Thursday, 19 June 2014

Connecting India’s Villages with Successful Village Migrants

A rather common question asked amongst Indians on being acquainted with one another is regarding their “native place”; the village, town, or city that the person originally belongs to. Having been born in the southern city of Chennai, but brought up in the western city of Pune; with my mother having roots in Iran, and my father having roots in the north-western State of Gujarat, the quintessential question of “my native place” eludes me.

Gayathri (left) is a 'successful migrant' and is helping renovate the lavatories in the primary school in Melmayil

The significance of a person’s roots has developed a monumentally different meaning to me in recent times. It stemmed from a rather passionate meeting between representatives of the organization I work for and an NGO that focuses on rainwater harvesting in rural Tamil Nadu. While we were deliberating the location of the rainwater harvesting project we would like to fund, one of the associates of the NGO emphatically stated “make sure the employees of your organization can draw a strong emotional connect to the location of the project”.

That single expression has now led us to developing a web platform which showcases India’s villages in a rich and highly visual manner. The purpose being, to provide a platform for “Successful Village Migrants” – people who themselves, their parents or grandparents, have roots in a village in India – to stay connected with and contribute to their native villages. 

Children at the primary school in Melmayil village, Vellore, Tamil Nadu

Plenty of first or second generation migrants visit their native villages annually, whereas many third or fourth generation migrants might have never visited their native villages but yet have distant relatives still residing there, or even sometimes donate money to the village temple. By displaying India’s villages in all their glory as well as short-comings, we are hoping to build on this connect that people have with their native places and channel individual contributions towards the most under-served regions of India.

A project of enormous scale, considering India has 640,000 villages; a project that would involve millions in expenses and a minimum gestation period of 5 – 10 years to really witness meaningful impact; all based on the promise of emotion. Based on the emotional connect that people have to the villages that they come from.

Children at the primary school in Melmayil village, Vellore, Tamil Nadu

The project, with only a temporary name – “My Village” – and a temporary website – is just a few months in but is already seeing success. A French gentleman with roots in the quaint Union Territory of Pondicherry scouted out the most impoverished village in the area and is now collecting funds to start a Tailoring Unit for 8 women. A young IT professional with roots in the District of Trichy is mobilizing resources to fund a ‘Supplementary Education Programme” in the village of Kattur Ramanathapuram in his district.

Could it be possible for a rural development project to sustain itself purely on an emotion? Do you think with time this project will grow to an extent that truly encourages “Successful Village Migrants” to take an active role in the development of their own “native” villages?

Follow the progress of this project on the website or facebook page.

– by Jenaan Lilani, MA Development Studies 2009 - 2010

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Washington Fellowship: leadership, management and entrepenurship

As I write this input to the IDS Alumni Blog, I am one among the 500 Young African Leaders who have been identified to participate in the inaugural Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which is an exchange program of president Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). 

Lebogang Mokwena - more photos available in the Alumni Flickr Album 

So what is it? 

The programme is organised around three leadership tracks:

  • civic leadership 
  • public management
  • entrepreneurship (or business)
Over a six-week programme delivered in various universities across the United States, the programme is structured to deliver leadership training, academic coursework, and mentoring for the African Leaders. 

The fellowship's ultimate aim is to contribute to the continent's economic growth and strengthened democratic institutions by enhancing the leadership capacity of leading African youth. 

There is no question of the strategic nature of this multi-year initiative for the United States, not least geo-politically in light of the increasing footprint of Chinese investment in Africa and the seeming rise of Islamic extremist movements in parts of the continent. 

This notwithstanding, there is no denying what an amazing opportunity this will be to interact with 499 other young people who are committed to engendering positive change on the continent and who have already started on a compelling path of public service, innovation, and social relevance and it certainly feels like a rare privilege to form part of a targeted continent-wide conversation among young people about how to address some of the pressing challenges facing the continent. 

And what will I be doing?

I have been placed on the public management track and will spend six weeks, starting in June 2014, at Howard University in Washington DC with a number of other fellows from across the continent who either work in the political arena or in government. Having worked in the national Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa since March 2011, mine has been an attempt to give practical expression to Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, that emphasises human development, particularly education, training, and skills development, as the cornerstone to national development and positive change. Additionally, my work has provided me with an opportunity to bring to bear my own personal experience of the transformative power of education and training in a country that is still grappling with the legacy of racial discrimination and limited opportunities for self and community actualisation among a racial majority. 

