“Only when the villages prosper”, said Mahatma Gandhi, “can India truly prosper”. Amidst the bustle of the big cities and the drive to transform the Young Republic of India into a global superpower it is easy to forget the villages role in the growth narrative. And yet, the world’s largest democracy cannot ignore the needs of those vital voters who live in the 500,000 villages working the land or, marooned in lives on less than a $2 a day. These are the roots of “inclusive growth”.
Back in the 1970’s Ramachandran, an entrepreneur from Chennai, set up the NAESEY (New Era Association of educated Self-Employed Youth) Project as a Charitable Foundation aimed at offering training on basic skills for the youth in the villages of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Ramachandran is the Chancellor of AMET University, India’s first Maritime University, and the funding for NAESEY is generated from profits from his various business ventures. So far, over 150,000 have benefited from this initiative; many of them on three month training courses geared to increase skills capacity in rural areas, generate sustainable small business ventures and promote self esteem.
As recent posts illustrate, Transformational Logistics is looking for ideas all along the supply chain to improve connectivity between rural areas and, wider markets. Working with T L sponsors Archomai and the support of Ramachandran, Dr Graham Hamilton of York St John University flew to Tamil Nadu with colleagues to study village realities through the eyes of the NAESEY project.
Dr Hamilton and his team lived and travelled amongst the villages of Tamil Nadu where NAESEY is active. The scheme works from 58 centres across Tamil Nadu offering free industrial training on core skills such as computers; craft skills such as tailoring and embroidery and, much needed skills on radio, tv and mobile phone mechanisms. NAESEY offers free training for up to three months and structures courses in learning centres set up to serve and increase the skills capacity of local villagers. Other projects are on the go from mushroom cultivation to brick kilns .
Dr Hamilton and his team travelled the villages with the hugely enthusiastic and committed Vasu, the Coordinator of the NAESEY Programme. They ate, slept and worked alongside the trainers and had open access to trainees on courses from embroidery to computers.
NEASEY pays particular attention to training for women. In Minnal village, the team met Megele, a weaver. Her home is taken up almost entirely with the loom on which she weaves. The raw cotton comes from Uttar Pradesh and is imported by a local company who dye and spin the yarn ready for weaving into lungis or, lengths of cloth in homes like Megele’s. Then, the output from the village is bought up by agents and collected by the brightly painted Ashok Leyland trucks that ferry the produce for sale all over India – horns blaring.
Aside of this commendable focus on task related skills, Dr Hamilton was most struck by Ramachandran’s observation that he started the project back in 1976 with the specific aim of helping those who were heading towards depression and dejection without any employment or any source of income. In Vizharan, a mainly Muslim village, Dr Hamilton met Nisha who told her story. “I never left the house until the Naesey training groups started up. I used to get scared but now, I think of myself as a bold person”. Nisha is now prepared to travel away from her village, even to Chennai to promote her goods.
Another huge impact from the NAESEY project is the success of Self Help Groups (SHGs). Mirroring the Tanda Groups of South America mentioned elsewhere on this Blog, 15 to 20 villagers, usually women, form a group that collects 50 to 100 rupees per month and banks it in the name of the group – often the name of a local God. This money is then invested into high ticket items beyond the income of individuals but so vital to the generation of jobs in small businesses that need equipment to exist. Momentum from this provides an excellent track record to open up loans from banks and, can become the backbone of sustainable growth in rural areas. As Dr Hamilton puts it: “these SHGs are impressive. You can train someone to do something but, if it involves equipment – where is it going to come from out there in the rural areas? And let’s not forget that there are 500,000 villages out there!”
Dr Hamilton’s interest is in the psychology of work and, technology transfer and learning and there will be scope to develop studies on how such skills and supply chain initiatives transform lives and can generate the “inclusive growth” that Policy statements are fond of emphasising. A number of ideas are being developed to explore inclusive value chains in rural areas based on this initial experience. Dr Hamilton sums up: “we were impressed by how effective NAESEY is in building the capacity to work but, we have been amazed at what this has done to the self esteem of the people who have benefited from the scheme. We will return to set up longitudinal studies to monitor outcomes over time.”
There is scope for wider research on other NEASEY projects:
- NAESEY Snack Kiosks. Here, the self employed are encouraged to set up roadside kiosks selling tea, coffee and snacks. This links to other ideas covered on this Blog.
- NAESEY Dairy Products. Providing support for dialogue with the National Bank, loans are being organised to purchase high yielding breeds of cows to improve dairy product outputs.
- NAESEY courier services. Working with Coorperative Banks, this service is all about the collection and distribution of cheques within Chennai.
The last word goes to Ramachandran. “we have worked hard to establish NAESEY to build skills capacity and give people the chance to improve their quality of life. Dr Hamilton and his team have added fresh insight into the impact of this work. We welcome the idea of research and, the ideas to improve that will come from this. I am delighted with the commitment and support they have shown. The NAESEY team has enjoyed their stay immensely.” Ramachandran recently opened a Teaching Hospital in Delhi, and NAESEY is spreading its wings further North.
Dr Hamilton and the T L team are keen to learn of any other examples of research in the villages. Any thoughts?