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For development to be sustainable, it has to start from the roots: Jane Schukoske, CEO, Sehgal Foundation

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In an interview with NewsGram, Jane Schukoske, CEO of Sehgal Foundation talks about the vision and the accomplishments in India.
In an interview with NewsGram, Jane Schukoske, CEO of Sehgal Foundation talks about the vision and the accomplishments in India.
Jane E. Schukoske photo 2014
Jane E. Schukoske , CEO of Sehgal Foundation

– Nishtha  & Rukma Singh of NewsGram

The Sehgal foundation designs and promotes rural development interventions that create opportunities, build resilience and provide solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in India’s poorest communities.  With ample recognition of the need of good governance, the foundation is bound by values of integrity, professionalism, and optimism.

In an interview with Newsgram, Jane Schukoske, CEO, Sehgal foundation, tells us about the working of this organization and its future goals.

NG: Sehgal foundation was formed in 1999. What was the basic aim behind the establishment of an organization working for sustainable development?

JS: The Sehgals had made their mark in hybrid seeds. Their interest in rural India came from their agriculture background. Also, Dr Sehgal was from unified India. After partition, his family moved to India and he was raised here until he went to the United States for graduation.  Basically, from the beginning, they have wanted to support community led rural development. They understood that if development had to be sustainable, it needed to start from the roots, i.e. from the level of the community. The goal is to have social, economic and environmental positive change in the rural India.

NG: When you interact with the rural public during your various field visits, do you see an improper implementation of governmental policies?

JS: There is a pressing need for governance to work properly. We have a good governance programme which has two parts to it. One is working with Panchayats ; village nutrition and health committees, school management committees, etc. We help the members of these committees develop some of the required skills, design a proper layout for implementation and design a budget so as to effectively access funds from the government.

On the other side, we work with citizens. If citizens know how to constructively raise demands  and channel their demands to the right departments, it will help the government to work in a better manner because it will know that its activities are under spotlight.

NG: How was the initial response towards the projects that you started, both, in terms of public participation and administrative procedures?

JS: In the early years, the organization gave a lot of time into finding its feet and building its reputation in the community. One thing that it did was to allocate adequate money to the villages, so that people would understand the sincerity of the organization. We wanted them to look at us as a group that will work with them and not as just another organization looking for grants.

NG: Do you want the rural India to get empowered in such a fashion that they can further govern themselves and become self reliable?

JS: Yes. Empowerment and community leadership are an essential part of our vision. We need to encourage these to ensure future sustainability, because after the brief period of time that we work for in these areas, people should have the knowledge of how to take things on from where we leave.

NG: Do you plan to venture out somewhere in the apathetic conditions of government schools of these areas, especially when it comes to gender based health and sanitation problems?

JS: Yes. Our water management programme also focuses on providing access to clean water to school students in these areas. Rainwater harvesting systems for schools, when coupled with a bio-sand filtering procedure has been believed to be very helpful. In addition, there are other kinds of innovative systems that we are looking to employ, and that we already have begun with. Sea saw pumps are an example of the same. When children play on the sea saw, the pumping mechanism is triggered by their action and then the pumped water is used for the toilets.

What we found was that there were a lot of toilet blocks that had been made, but they weren’t functional because of the lack of water. We are responding to those kinds of needs. Some of our donors are interested in school infrastructure improvement and we have facilitated that. But our own focus has been to allocate as much money as possible to encourage the presence of adequate drinking water in schools as well as sanitation facilities.

NG: Many corporates indulge in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Do you think these organizations work for the greater good of mankind and not just the enhancement of their own image?

JS: I think it’s really important to have stakeholder partnerships to get anywhere. Fortunately, we work with corporations that are really serious about the kind of work they do.  It’s really wonderful to see the bright eyed employees feeling good about their contributions to the world.  So, our experience with corporate has been very good.  You get to deal with people in corporations who have values and who are not just processing papers, they want to make a difference.

NG: We are well aware of the kind of treatment meted out to women in the rural areas. Is that why women empowerment has been a strong part of each and every programme that your foundation has built?

JS: Yes. We actually have a gender policy that causes us to look at everything we do in terms of gender. It is so easy to interpret things written in neutral terms, as pertaining to men. Hence, this gender policy helps us understand how we can feature women, involve women, and bring their issues out in the open in a better manner.

NG: What’s next for the Sehgal Foundation?

JS: In  2011, we were in 17 villages. We methodically planned our expansion.  Through the good governance programme, we expanded to virtually all of Mewat, Haryana. Then, through agriculture and water, we entered Rajasthan. The newest addition is Samastipur, Bihar, where again the focus is on agriculture. We are in talks with our CSR partners about expansion by two means. One, by re-scoping areas to see what would be appropriate to work on, in terms of the interests and needs of people. We’ll be able to attract donors based on these, like in the case of Mewat.
Second, by having prospective donors express interest in a particular area and seeing if it’s feasible for us.

One thing that we have realized is that in areas where we don’t work, we can still train people. Swadesh foundation in Maharashtra, a huge team that works in a lot of areas, asked us to train their team about the governance activities that we do.  We sent some people to train them. For further help, we encouraged one of our employees who worked in Mewat, to go to Maharashtra. He went and stayed there for two months, and guided them along as they went ahead with the implementation of their governance schemes.

