Scaling Up the Fight Against Poverty in India

Wednesday 27 April 2016

While India has seen rapid economic growth after the 1991 economic reforms and achieved sharp reductions in extreme poverty, the poor still need clean water, sanitation, housing, healthcare and nutrition to climb out of poverty. In India's 1.25 billion plus population, over 260 million are below the poverty line. Poverty in India goes beyond a number - it is a lack of access to nutrition, shelter, and more importantly a life of fearful desperation for lack of resources.  While the country has seen massive awareness, sensitisation and development programmes to fight for poverty removal, the truth is that we need a long-term process in order to sustain wealth creation to fight the large-scale rural poverty issues. India needs more than individuals and organisations who donate money - it is important to support an NGO for "scaling up" of poverty-fighting initiatives.

What does “scaling up” mean? 
According to the UN agency International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) scaling up refers to “expanding, adapting and supporting successful policies, programmes, and knowledge, so that they can leverage resources and partners to deliver larger results for a greater number of rural poor in a sustainable way”. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean larger projects, but using successful local initiatives as the cornerstone of policy changes, generating additional resources and knowledge. This 'scaling up' needs to incorporate policy change and execution across markets, government initiatives, and civil society. Increased access to wealth creating assets, education and then jobs is the answer to fighting poverty.

Such initiatives can increase the value of every rupee spent on agriculture, education and overall rural development. It is heartening that NGOs are today following a focused and aggressive agenda that covers various strata of Indian poverty. 

The role of NGOs vis-à-vis scaling up
With some limitations of government poverty reduction programs, there is consensus that NGOs play a critical developmental role in poverty alleviation. Here’s how:

Economic growth activities: income generation, appropriate technology, agriculture, and micro-credit for low-income groups, along with providing access to financial and information services. NGOs like Save the Children also roll out schemes like ‘Cash for Work’ during their rehabilitation activities post a natural disaster in an area.

Resource creation
Financial and infrastructural support, and cooperation with social enterprises and microfinance institutions

Thought leadership and knowledge

This includes:

•    Advocacy for policy reform
•    Using case studies of positive results to leverage practices and policies
•    Creating products and services for institutions engaged in poverty alleviation
•    Micro-level growth: promoting self-help groups, small-scale industries, and micro-finance to create employment opportunities
•    Exposure to international best practices and training to enhance the functioning of social enterprises
•    Training based skill development programs to help marginalized Indians achieve employment 
•    Enabling IT penetration and computer education, a vital skill for 21st century Indians 

Direct grassroots work 
Empowering poor rural women and men to work their way out of poverty
Generate not only financial resources via fundraising but also the social and political capital required for sustained change.

Companies Act 2013: giving impetus to Corporate Social Responsibility
All these activities are in associations with social enterprises, microfinance institutions, funders, donors, investors, and corporations.  The Companies Act 2013 has given new impetus to corporate involvement in the social sector. The Act defines that companies with a net worth of rupees 500 crore or more, or a turnover of rupees 1,000 crore or more, or earning a net profit of rupees 5 crore or more must spend a minimum amount on corporate social responsibility. Many companies have earned fame and goodwill in their respective communities as a result of their aggressive campaigns to fight for social media. 

Skill India
The government's war on poverty has a new aspiration, of aggressive job creation, with skills for each of poor, underprivileged youth. According to the current data, India will have a surplus manpower of 4 to 5 crore by 2026. It is, therefore, important to create a skill equipped generation, lest India's demographic dividend could instead become a burden. This is being envisioned through a new breed of ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes), with benchmarks in quality skilled manpower. 

Another motive for scaling up: fighting child labour 
Children are 'caught in the crossfire' of India's poverty problem. Despite the 2006 amendment to the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, to cover lakhs of child labourers below the age of 14, it is the excuse of poverty which has trapped India's children into child labour. This has made it more and more necessary to do whatever you can, such as donate to UNICEF and NGOs like Save the Children. Such international organisations use tried and tested models from developed economies which have successfully reduced child labour.

Conclusion    
Across the developing world, such initiatives have borne fruit. Poverty has reduced by 50per cent, and such a positive outlook is also applicable to us. 

India has brought 137.8 million people out of poverty between 2004-05 and 2011-12. This is nothing but a humble beginning to a challenge that encompasses widespread hunger and poor nutrition, lack of housing, a pressing need for health-care and skill education. However, with the unprecedented sustained scaling up of civil society and government initiatives in the last 2 years, there is a lot of well-justified hope for a better India.