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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Governance and achievements -village leadership lessons

Sunday Times: 01/10/2006" By Chandra Jayaratne, Former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce

Sri Lankan village folk have tremendous individual and collective capacity in helping themselves to achieve significant economic and social gains, provided the necessary support infrastructure is readily available to them.

In these examples that follow actual case studies from Sri Lanka outline the potential for effective achievement of equitable economic growth led poverty reductions, by passing even the UN Millennium Development Goals, provided the presently poverty impacted village communities are empowered, effectively networked to knowledge, best practices and markets, supported by national infrastructure improvements, good governance, effective communications, village level collective transparent self governance options, guided and mentored to change wrong attitudes and the village leadership capability enhanced.

A motivator counselor engaged in a consultancy assignment for a private sector company in a remote village of Sri Lanka subject to abject poverty, had met a young man with leadership potential and commitment, yet dependent on Samadhi benefits as a way of life.
The motivator had convinced villagers that the Samurdhi entitlement dependency syndrome was the barrier to future success of himself and his family.
The villager and his spouse had then taken a bold initiative to surrender their Samurdhi entitlement cards. They then started their new life with a home gardening enterprise.
Later they had taken a loan and started a yoghurt-making small business. Next they expanded their range of manufacture to include brooms. Their small business has since prospered from sales in nearby villages to a district level manufacturing and distribution enterprise. The entrepreneurship efforts now employ 15 other Samurdhi beneficiary families of the village.

Small but happy
A young village housewife whose husband is employed in government services, had following a meeting with the motivator counselor engaged in a consultancy assignment for a private sector company in remote villages of Sri Lanka, decided that she will seek “Samurdhi” by becoming “not dependent on her employed husband”. She had collected a recipe for cutlets from a newspaper and used her savings for an emergency of Rs 450 to start a venture.

She had got up earlier than usual in order to make 50 cutlets in addition to preparing her husband’s lunch. She had individually packaged the cutlets and added a paper napkin as well to improve the value offer of the cutlets. She had asked her husband to try and sell the cutlets via his office canteen.

The new savoury was an immediate hit with the canteen users. The husband had been asked by the canteen keeper at lunch time to bring 100 cutlets the next day as all of them had been sold during morning tea time.

The small business started by this young woman has now realized her dream of being “Non dependent –“ Samurdhi”, She has now become an entrepreneur on her own right.

She extends her benefits even to her employed husband by providing him with a free ride to his city work place on the motor bicycle carrying cutlets and other savouries for distribution to many outlets in the city where the husband is employed.

BPO lasses
Two young village lasses, who had gained competency in English and ICT yet live in a remote village without electricity, cycle four miles everyday to a business process outsourcing centre and are engaged in transcribing medical reports and other information transmitted overnight from USA and UK. They are now in receipt of monthly incomes in excess of Rs. 15,000.

They yet prefer to live in the remote village and cycle to work enjoying the positive village environment and values. They now encourage other village youth to be similarly empowered seeking knowledge and skills leverage linked to new employment opportunities of the global village as the way forward.

Drive and initiative
A young man in a remote village with low telecommunications penetration had discovered a new niche market opportunity based on an observation of the number of villagers traveling to the nearest Communications Centre in the town. He then decided to offer an added value service offering to the villagers. His new business model links the benefits of telecommunications connectivity in villagers marketing their produce. He had invested in a mobile telephone and made himself a mobile provider going over to the clients own houses by appointment to provide the telephone links from their homes.

This link quickly became popular as the whole family could now benefit from the link in networking with family members employed in the cities and overseas.

He also facilitates value added market information to villagers in marketing their produce to the best value offer distribution points.

Similarly, Tri-shaw drivers armed with mobile phones have increased their customer services offering, whilst enhancing their own fuel savings related productivity by limiting travel seeking casual clients by serving a base of clients on call.

Quality-conscious products
A fairly elderly lady in a sea side town had for many years engaged in buying the unsold fish catch at attractive prices from fishermen to make dry fish in the traditional way, (ie. drying the fish on the sea sand in front of her home) and selling it to the village merchants. She had then been exposed to training, where the added value of dried fish without sand/impurities and individual attractive packaging had been demonstrated.

She then realized her options to improve quality and productivity. She now dries the fish on a raised marble slab covered within a fish net. This safeguards the fish from crows, dogs and cats, whilst being dried and the contamination with sand and impurities are avoided.

Her value addition then improved by 40%. She had borrowed the necessary funds from the village development society and extended her activities to packaging and labeling by purchasing a polythene sealer in order to market individually labeled and packaged dry fish..

The quality improvements and lower wastage enhanced her income by a further 25%. Next she took her samples to some medium size super markets in and around Colombo and got the shop owners to compare the quality of her products with the produce available from other suppliers.

Now she now markets her produce with a leaflet that highlights the competitive advantages. Her regular supply clients are now chains of small distribution outlets. Her value added income enhancements now yield over 100% gain above her initial yield. This is despite her marketing strategy now being on consignment sales which requires her to bear the financing costs. She totally paid off her original loan and has now taken a bigger loan and employs many others on sub contract to produce to her quality of dry fish marketed under her dry fish label .

Assuming leadership and responsibility
A young girl of 26 years living in a multi ethnic, extreme poverty ridden village in Puttalam (40% Sinhalese, 40% Muslims and 20% Tamils including a large number of IDP’s) developed on her own, a total village development plan for her village to achieve MDG’s in three years.

The village people were so impoverished that they could not raise Rs. 10,000 required as the minimum capital to register a village society. Large numbers of households were headed by women with men having gone in search of jobs and later abandoning their families. In the meantime political power houses and mudalali’s were exploiting the village resources of gravel without any value addition to the village.