So, training and associations with other NGOs with the same perspectives are two things we’d always continue to do.

Next Story

Sikkim Holds Exceptionally Steady And Silent Progress In Improving The Lives Of Ordinary People

Given the track record, it may be safe to predict that Sikkim might be the first Indian state to offer solutions to the rest of India - and the world.

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Sikkim, along with Meghalaya, occupies the top two positions in the best performing region of Northeast on women's empowerment index comprising of participation of women in household decisions, ownership of land, cell phones and bank account, and instances of spousal violence. Pixabay

Everyone knows that Sikkim is a small extraordinarily picturesque mountainous state tucked away in the Himalayas in the northeast of India. That indeed it is. Even today, there are only around 650,000 people living in the state. However, much less known about Sikkim to the rest of India – and also the world – is the exceptionally steady and silent progress in improving the lives of ordinary people that the state has recorded over the past two decades.

How did Sikkim achieve this? The obvious answer is that Sikkim, like many countries in the world, has ensured that policies that promote economic opportunities go hand-in-hand with policies that ensure an equitable expansion of health, education, nutrition and essential basic social services.

Less obvious is the critical role of political leadership in ensuring improvements in the lives of people. Ensuring that the additional tax revenues from economic growth are invested in expanding human capabilities does not happen automatically. Chief Minister Pawan Chamling – the longest serving Chief Minister of any Indian state – has prioritized investments in health, education and infrastructure like no other political leader has. After all, ensuring adequate funds for the social sectors is as much a function of the funds available as it is of making it a political priority. Very few political leaders in India and elsewhere recognize the importance of investing in people as Chamling does.

What goes even more unnoticed is the role that women have played in Sikkim’s development success. Traditionally women have enjoyed greater freedom in Sikkim than in many other parts of the country. The Sikkim Human Development Report revealed that the state had the best gender parity performance among the northeastern states, with female labour force participation at 40 per cent, much higher than the national average of around 26 per cent. In recent times, with the support of the state, they have played an active role in various spheres of life.

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Traditionally women have enjoyed greater freedom in Sikkim than in many other parts of the country.Pixabay

Sikkim’s women have exercised leadership by taking advantage of the available educational and development opportunities. This is revealed by the progress on multiple indicators from NFHS 3 to NFHS 4 recorded by Sikkim. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4), 41 per cent women in the state have 10 or more years of schooling – much better than the country’s average of 36 per cent. Only 15 per cent women, age 20-24 years, were married before age of 18 years as against the national average of 27 per cent. There are only 3 per cent teenage pregnancies in the state placing Sikkim as the best among the northeastern states. The infant mortality rate in the state is 30 against national average of 34. Sikkim has improved its performance with regard to safe delivery remarkably by 43 per cent points from NFHS 3 to 97 per cent in NFHS 4, the best in northeastern states.

Sikkim, along with Meghalaya, occupies the top two positions in the best performing region of Northeast on women’s empowerment index comprising of participation of women in household decisions, ownership of land, cell phones and bank account, and instances of spousal violence.

Women in Sikkim are more empowered to take decisions than women in other parts of the country. According to NFHS-4, in 2015-16, 85 per cent women have the freedom of movement, including to market, health facility and places outside the village or community compared to national average. Almost all (95 per cent) of currently married women in Sikkim participate in household decisions as against national average of 84 per cent. Nearly 80 per cent women in the state have mobile phones for personal use against 46 per cent at the national level. Close to two-thirds (64 per cent) of women in Sikkim – as against just over half 953 per cent) of women across India – have a bank or savings account that they themselves operate. Only 3 per cent ever married women have ever experience spousal violence as against 29 percent nationally – the lowest across Indian states.

Sikkim has, however, many things to worry about. This includes creating jobs for its young people within the state, improving the quality of education, protecting residents from natural disasters, expanding infrastructure and so on. Equally worrisome is the sharp decline in total fertility rate (TFR) – 1.2 in 2015-16 – which is well below the replacement level of 2.1. This sharp decline in TFR might have also contributed to the worsening of the female-to-male ratio at birth from 984 in 205-06 to 809 in 2015-16.

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Sikkim has, however, many things to worry about. This includes creating jobs for its young people within the state, improving the quality of education, protecting residents from natural disasters, expanding infrastructure and so on. Pixabay

The reduced TFR is not good news as it may result in an age-structural transformation wherein Sikkim, like Kerala, will have to address the challenges of an aging population. This could get manifested in the short supply of workers as well as a further decline in the sex ratio. With shrinking active labour force, Sikkim’s economy could experience loss in economic output and possibly a decline in income levels. There could also be an increase in the elderly dependency ratio and morbidity levels on account of a rise in non-communicable diseases. Sikkim will have to mobilize the resources needed to extend financial support of the elderly and make provisions to address, in particular, their health care needs. It will also have to deal with the challenge of declining fertility rates.

Also Read: Millennium City Is Witnessing Rise In Illegal Trade Of Marijuana

These challenges may not come as a surprise to the political leadership in Sikkim. They should not given how well Chief Minister Chamling and the executive are connected the people. Given the track record, it may be safe to predict that Sikkim might be the first Indian state to offer solutions to the rest of India – and the world. (IANS)