Scaling up adaptation 4: Empowering women is a process, not a project

kudumbasree_logo1I return to my series after a longish (but productive) break from my blog, to offer you another example from the development community that can help us understand how to successfully scale up adaptation. This one is about a process to empower women in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

From the grassroots…

In 1991, the Alappuzha municipality in Kerala teamed up with UNICEF to launch a community-based nutrition programme (CBNP) in the district, to improve the nutritional status of children up to 5 years and of women aged 15-45. The programme began with a survey to identify factors that contribute to malnutrition. Nine risk factors were identified, including social factors such as illiteracy, caste, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Families with four or more of the risk factors were then classified as Below the Poverty Line (BPL), and a package of 10 wide-ranging interventions were identified for these families, including enrolment in literacy programmes, income generation schemes for women, and thrift and credit societies.

When stakeholders were consulted on strategies to implement these interventions, they pointed to the inadequacies of existing government systems and programmes, and called instead for a community-driven system to plan, mobilise resources, and implement programmes in partnership with the government.

A system of Community Development Societies (CDS) was therefore established, with bylaws to allow these Societies to approach and receive funds from the government, banks, and other donors. The CDS received funds, maintained bank accounts, and were directly responsible for planning and implementing activities. Each CDS included several Area Development Societies (ADS), and the ADS included several neighbourhood groups (NHGs), each with 20-45 BPL families. The NHGs developed a micro-plan for their area based on their needs. These micro-plans were first integrated into a mini-plan by the ADS; and then into a Town Plan/action plans by the CDS.

Each NHG elected a five-member NHG committee (NHGC), which was responsible for motivating NHG members and facilitating implementation. NHGs were encouraged to form savings and credit societies, which were then used to lend for immediate needs, and to start income-generating activities. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) also extended microcredit services to the NHGs through its linkage-banking scheme, where NHGs that met NABARD criteria were linked to commercial banks. The banks charged the NHGs a concessional interest rate of 10.5 per cent on loans, while NABARD refinanced the banks at the rate of 6.5 per cent.

…to the state

The success of CBNP’s pilots were recognised by the state seven years later. In 1996, Kerala’s Left Democratic Front coalition government launched a state-wide People’s Plan Campaign for Decentralised Planning, calling for a new participatory model of local-level governance. The state devolved 35-40% of the state’s annual budget to local governance bodies in 1997 and many functions related to the provisioning of basic needs, employment and income-generating activities in agriculture, and other small-scale sectors.

As part of this decentralisation drive, a state-wide programme based on the CBNP model was launched in 1998, called Kudumbashree (“family prosperity”). Leaders of the People’s Plan Campaign saw NHGs as a potentially powerful mechanism for ensuring sustained participation in local plan formulation and implementation.

Before the model was adopted, however, extended negotiations took place with stakeholders – a process that was critical in building ownership. Several compromises had to be made. For instance, local government bodies were initially antagonistic to CDS structures, and wanted them to be sub-structures, rather than complementary supportive structures. A compromise was reached through several rounds of negotiations, whereby it was decided that CDS systems are sub-systems of local government bodies, but not subordinate to them. The CDS could not be used to bypass local government bodies, but local government bodies had to respect the autonomy of CDS, as long as the Societies were transparent, and respected the right of local government bodies to know what is happening.

It was also decided that participation In Kudumbashree would be decided on the basis of the willingness of Gram Panchayats (village governments) to participate, and 265 Panchayats came forward in the first phase.

A process, not a project

A Poverty Eradication Mission was created under the Department of Local Self-Governance, and 19 line departments seconded staff to the Mission. In contrast with the previous poverty eradication programmes, no specific financial and physical targets were set for Kudumbashree, to emphasise a “process” instead of “project” approach.

Kudumbashree has since grown into the largest women’s movement in Asia with a membership of over four million; and the largest women’s empowerment programme in India. It is recognised as the “community voice of local self government in Kerala” and most Gram Panchayats and urban local governments use the CDS network for their poverty reduction and women’s development activities. The decision to link CDS structures to local government bodies accelerated the pace of expansion, to over 250,000 NHGs, over 19,500 ADSs, and over a thousand CDSs.

Kudumbashree has faced its share of challenges – including conflicts with NGOs, who view the programme as unfair competition in setting up self-help groups; a mandatory pace of expansion in the early years, where there was pressure to form more NHGs often without adequate training; continued tensions between NHGs and local governance bodies in some places; and lack of clarity on how the various plans, which tend to be a catalogue of needs, translate to a wider development agenda with a long-term perspective.

Elements of success

According to a 2004 analysis, the scaling up of CBNP into Kudumbashree was made possible because of the positive experiences of the pilots; its replicability in urban and rural areas; government ownership of the pilots and of the initiative; Kerala’s unique political context (including the ease of getting progressive ideas accepted by political leaders, the absence of extreme inequities and high literacy rates); and the popularity of the thrift and credit operations, including NABARD’s linkage banking scheme.

The emphasis on training and capacity building is also viewed as a critical element – not just for staff, but also for local government bodies. Kudumbashree has an in-house training faculty and maintains liaison with local training institutes, practitioners, and faculty members of the local universities. A cascade approach to training is followed, where Kudumbashree staff and experts train state- and district-level resource persons in urban and rural local governance bodies. These resource persons, in turn, trigger NHG formation and train NHG members on various topics, including human resource development, micro-entrepreneurship, health and education, thrift and credit operations, infrastructure, convergence, and preparation of micro-plans and mini-plans.

Finally, financial sustainability, an important element of the scaling up process, is ensured by embedding the initiative in local governance bodies, which are well funded in Kerala because of fiscal devolution and a solid tax base, and convergence of a number of government-funded programmes. The thrift and credit element also make active NHGs self-reliant.

Like Indonesia’s Kecamatan Development Programme, Kudumbashree benefitted from a decentralisation drive by the government. It demonstrates, once again, the importance of community-drivenness, fiscal freedom, and a strong capacity development drive.

This entry was posted in adaptation, Climate change, climate change and poverty, Decentralisation, India, Poverty, UNFCCC and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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