Self Governing People's Institutions (Panchayati Raj Institutions)
Residents of poor communities have limited access to basic resources and opportunities and little influence over the external forces that shape their lives. In an effort to change this reality, Gram Vikas uses common concerns about sanitation and access to clean water as an entry point to encourage communities to unite and form their own self-governing people’s institutions. While these micro-level institutions increase community access to basic health services and sanitation, they also are also hubs for promoting community self-reliance through local level lobbying and advocacy.
The first step in establishing a self-governing institution is awakening a community to its potential benefits. This is why Gram Vikas’ first task is to motivate each and every family in a village to unite and establish a village general body to hold community discussions about the benefits and concerns of implementing the MANTRA programme, with the aim of eventually reaching a positive consensus.
Village Executive Committee
Women's Empowerment through Self-help Groups
Traditionally women are excluded from the village decision-making process. A key to building women’s capacity is to ensure they have a voice and participate in community decision-making. Gram Vikas facilitates the establishment of small Self Help Groups within communities so women can increase their savings and gain access to credit.
Mature self-help groups can leverage loans from banks for income-generating activities such as livestock rearing (poultry, goats and bullocks) and processing minor forest produce (making leaf plates, binding brooms, processing tamarind, etc). Some groups have taken up trading in cashew, tamarind, paddy, etc, to ensure better returns and earn an equitable profit in the process. Gram Vikas provides Self Help Groups with practical field-level accompaniment and training to support these activities.
Additionally, self-help groups bring women together to discuss issues of common concern and provide them with the confidence to publicly speak out, enabling village women to voice opinions in community meetings and actively participate in the local development process. Women typically play a significant role in building community support for the MANTRA programme and are essential in enforcing the proper monitoring of government services such as education, immunization, childcare programmes and village sanitation.
Village Executive Committee
Once the village has agreed to implement the program, it elects community members to form a village executive committee. The village executive committee of 12 members is an important symbol of an equitable development model; it is comprised of 50 percent women and proportionally represents all castes and economic classes. The village executive committee is registered as a legally recognized body, known as a village society, which enables the community to undertake financial transactions, leverage development resources and enter into formal agreements.
The setting up of Village General Body and Village Executive Committee encourages alternated leadership to emerge and shape the development path of the village..
Several Village Executive committees within a cluster of villages together form Area committees
Various sub-committees are elected within a village to support the village executive committee and manage specific developmental activities such as sanitation, water, health education, farming, forestry, etc. All activities and their costs including individual contributions are publicly displayed to maintain transparency.
Gram Vikas works to strengthen representatives of village committees by providing training sessions, workshops and practical support. Capacity building includes gender sensitization, education on health issues, training for Panchayati Raj Institutions, sensitization on new government regulations such as NREGA, FRA, RTI and public speaking and leadership skills development. Gram Vikas is actively working in RTI Clinics in promoting awareness.
Right to Information and RTI Clincis
Since the enactment of the Right To Information Act in Orissa in 2005 , Gram Vikas has been encouraging the community to use RTI as an instrument to make government officials accountable. Gram Vikas is part of the Orissa State RTI Coalition and operates RTI Clinics. RTI clinics assist the community in filing applications, liaison with government officials on the progress of RTI applications, organize training for community and disseminate collected information to the public. The RTI coalition is a formal body with its own secretariat, composed of members from NGO’s, the media and public authorities.
Gram Vikas has conducted zone wise training of PRI members and community leaders in Ganjam, Gajapati and Kalahandi districts. RTI clinics have been established in 4 panchayats and trained four RTI master trainer and 14 RTI volunteers. In the current year a total of 217 applications have been filed and 73 responses have been received.
Posters and Pamphlets on RTI
Promotion of Self-Help Groups
Gram Vikas supports the formation and strengthening of Self-Help Groups (SHG). These groups can collectively accrue savings to fund income-generating activities such as agriculture, livestock rearing, fish farming and horticulture. A typical SHG is comprised of 10 to 15 members of the community who agree to deposit monthly savings into a fund, a portion of which can eventually be borrowed to fund community businesses.
To support SHGs Gram Vikas provides basic record keeping and financial training and encourages the group to undertake income-generating activities. When the group gains the ability and confidence required to successfully manage their funds, they are linked to local banks. By linking them to local banks they are able to access external funds and government loans.
Although SHGs are not restricted to being exclusively for women, although majority of them are women's groups. . The groups provide a social space for women to discuss common concerns in addition to wider issues. Additionally, this space enables women to develop the confidence that they need to speak out even when men are present. In a village council meeting, this allows women to play a greater role in the decision-making process.