Organo Editorial

Social Impact Boundary: A non-tourist approach to sustainable rural development intervention

We were recently invited by COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (CSD) to be expert speakers as part of their CAPACITY BUILDING WORKSHOP FOR PhD. SCHOLARS IN SOCIAL SCIENCES.

CSD is a research institute supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Government of Telangana & Reserve Bank of India, Southern Regional Centre in Hyderabad.

Meena Murugappan, Director (Product Strategy & Innovation) and Raghuram Vemula (VP, Group Initiatives) spoke about Organo’s Social Impact Boundary: A non-tourist approach to sustainable development intervention. This concept is briefly outlined below:

During the introduction, Meena set the context by giving an overview on Sustainability, Sustainable Development as well as Sapthapatha, the 7 strands of sustainability followed by Organo. She also spoke about the importance and benefits of Counter-Urbanization. Such a move does create a positive economic injection into rural areas. However, it must be done empathically and sensibly to ensure that this economic activity does not rupture the fabric of the existing rural social & environmental ecosystems.

In order to ensure that the counter-urban population and the existing rural population establish a mutually beneficial synergistic relationship, Organo Social Impact intent uses a framework of operations called the Organo Social Impact Boundary. This framework helps guide the various stakeholders to establish long-term relationships.

Following the introduction, Raghuram deep dived into the topic and expanded on the concept of the Social Impact Boundary. It is important to understand some fundamentals.

About Rural Development in the context of “Rurban”
Typically, urban dwellers feel the need to adopt sustainable living practices and contribute to the development of various strata of society. But often times, they may not know how to go about it and/or face roadblocks on adopting a long-term practice to do so.

A go-between solution typically adopted by the urban dwellers are in-frequent visits to Rural areas done with good intentions but without the larger framework of impact. This activity then fizzles out, as there is no coherence to the approach and resources utilization.

Another constraint is the amount of time they can spend undertaking the intervention on a long-term basis.

Hence, such efforts can be defined as being “tourist”, in the sense that, the effort is there only when the urban dwellers come to rural areas physically and stops when they do not go to the said areas.

Setting the context for Organo’s being
Organo aims to counter-urbanize 5000 families into eco-habitats across South India. Eco Habitats are eco-communities with built-in sustainability systems such as natural farming, solar power generation, waste management and other circular economy systems that are apt for the neighbourhood or product type.

We use the term Rurban often. Rurban means a rural environment with urban conveniences that will help mitigate the anxieties of urban dwellers while engaging rural dwellers in a meaningful way.

Just like any place, eco-habitats also have limits or boundaries. In our case, we have defined eco habitat boundary as “The physical and social space around the eco-habitat which acts as an influence zone whose environment has a direct impact on the well-being of the residents of the eco-habitat.” On the surface, this can be perceived as inward-looking, but we are aware that any well-being of settlement and its habitats depends on the mutually beneficial relationship established with its neighbourhood and neighbours. So, we define the social impact boundary of the eco-habitat as one that establishes a series of long-term sustainable solutions to both the inhabitants as well as their neighbours.

Organo’s connection with Rural Development interventions

Organo implements Sapthapatha in their Eco-Habitats. Sapthapatha represents Food, Water, Air, Earth, Energy,Shelter, People. Each strand is an integral part of what Organo’s eco-habitats embody. Conservation, harmony, empathy and prosperity are echoed in every effort made to work with them. Each strand by itself is a powerhouse but entwined, they form the basis of a growing sustainable system that believes in living in sync with Nature.

On the main strands in Sapthapatha is the People strand. The true essence of any place is in the people. From the residents to the neighbours, everyone matters at our eco-habitats. Over the last decade of developing and implementing this strand, we have been able to impact
1)      73 of families counter-urbanised
2)      15 no of farmers converted to natural farming practise
3)      150 number of jobs created for rural folk
4)      3 number of Farmer Organizations created focussed on milk production and organic agriculture
5)      40-80%increase in economic growth in the local village
6)      Increased skill levels for 250 villagers
7)      5 numbers of thriving new agro-rural businesses

Rural Development Interventions
We’d like to introduce the concept of commons and the need for collective and collaborative utilization of the same to achieve shared prosperity. Commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth.

At Organo, we are evolving and finding solutions as we go to ensure that all the elements of Sapthapatha are adequately addressed in maintaining the boundary. Our end goal is to ensure Eco Habitats become self-growing communities that take care of themselves where there are growth plans embedded into the systems of operations.

For this to succeed, there is a critical need for creating relationships and informal institution building to ensure that the “self-reliance” part is addressed. For establishing this system of self-reliance, Organo acts as a catalyst and does the nudging required to realize the above mentioned state.

Organo as a Catalyst of Change
Intervention is a word typically used in the Rural Development context to mean a programme/ plan intended to solve a pre-defined development problem. The connotation here is that there is something not right in the level of development and undertaking this intervention would help improve the development indicator.

To act as a catalyst in the identified areas (i.e., Social impact boundaries), Organo undertakes “interventions”. Typically, the intervention is being undertaken by a Third Party who wants to see the change take place.