My past

Being a young, black South African woman who grew up in the urban townships of Johannesburg, access to opportunities for study have enabled my participation in South Africa's transformation project, hence my work in the civil service as a way of contributing to young South Africans' access to technical and vocational education and training opportunities. As the Director for Youth Development Programmes, I was responsible for developing and implanting strategies for improved youth access to and success to opportunities of study in the country's 50 Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges, chiefly through overseeing the administration of the Department's Bursary Scheme for Colleges (currently valued at approximately GBP116million, the development of academic and exit support programmes, and through the introduction of health and wellness initiatives, notably the Higher Education and Training AIDS (HEAIDS) programme. 

Looking to the Future

Through my participation in the Washington Fellowship, I hope to be able to collaborate with other fellows in enhancing young people's access to public education and training opportunities. Having been the youngest senior manager in the Department's Vocational and Continuing Education and Training branch, I am also passionate about devising an advocacy campaign that can attract talented and highly-skilled young people to work in the public service, which, in my experience, has been a dynamic, stimulating, and rewarding way in which to apply my skills and introduce institutional innovations towards improved state capacity in the delivery of important services to young people through greater student engagement.It will be interesting to figure out how best to do this while living in New York City from August 2014 when I will be undertaking graduate studies at The New School for Social Research towards a PhD in Industrial Sociology, specifically, the interface between skills and industrial development. 

While participation in the Washington Fellowship requires that fellows return to their home countries after the six weeks of leadership training (or after completion of an internship for those fellows who will be placed at an institution relevant to their leadership track for a few weeks beyond the six weeks training), I had already applied to and been accepted for a place of study at The New School and so mine will have to be a smart collaboration with fellows who will be back on the continent but there is no question that upon completion of my studies and in much the same way that I did after my studies at IDS in 2008, I will be heading back to South Africa. 

By Lebogang Mokwena, IDS Alumnus 2008 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

My reunion with Alumni: an unexpected and delightful evening in Dhaka

As a fellow, my travel itinerary is usually a whirl of airports, hotel rooms, meetings, emails and trying to meet on-going work commitments, despite being away from IDS.  

From left to right: Linda Waldman, Iqbal Ahmed, Suralini Fernando and Mamunur Rahman 

On my most recent trip to Bangladesh, I did something very unusual for me. I arranged to join the IDS Alumni in Dhaka for a reunion dinner. What an amazing evening!  

We were a small group of four and we pooled our knowledge of the IDS community – ‘how is John Humphrey? Where is Marzia Fontana these days? Is Robert still doing his workshops for all IDS students’? I was asked all about the recent changes at IDS and I heard about lots of students I haven’t managed to keep track of over the years.  

We shared our insights of Dhaka life and politics, what and where to eat, easiest ways to get around and what work everyone is doing. Everyone is doing such interesting work: Iqbal Ahmed researching climate change and children; Suralini Fernando is part of the Child Rights Governance Team at Save the Children and advocating for the Bangladeshi government to produce a child budget; Mamunur Rahman is working for the Bangladeshi Government heading up a Small and Medium Enterprise Foundation and still working hard on women’s empowerment.  

And of course, we discussed current issues: Argentina and Brazil’s chances of winning the World Cup being hotly contested and asking 'how guilty is Oscar Pistorius?'  Discussing Bangladesh’s amazing achievements in relation to the MDGs and its hopes for Vision 2021 and of South Africa’s BRICS status. All as we sat in Nando’s and enjoyed its food.  

Inevitably, IDS’ work also came up, particularly gains made in CLTS (or, Community Led Total Sanitation) and policy makers’ ongoing awareness of Robert Chambers’ ‘Voices of the Poor’. All in all, a really interesting evening of light, engaged and thought-provoking conversation. 

Okay, so its not part of my commitments, and I still have unread emails, but I feel refreshed and invigorated. Thank you Mamunur for encouraging me to meet the Alumni and for all the behind-the-scenes work that you did to make this possible. From now on, my travel itinerary will include Alumni reunion meetings whenever possible.  

By Linda Waldman, IDS Research Fellow

Friday, 6 June 2014

Inclusion or Exclusion of CEDAW's Concluding Observations on Health in Government Plans? The Case of South Asia

The booklet I have just published is a result of my experiment with researching and writing topics that I want to, rather than focusing on topics that I am commissioned to write by development agencies. At times they match, but other times it is just an “assignment”.

I have always been curious as to the extent to which the Concluding Observations of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (after reviewing reports of State Parties and civil society groups) is followed up by governments, and more so gets reflected in their development plans of government. I took the example of the health sector in South Asia and examined this aspect. 

