income for disadvantaged farmers. Rushi has a passion for travelling, and learning through experimenting and trying new ideas.
Lok Mitra was started by Chaitanyabhai and Sonalben in Dhedhuki, Gujarat in 1989. Initially, Chaitanyabhai and Sonalben started a preschool for the village children. Soon after, they created an afterschool educational program, Killol, that teaches life skills and fosters creativity. Seven years ago, they established watershed management, self help group, and illness prevention projects in 11 villages within Surrendarnagar and Rajkot jilla. Their philosophy is to nurture development of the 11 villages by invoking leadership and responsibility amongst the locals.
Although Gujarat is going through significant economic developments, there are many pockets of poverty. The areas surrounding Dhedhuki and the 11 villages have always been known to be economically disadvantaged. Many of the villagers are still financially struggling to support their families. There are many factors that have led to their situation. First, the farm land surrounding the 11 villages is rocky and arrid, so many of the villagers have to find work outside of their surrounding areas. Others don’t have enough land to live off of, because there is a lack of family planning. Some families have family members with a disability who are incapable of generating a traditional income. Lok Mitra’s goal is to decrease the economic, education and healthiness gap between these families and others in the 11 villages. Thus, they have started a project to increase the income of these families. Lok Mitra believes that income generation is a way to a build a relationship with these families.
Project Vision Implementation Progress and Future Plans
Before I arrived at my project, I thought my project was to only find businesses for all the poorest of the poor families in the 11 villages. After arriving and settling down in Dhedhuki, I realized that the project description does not do justice in defining my project. My project is living the change that I believe in. I have tried to categorize the different areas of my project. My project is divided into four different categories: the village children, income generation for poor families, nurturing enthusiasm and dedication amongst Lok Mitra staff and representating Indian Americans.
Most of the past 6 months has been spent with four incredible children, who have fallen through the cracks of the Indian public school system. Not only has the school system failed them; they have had a challenging familial life too. Initially, when Chaitanyabhai and Sonalben told Anjumben and me that we were going to cook and eat with the four children between the ages of 12 -15, I thought what have I gotten my self into. My reaction was why am I eating with four children; when I am supposed to work with vulnerable families. Chaitanyabhai and Sonalben encouraged us to eat with these children, because they thought it would help us learn Guajarati and the four children learn English. Slowly, I realized that the influence that I have over these children is greater than the influence I have over the vulnerable families. I thought maybe if I grab these kids attention in education at a younger age, they won’t have to struggle like the poor families that I came here to help. Also, I believe children are more open to listening to you than adults. Many adults are already set in their ways. Through cooking, eating and hanging out with these kids, I started to informally teach these kids. Sometimes I would leave a drawing pad and pencils around our kitchen. The kids would gravitate to these objects and start to draw pictures. I was impressed with the amount of creativity and effort that they put into these pictures. Other times I would use cooking as a way to teach the children to create new variations of local food. In the beginning, the children were negative about cooking or creating something new. As the months progressed, they became incredibly patient and interested in creating new dishes. My goal was to open their minds up to different ideas and thoughts. As they became more comfortable with new ideas, I would try to introduce open dialogues about gender equality, education, caste discrimination and alternative careers. Although I am not sure whether I will be able to see quantitative results at the end of my project year, I know that I have gained four younger brothers. Unfortunately, I no longer have time to cook and eat with them on a daily basis, so I am trying to figure out how I will keep this connection with them.
Observing that there is a lack of team sports culture in the Sauvrashtra region of Gujarat, Anjumben, the other Indicorps fellow, Hrithesh Sab, the physical education teacher, Deepakbhai, the science club teacher, and I have decide to create Dheduki ultimate Frisbee teams. One of the teams will be comprised of the public school students, while the other team will be comprised of the Lok Mitra after school program participants called Killol. Ultimate Frisbee is a sport which requires a lot of teamwork and peer regulation. These are two areas where the village kids have weak skills. We started this project a few weeks back, but we have had a great response from the children that come to practice. Many of them are responding well to the idea of sports. Their smiles and laughs at practice are what I take pride in. We hope to bring a few teams to Ahmadabad for the Ahmadabad Ultimate tournament. For Lok Mitra, this is an opportunity to strengthen the connection between Lok Mitra and the Dhedhuki public school.