While the people impacted may or may not be “initially” intending for that change to take place, it is Organo’s intention to ensure the change happens. This is critical to establish a self-sustaining intervention of positive social impact. For an intervention to be self sustaining, institution building (habit formation and mindset change) is imperativ

Organo’s Approach and Methodology
Organo adopts a Needs-based approach to Social Impact Interventions. In our experience this approach works as both the parties involved i.e., residents of eco-habitats and villagers have some need, which the other can help meet.

In order to achieve this, we need to identify and empathically understand the needs of both parties. This was done through various workshops, physical meetings, one-on-one discussions, and surveys.

How do we identify the interventions required?
1. Once the location for the establishment of eco-habitat is identified, we undertake a physical survey of the neighbouring villages through a tool called transect walk. This exercise helps us identify which villages to focus on from all the neighbouring villages.
2. Once the villages are identified, a team of village community animators from Organo will go to the villages and introduce themselves to the key persons in the village (such as Sarpanch, Secretary, well known individuals etc.,). During this they also introduce about Organo and it’s intent with respect to social impact activities in those villages.
3. The community animators conduct one to one meetings and Focus Group Discussions with the villagers and collect data on the aspects mentioned above. The data collection is done in both quantitative and qualitative aspects so as to bring out a clear picture of the village.
4. Once the data collection is completed, the community organizers compile the information into village wise reports.


How do we identify the key focus areas?

Once the reports are prepared, a series of workshops are conducted with the leadership team of Organo to identify the key thrust areas in the specific eco habitat in line with the respective product typology. A total of 5 key thrust areas are identified such that 3 are major areas and 2 minor ones. Resource allocation and budgeting is done as per the broad strategy formulated for undertaking the interventions.

Once the above step is completed based on the requirement Organo onboards subject matter experts as consultants and implementation partners for the execution of the interventions.

Once focus areas are identified and the experts are onboarded, intervention design and outcomes for intervention are established. Associated actions are also defined and implemented. Another important task is that of periodic updation of our methodology to adjust to any evolving situation in the villages with respect to the intervention and/or outcome planned.

Examples of Social Impact Interventions and associated Outcomes

1) Something as simple as how we introduce the residents and villagers to each other as neighbours.

2) Something as complex as setting up FPOs, functioning farmer groups etc.

1 Transect walk: It is a systematic walk along a predefined path across the community/ village along with the local village representatives to understand the socio-political make up, demographic information, resource spread, education levels, access to basic amenities etc

Lessons learnt along the way

Key lessons learnt in our interventions at Organo Naandi.

Scenario 1: We wanted to see our neighbouring farmers adopt natural farming practices as it has a direct impact on the soil & water health of their land as well as our eco-habitat. While we saw great success in mobilizing and converting farmers in Bakaram, Yenkapally Village, we also saw some hiccups. For instance, we played the role of the market controller rather than that of the market enablers. In this scenario, Organo purchased all the produce harvested by the farmers who were working with us and sold it to prospective customers. This ended up with us taking the onus of ensuring the livelihood of the farmers is not adversely affected but the entire risk of selling the produce fell on Organo. As a result Organo entered into an un-sustainable zone where Organo was paying the farmers but matching the supply with demand became very tedious resulting in huge expenses. This resulted in the farmers dumping their produce at Organo’s doorstep.

Figure 1: Excess vegetables brought by the farmers
Figure 2: Farmer mobilization exercise underway in Yenkapally village

Lesson Learnt 1: It is better to play the role of market enabler rather than become a market controller. This way the farmers and consumers can mutually decide the price of the produce in a fair market situation.

Scenario 2: Organo and the residents of the eco-habitats from our first project undertook Waste Management initiative in the adjacent villages. The endeavor was to provide waste management infrastructure to the villagers and inculcate better waste segregation and disposal practices. This entire exercise was undertaken with a good intent but could not transform into a successful one as the involvement from the villagers was not to the levels expected.

Lesson 2: Involve the Villagers through constant but subtle sensitization activities and do not go guns blazing to solve an apparent problem.

What are our Next Steps?
As next steps we are consolidating all the learnings from our interventions so far and updating our methodologies to be more suitable, scalable and localized.

Some of the interventions we are undertaking in our next project are related to three broad areas namely Farmer-consumer connect, Education Initiative, Skill Development initiative for rural youth.

Figure 3: Farmer Consumer meeting underway at Antharam Village
Figure 4: Evening Tuition classes underway at Hasthepur village

About Organo’s Social Impact Efforts
Lead by Mr. Raghuram Vemula, Organo’s Social Impact Team works with farmers, rural youth and rural children to ensure better income for farmers, skill development for rural youth and improved education levels for rural children. They are creating systems of intervention, implementation and operations so that the social impact efforts of Organo create a self-sustaining relationship of growth for both the eco-habitat residents as well as their village neighbours. If you would like to know more about Organo and our Eco-Habitats, please connect to us via Phone (7993355227)

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