I was also inquisitive as to whether global statistics - in particular sex disaggregated ones - are examined and implications analysed in national planning process. Again I took the example of health, examining the links between World Health Statistics (sex-disaggregated data in particular) on South Asia and the analysis within the health section of national development plans. The health plans of the following South Asian countries were examined: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka.

What were the findings? 

The health sections of most national development plans only partially take into account the Concluding Observations of CEDAW. The gaps were larger in countries recovering from conflict and where democratic spaces were lesser. The gaps between Concluding Observations and national development plans were largest with regard to ‘controversial’ issues like providing treatment to survivors of violence against women and providing abortion services. As well as for low priority issues like women's mental health or reproductive cancers. Further, the gaps were wider with regard to health/sexual and reproductive health of ‘controversial groups’ like unwed adolescent girls and women or women who were married but in other relationships. Gender-intensified aspects of quality of care were other issues, like access to confidentiality and privacy. To address this gap it is suggested that the CEDAW insists that governments incorporate comments on each sector into their national planning process, and report back to the CEDAW on how this had been done. 

It is also suggested that the CEDAW and the national governments together identity gender and health experts (well versed with the Convention), public health financing experts, women’ federations and women’s health rights groups who could be part of the planning process of the health section of the national development plan. 

Lastly, the national governments and other stakeholders, while planning the health section, must identify and analyse sex-­disaggregated data on health financing, health risks, health systems, health laws, health services and health outcomes.  In particular, barring two South Asian countries, per-capita private health expenditure (over 80% out-of-pocket expenditure) exceeds public health expenditure; and the trend of privatisation has been increasing in most South Asian countries.  Concluding Observations on health, critical analysis of gender and health statistics and national development plans must go hand in hand to combat gender inequalities in health in South Asia.

I decided to publish my booklet as an e-book (Kindle Direct Publishing on the Amazon Kindle Store) as I want to see if it can also fetch me an income, and I can pursue full time researching and writing what I please, but related to development, as a profession! I am also planning to publish the same through Amazon CreateSpace at the suggestion of Kindle Direct Publishing. 

By Ranjani.K.Murthy, IDS Alumni Ambassador for India

[1] Other than for sex selection.

Monday, 2 June 2014

On the importance of scholarships

My name is Nasrat Esmaty. I am an Afghan Chevening scholar of the academic year 2012 to 2013. 

Nasrat Esmaty (centre) with Prospero Mudza (left) and Benjamin Afreh (right). All three studied at IDS with the support of scholarships

Chevening scholarship made it possible for me to study MA Poverty and Development at IDS. As I left a job to pursue my academic endeavors, this scholarship gave me the financial security I needed as a student. 

While studying at IDS, my only concern was attending to my academic responsibilities. Visiting the UK for the first time and learning about its people and culture was the icing on the cake, which turned out to be a meaningful and an unforgettable experience, too. By unforgettable, I certainly did not mean washing my hands under the two-tap sink and burning my hand in the first month of my stay, nor was I referring to my landlords.

I was referring to breathing in the clean air of Brighton, enjoying the evergreen sceneries, using the well-managed and low-cost transportation system and meeting people from around the world. The reason for venturing into an area of study in development was not just to find a job after I graduate. I wanted and still want to be part of a change in Afghanistan, regardless of how small it can be, in my future professional career. 

This opportunity and status were made possible by both the Chevening scholarship and IDS, which I will always be thankful of. As I was graduating, I came up with the term POVERTICS (an amalgamation of the words POVERTY and POLITICS) and POVERTICIAN (an amalgamation of the words POVERTY and POLITICIAN). 

I plan to take the poverty agenda into Afghanistan’s politics and ensure that poverty reduction is reflected in all the key political and economic decisions in the country. Since IDS is a well-reputed institute, I can even look into international assignments, too.

I believe that the investments made through scholarships go a long way and farther than any other investments. As one of the scholarship recipients and then seeing its effects in my life, I certainly encourage everyone to invest generously in scholarships. Such investments make it possible for capable and deserving individuals who cannot otherwise enjoy the experience of studying in some of the prestigious universities in the world. 

Chevening sponsors seven to eleven (more or less) Afghan scholars to study in the UK every year. I hope that they at least quadruple the number of recipients since Afghanistan needs more and more highly-educated individuals. I also want to request IDS to offer especial scholarships to the Afghan citizens since IDS offerings governance, poverty, gender and development studies) have major takers in Afghanistan and there is a dire need for them, too. I am sure IDS can secure funding for sponsoring Afghan students, too. In the long run, it can add a star to the already good reputation of IDS, too.

IDS have recently announced the IDS scholarships as a result of the generous support of alumni and other supporters. Please visit the website for details and to apply.