The initial plans drawn up by this girl included the restoration of a disused tank, development of the connecting village main road network, developing a play ground with the clay and sand from cleaning the tank, development of 3 community wells for drinking water (large number of families affected by kidney diseases), enhancing the environmental value of the tank, a building for a community hall/playground and a village school. She was first assisted in registering a Society with her as the President.

Private sector sponsors and a Rotary Club accepted to support the project plan. However, the authorities whose permission was required to begin the tank restoration demanded a large professional fee included project cost to be paid to them for the work to be undertaken by the authorities.

The sponsors refused to participate in the development plan that meant large spends made via the authorities with consultancy fees and other levies.

She invited all the party leaders to the opening ceremony and individually met them and won their support and leveraged them, with an oncoming election at hand, to apply pressure on the authorities to grant necessary permission without any fee payments.

Her ability to lead the project, and getting necessary permission without meeting the high fees demanded by intermediaries and getting the villagers organized in a society led own initiative of self supervised project impressed her private sector sponsors who readily made available the necessary funding.

The project implementation went smoothly with regular cash flow statements (actual and estimated future cash flow needs) being provided. There was then a power struggle with one community wishing to dominate the Society.

The girl overcame this obstacle as well by giving the Presidency to a member of the other community but taking the governance responsibility heavy treasurer’s role.

The work was completed by the next dry season with the restored tank and wells (objections from four other nearby villages also being amicably settled under her leadership) providing ample water for drinking, bathing and irrigation during the dry season, a luxury compared to the past. With water now assured villagers have invested in solar pumps and taken to home gardening.

The remaining work in the next two stages relate to pipe borne water connections to each of the village households and the construction of individual toilets for several families without individual toilets. This is planned for the next season. In addition the young girl is now developing plans for a salt packing initiative (salturns being close by), a tank supported inland fisheries and a sustainable agricultural development project that can yield additional income to all 88 families of the village.

Despite many obstacles on the way this young woman’s leadership ability, committed can and must do spirit and visionary focus have made this village a model for development links.

Having registered a village society and using the regulatory protection options the village is entitled to she has managed to stop illegal excavation and transport of gravel by politically supported contractors. The village society now receives a franchise fee from every lorry load excavated (within three months nearly Rs. 300,000 collected as fees).

She has organized village youth to keep track of the movement of lorries and record them and now requires the contractors in addition to effectively maintain the road and avoid dust pollution.

She has made the contractors spray water four times a day to reduce dust pollution. The funds raised are to be used by the village society for road maintenance and village development.

She did not forget the environment as the restored tank now brings in interesting bird life back to a once barren village.

The playground is a boon to the children and youth for cricket and football. The community hall/ play house and the school are next on the agenda with even a political party now lending a helping hand.

This case study demonstrates the power of village leadership, governance discharged effectively by villagers and network benefits of effectively implemented CSR initiatives of the private sector.

Improving incomes
A multi national company has developed an integrated village development plan that capitalizes on improving the incomes of homestead agriculture and animal husbandry using simple technology and best practices that improve the soil conditions and provides a sustainable environment within a business model that can reach simple village families.

Whilst improving agricultural productivity, waste reduction, this Sustainable Agricultural Development (SAD) Model most importantly links the villagers to distribution networks for marketing their products and provides the villagers with a stream of value adding best practices based advisory services.

This business model managed by village families follow a thorough training module and is thereafter linked to regular supervision and advisory services which then realizes optimum prices for productive quality produce.

This system requires an investment of less than Rs 50,000 per household and assures a regular sustainable income option ranging from Rs 4000 per month to Rs 12,000 per month and leverages the participation of all members of the household.

Learning curve
A village down south has developed on their own with the guidance of a Technical Advisory Partner a simple technology and best practices leveraging compost fertilizer, enriched with the dried fish waste from the fish sales in the area. The compost packs produced have been analyzed and assessed as comparable with best quality compost fertilizer available in India. This initiative now limited to this village has the potential of multiple benefits across the island

World Bank funded Gemi Diriya programme, where the village community decide on the village priorities and the resource allocation needs for village economic empowerment is a bench mark of how decision making, project planning and implementation can be effectively delegated to the village community. The success of the projects clearly reflects the capacity and capability of the village communities to take accountability on a collective basis assuring transparency and good governance.

The village community is required to fund up to 40% of the project costs by themselves contributing labour or materials of such value and once this is established they receive the balance as a grant. Thereafter the villagers take full accountability for the outcomes and project objectives.

Skeptics are bound to say that these are rare examples and cannot be repeated in a mass scale to eradicate poverty. However with initiatives to

* Awaken people to their true power and leadership potential

* Awaken political leaders to their true responsibilities

* Developing governance to the lowest level, gram swaraj or village self governance

* Bringing about constitutional reforms through a bottom up process

* Improving the access to effective national infrastructure

* Good governance improving service delivery to villagers

* Meritocracy and those most deserving being the criteria for support

* Effective communications

* Availability of appropriate technology, best practices and skills development opportunities

* Effective networks to distribution and marketing channels

* Change leaders and motivators to change the wrong attitudes and social exclusion processes

* Social premium sales counters and social premium inclusive pricing mechanisms as a support marketing network being established by the private sector

* The nation adopts a national vision with all citizens pledging, within a Sri Lankan value system to strive to achieve equitable economic growth led achievement of millennium development goals

* Government and key opposition parties on a bi-partisan basis to agree long term policy regimes that assure a high level of equitable economic growth, with effective macro economic, social and environmental issue management. There is no doubt that poverty eradication goals surpassing the UN Millennium Development Goals will be a reality in Sri Lanka.

(These were extracts of a presentation made on “Equitable Economic Development – A Thematic Position Paper” at the conference on “ Towards The Millennium Development Goals" - Multi Stakeholder National Conference” on September 12 at the BMICH).

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