NGO shows the way for rural uplift

Sehgal Foundation’s achievements are worthy of emulation.

Corruption and financial irregularities are common among most NGOs in India, but Sehgal Foundation (SF) in Gurgaon, Haryana is an exception. Founded by Suri and Edda Sehgal in 1999, the SF has been helping villagers help themselves.

Travel through Mewat is enough to demonstrate that the poverty level there is more than 80 per cent, even using the appallingly low planning commission’s criterion. The Foundation is a beacon of hope for the residents of this bleak landscape.

Efforts to reduce poverty in Mewat district, one of the 21 districts of Haryana, have entailed a long learning journey by the Foundation’s team as they tried out different approaches to find a strategy for optimum rural development. In the first few years, the team implemented projects they thought were most needed by the villagers. Projects were launched to increase agricultural productivity and improve connectivity to the market. The foundation changed its strategy based on feedback from villagers.
A priority was to engage in projects with the villagers that could go even without the foundation. It assisted in building community centers and mobilized village-level institutions and individuals to take part in the development activities. The projects improved water management (to help fulfil what the communities termed as their greatest need), enhanced farmers’ income, taught skill-building (such as tailoring), and involved villagers in preventive healthcare.

Recognizing the seemingly endless needs and the scarce financial resources of a single NGO, the Foundation’s team shifted strategies in 2006 to adopt a rights-based approach to development. Work had begun to make villagers aware of their rights with regard to government welfare programs.
With the implementation of an initiative called Good Governance Now! (GGN) model, residents of Mewat villages have been empowered to exercise their rights and demand services entitled to them from the government with minimum hassle and without paying bribes. School management committees and village health committees are functioning better with startling results. The SF team has taken the GGN model to 403 villages in Mewat and to villages in Alwar, Rajasthan.

Good governance

Good Governance Now! focuses on developing a critical mass of actively participating villagers to bring about effective governance in their communities. The SF’s experience of developing a model village, Notki, starting in 2008, showed the power and importance of Good Governance Now!–an initiative that was selected as a finalist for a 2010 Global Development Network award. The foundation’s team worked with the Notki community to transform it into a demonstration model village in part to show villagers what was possible. When the successful project was completed, the SF shifted its role from direct implementation to support.

When some deterioration in the roads and loss of trees occurred after two years, the newly elected sarpanch expected the foundation to take care of repairs. The SF team worked with Notki citizens for almost a year before successfully countering this expectation. GGN training helped villagers understand the importance of taking responsibility for their own development and exercising their rights with appropriate government programs and services.

As a result of the training under GGN, villagers were able to improve PDS delivery (quality products on a timely basis), Mid-day meals scheme (meeting the standards laid out by the government), quality education (improved teaching, return of illegally collected fees), MGNREGA (timely payment of salaries and less scam), Anganwadi (better service and regular attendance), and sanitation (cleaner roads, less garbage, building of toilets for BPL families). Villagers learned to make better use of the Right to Information Act to ensure timely government assistance. This reduced scope for corruption.

Just like any well-managed company, Sehgal Foundation has well-defined annual and long-term goals staffed with motivated and well-trained people. For example, the Good Rural Governance program team is committed to making citizens aware about government policies and programs for improving their well-being, enhancing citizen participation in government programs and institutions for promoting inclusive, transparent, and accountable governance, and making policy recommendations for improving transparency and accountability in governance.

Impressed with the outstanding contribution of Sehgal Foundation, institutions such as Coca Cola Foundation, The Mosaic Foundation, Key Management Group, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, NABARD, TERI, Department of Science and Technology, Maruti Suzuki, Millennium Alliance, Misr Hytech in Egypt, etc., have funded project partnerships to recharge groundwater by constructing check dams and other water augmentation systems; trained farmers on soil health, drip irrigation, and the use of appropriate fertilizer; and empowered citizens to obtain their rightful entitlements.

It is encouraging to see how a committed NGO working with a dedicated panchayat led by an honest sarpanch backed by funding from an interested corporate partner can make a difference in rural communities. Sehgal Foundation has been able to create ponds for recharging groundwater, irrigating farms, and supplying water to plantations. More than 35,000 native plants have been planted in catchment areas and around check dams, ponds, and school boundaries.

In its short existence since 1999, Sehgal Foundation has demonstrated how villagers themselves can avail various government welfare programs, increase their earning capacity through improved farm productivity, give quality education to their children, improve sanitation, etc. The Good Governance Now! model developed is replicable, scalable, and sustainable throughout India. The foundation team has assisted Swades Foundation in Maharastra in spreading GGN in about 300 villages of Rajgad by training its volunteers. GGN has reached villages of Samastipur district of Bihar and in Alwar district of Rajasthan.

Finally direct participation by the people in exercising their rights is far more effective in reducing corruption than adapting laws to curb it. However, Sehgal Foundation cannot by itself undertake such a gigantic task without partnerships with other corporations, philanthropists, educational institutions specially law colleges, and IITs to replicate the GGN model.

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