SEPT 15, 2008 – MAR 15, 2009
Pulkit Agrawal, August 2008 Fellow
Grassroots Development Laboratory
Background and Project Vision
Grassroots Development Laboratory (GDL) was started in 2006 by 3 Indicorps fellows as an initiative to provide the opportunity for young people to creatively tackle some of the most pressing developmental challenges facing Bagar and rural India today. Prior to my arrival projects were addressing women’s empowerment, unemployment and provision of clean drinking water.
After conducting a basic needs assessment I identified the lack of employment opportunities for youth as a key barrier to the progress of the region and the issue that I would prefer to tackle. Jhunjhunu district has a large numbers of graduates (Bagar is a local hub with 33 educational institutions) who seek government jobs and are happy to waste their talent and resources until something considered suitable surfaces. There is also a big mismatch between the (rural) supply and (urban) demand within the job market, along with associated concerns such as migration, urbanization and social ills.
Therefore I decided to investigate means to encourage entrepreneurship amongst local youth. This would provide self-employment, utilize existing business acumen (the Shekhawati region is famous for industrial lineages), develop creativity and stimulate the local economy. The project aims to create sustained systems that will continue to promote entrepreneurship as an attractive employment option, identify and encourage potential entrepreneurs and support those who take the step of starting their own venture.
Project Goals and Future Plans
The initial form of the project was running a course to teach basic business skills while seeding interest in the idea of entrepreneurship. This involved compiling a syllabus and running a pilot batch to then refine the material, taking it to a level where it can be used by others wishing to run similar programmes. The curriculum would also be used to run regular business training in Bagar to equip more youth with the skills and desire to explore their ability to employ themselves.
My second aim before I leave is to found a rural consultancy that will provide advice and guidance to those wanting to start or expand their business. I have had a lot of interest from people wishing to improve their livelihood and I feel there is significant potential to train local youths to analyze rural enterprises and suggest creative and innovative means for them to grow. In addition I believe that volunteers with exposure to management/strategy/business consulting would be available and willing to develop the knowledge bank with original frameworks to assess the success and impact of rural ventures grounded in parameters deeper than just financials.
Finally as part of a holistic approach to encouraging entrepreneurship I have detailed other means that would help to support the initiative, including provision of finance, inspiration and mentorship and am seeking volunteers to take these forward.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
The pilot batch was relatively successful in teaching students the approach they need to take when starting a business and greatly increased the interest students had in the field. I am now working with some members of the class to help set-up their businesses. This is providing me with some valuable experience that will prove useful when I begin a more formal rural consultancy. The course also enabled development of the curriculum and the syllabus is almost ready to be presented to interested others. It also provides the backbone to any alternative courses for other audiences, which will now take much less time to plan and run. The next set of classes will begin in April once college exams are completed and moving forward I’ll be looking to find a local trainer and integrate the course into another GDL project – Bagar Employment Institute. The local ITI has also expressed interest in running entrepreneurship development classes for its students, as has sarvajal / Piramal Water for its franchisees so I hope to conduct training for those. Other future plans are according to the goals set out in the next section.
Challenges that I have faced include structuring the project – the vision evolved slowly (and is probably still evolving) after I first arrived in Bagar and decided to take a fresh look at what I wanted to accomplish. Significantly there is still no real global consensus on best methods to increase entrepreneurship and whether teaching does in fact help. However I believe that a combination of resources (inc. business knowledge and finance) will go towards encouraging youngsters to plunge into new ventures. Nevertheless it has been difficult convincing people to attend the course, especially as I offer no hard skill or immediate placement / job, and thus no immediate results. The population here is used to hand-outs (partially due to the landlord charity culture that pervades) and so something that requires hard work for a prolonged period is not particularly attractive. If, however, enterprising pioneers do prove successful then I have full confidence that many more will follow.
Detailed Goal-setting & Implementation Planning
There are various streams of work that I will be focusing on in my remaining time here:
1. Finalize current draft of business course syllabus (refine further as necessary) and make available as open-source. Adapt according to audience – e.g. ITI or sarvajal franchisees etc. Investigate other formats for teaching – crash courses, weekly training to SHGs etc.
2. Prepare for and launch rural consultancy. Begin training some youths as consultants and after practical training (maybe with sarvajal franchisees) begin paid operations. Source volunteers to support this project. Develop knowledge bank as time progresses.
3. Expand entrepreneurship programme through other means – inc. distributing information about sources of finance for business; providing examples of local entrepreneurs; hosting a business plan competition etc. Much of this may only happen through additional human resources and so I will work on recruiting more volunteers.
4. Keep running side projects, such as creating a Bagar tourism booklet (using young local photographers) and Bagar Ultimate (developing youth leadership and teamworking through Frisbee).
5. Continue to play a leadership and management role at GDL, including institutionalizing some processes and archiving useful documentation. In addition push forward improvements to the compound that will make GDL a more useful and vibrant place to be.
This is about me. I am the centre of the universe, my universe. In my universe, I decide, I make the rules, I win, I lose.
Even prior to Indicorps I had accepted that my happiness came from within and I had the power to choose whether I laughed or cried at any particular event, but the experience thus far has driven it home. Throughout I’ve been taught and encouraged to introspect, to reconsider and to be the change that I desire to see. This is incredibly self-centred, but that is life; I am the one living it and so I need to realize the power I have to shape it. The circumstances can be blamed or they can be used, and indeed can be controlled, if I can control myself. That is a fine art, and one we spend most/many of our lives trying to master. But at least I’ve now figured out the challenge… I have enough time to meet it.
I’m not sure I understood exactly how much about personal growth this fellowship year was about. I knew that Indicorps was investing in me so that I can invest at my project site, which still holds true, if one defines “project site” as the rest of my life. Particularly significant from my point of view have been the following personal developments:
• Begin with self-analysis; now when I feel aggrieved, agitated or angry I accept that is what I am feeling and try to assess how I can best accommodate those emotions while appreciating the overall situation and larger picture.
• Be action-oriented; thought and discussion are requirements but need to be complemented by actions that drive processes, leading to results. Many times we promise much and deliver little and I have become much more focused on following through with what I think and talk about.
• One of the key qualities India has brought out is patience, and acceptance. Acceptance of the time and energy it takes to change a particular situation and the necessary process that needs to be followed… and the patience to actually follow it.
• Over time I am becoming a proponent of doing what one truly wants – I feel that there is too much pressure for people to conform to societal norms and feel they “should” do certain things, dismissing what they are truly passionate about. Although battles will need to be fought I am coming to the conclusion that in fact to succeed we must follow our heart, before we use our head.