Most NGO’s that encourage income generating activities amongst the poor make the poor dependent on the organization, both financially and strategically. In order to get rid of this dependency, I feel that NGO’s need to nurture entrepreneurial skills amongst the poor. In this era of globalization, many small businesses are vulnerable to major competitors. When NGO’s give vocational training, they are not giving long term skills. Early on in my fellowship year, I got a hold of a pamphlet called Market Oriented Value Enhancement (MOVE). I read the content and realized that this was a good fit for my project. MOVE uses games, such as buying and selling simulations, to explain competition to the illiterate entrepreneurs. The focus of MOVE is to properly train the poor to manage a business. For the last six months, I have been trying to get Lok Mitra staff to understand why we should move implement MOVE amongst the poor families.
I take the most pride in trying to explain to the staff members what MOVE is. Although I have only hosted three games in Dhedhuki, the response that I have received from the vulnerable families has been amazing. Many of the participants have been receptive to the training. This is exactly opposite from what the staff members predicted. The participants interest in MOVE has invoke the interest of the staff members. In the next two months, I plan to finish the MOVE training process with 30 people from three different villages. Once I have completed this, I want to create games that are specific to business problems in this area. For example, I want to create a game for how to deal with credit. Many entrepreneurs in the village fail because they can’t get their customers to pay for their product or service upfront. The entrepreneurs are unable to retrieve this money, because of a lack of documentation and familial ties. My goal by the end of my fellowship year is to incubate the idea of entrepreneurial training for the vulnerable families.
Nurturing dedication and enthusiasm amongst Lok Mitra Staff
Since the staff members are locals from this area, they have similar mindsets to the vulnerable families that I work with. Sometimes just working with them can be difficult and frustrating, but I realized earlier on that I have to set a good example. If I am not working in front of them, than they won’t realize that I am working at all. Therefore, even if I am going to work hard, I have to make it visible to them. Part of creating change is living the change. Since I believe that MOVE will be valuable to the vulnerable families, I have been in the Lok Mitra office day and night trying to finish my work. The staff members will tell me to take it easy, but I will tell them that I can’t rest until we have thoroughly prepared for the MOVE process. At Lok Mitra the work culture is very different from the United States. Many of the staff members are constantly uncooperative and giving each other negative feedback. I try to set an example by not playing into their work culture. When they give me negative feedback, I try to be as calm and patient as possible, instead of getting angry. I remind myself that I need to separate my ego from the situation. Although I am not sure if you can quantify the results or progress that I’ve made, but I have seen results. My coworker Dhirubhai has been more serious about the work that he is doing. I even caught him staying late at the office alone. Even though he has always been committed to his work, I think his commitment to his work has increased.
Representing the Indian Diaspora
Another aspect of the project is representing the Indian Diaspora. Many of the villagers have a lot stereo types about Americans and privileged people. I have been trying to eliminate this by having open dialogues with the villagers. For example, sometimes the villagers will have a perception of America being this rich country, where no one is poor. However, they are unaware of the growing inflation and unemployment that our country is going through. A huge part of my fellowship year has been to show the villagers that Anjum and I are plutonic friends. Globalization of Indian Television has affected villager’s perception of who Americans are. They see these images of women and men in America being promiscuous in their opinion, but they don’t realize that everyone on television is not true. Thus, Anjumben and I have to constantly tell everyone in the village that we are brother and sister.
Initially I wanted to serve as Indicorps fellow, because I wanted to help unprivileged Indians generate a sustainable livelihood. This entire experience has changed the way I look at development. I don’t believe development is just providing people with a stable livelihood, good education or better healthcare. Once an individual has a stable livelihood, he or she needs to know how to use those financial resources for a good cause. Development is about changing ideas and values.
While trying to create change amongst others view points and ideas, I have created change in myself that I never thought I could. I have been struggling to control my ego and my anger. I constantly remind myself that what other’s think about me or my project does not matter. If I believe in what I am doing and know who I am, than what others say will not change who I am. The workshops have helped me reflect on who I am and where I would like to go in life. Somewhere after graduating college and working, my priorities became confused. The fellowship year has helped me refocus on my priorities in life.
Professionally, I still want to create a for-profit non-profit that produces environmentally friendly and people conscience products. This fellowship has made me realize that I am interested in design and innovation too. In five years, I hope to have a degree in development and design. My connection to South Asian culture and business will probably never end. I would like to be continually involved in South Asia either through side projects or via my career.
Rushi Sanathra, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow