Summer Program in India - June-July 2003

A practicum on learning from community development initiatives was facilitated by Swayam Shikshan Prayog for students from New School University in July-August 2003. The six-week Summer School program was aimed at providing a practical learning experience with grassroots organizations. The six-week program is detailed below.

Overview sessions on poverty, development and governance
Field Assignment
Case Studies on community initiatives led by women’s groups on health, education, water and sanitation
Recording perceptions of all stakeholders - women’s groups, local governments and the government
Sharing of lessons/ findings in a workshop with women’s groups
Exposure visits to Mahiti Kendras or community resource centers to experience peer earning networking and capacity building
Meetings with institutional actors - banks, district/state officials to understand the role of NGO and the official response
Presentation of Case Studies
Two-Day Feedback Workshop
Evaluation of Summer School program

The documentation of case studies and bringing the lessons to the table to dialogue with policy makers on the support needed in the long term.

Women’s groups as community facilitators and themselves primary users of services are often the first to insist that service delivery be made accountable to women and poor communities. Community initiatives led by women’s groups with a little support from the local institutions and NGOs go a long way in improving services. Initiatives offer collective learning opportunities for women’s groups. An onsite demonstration project to build common washing platforms is an illustration. The innovation here was the open planning process not the construction of the infrastructure in itself. For the first time, women’s groups brought their needs into the open, led the process from planning to implementation. When recognized and documented as the New School students have done in the case studies, the process allows good practice to be owned by communities themselves and provides learning for outsiders - policy makers, researchers and others.

On 23-24 July 2003, students presented village case studies highlighting community initiatives led by grassroots women’s groups. Several points were raised on the organizing strategy of women’s groups, support provided by local governments, need for greater advocacy to improve community access to basic services. The two day feedback workshop was facilitated by Soma K.P., a gender and development activist and researcher and attended by SSP’s program support team and field coordinators.

The presentations (water supply, sanitation, health and education) focused on:
How did communities perceive problems in accessing basic services and what steps were taken to solve them?
What initiatives did women take to improve basic services?
What strategies did women’s groups use to open up spaces for participation of communities in decision-making related to basic services?
What methods were used to link with the Gram Panchayat and village officials?
How did SSP facilitate the entire process?

Besides this, the presentations included a set of community monitoring indicators to assess services. These indicators were generated through participatory observation visits to schools or health centers, brainstorming with women leaders and in meetings with government officials.

Community learning processes to improve access to and quality of delivery of basic services offer valuable lessons for all stakeholders. For peer communities they offer invaluable insights into how innovations take shape. For planners, development researchers and students they offer - learning from community practice.