Gurugram – Bhond village in Haryana’s Mewat district is scripting its own growth story. Once, lying low on all human development indices, this village received an Indian Green Building Council’s (IGBC) Green Village Platinum rating in 2019 – a first for any village in North India.
In 2016, it received a Gold rating – another first in India.
Feedback Foundation is the CSR arm of Gurugram-based integrated infrastructure services company, Feedback Infra Pvt Ltd. Chatterjee is also the Group Managing Director and Head – Human Capital at Feedback Infra.
The foundation adopted Bhond in 2014. While it has taken almost four-and-half-years for Bhond to be what it is today, Chatterjee said that the village has been tasked to transform Sidhrawat and Badoli in the next three years. Chatterjee, a hard task master said that the foundation has put a sustainable model before Bhond, which now has to replicate it in the other two neighbouring villages.
It is a social responsibility of Bhond to help the nighbouring villages, now that it has come out from the clutches of extreme poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, worst health indicators and social taboos, she said.
The foundation adopted Bhond to “holistically” transform it within a five-year time frame. It will be conducting a social audit to study the impact of all its initiatives undertaken during this period before it exits the village, Chatterjee told India CSR.
“A 2% CSR spend for the foundation was not a large amount for us but in our minds we wanted to put our heart and soul in the job we took,” Chatterjee said. “We recognised that we need to first have a project; define it; monitor it and assess the impact of the effort,” she added.
The foundation worked with 3-4 villages in Mewat for three months before finalising Bhond, she said. “It was important that the local community accepted us to be partners for change,” she added. Apart from being one of the most backward villages in the country, the village was subject to state apathy till the foundation stepped in, the Chairperson said.
The village is at a two-hour drive from our foundation’s Gurugram office.
The foundation conducted a baseline survey to identify the parameters it needed to work on. The survey revealed some troubling trends Chatterjee said.
Out of the 250 households (94% meo-muslims) – over 75% were socially and economically backward. Over 64% people were illiterate with less than 15% having primary education. Unemployment stood at 37% with “severe deficit” of employable skills, the survey said.
Over 60 percent people had no access to sanitation; 67% practiced open defecation; high incidence of preventable diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, polio and jaundice.
The families were also very conservative with a baggage of social stigmas, Chatterjee said.
The foundation zeroed-in on eight areas viz health & sanitation, economic empowerment, education, green infrastructure, village leadership & self reliance, youth-centric skill development/entrepreneurship and solid waste management.
Sanitation was one of the very first initiatives that the foundation undertook when it adopted Bhond in Februray 2014, Chatterjee said as “the living conditions were very bad and it required urgent attention. “By July, 2014 we made the village Open Defecation Free (ODF),” she added.
The next initiative was education where the foundation did a census of all the children in the village as to how many were going to schools; how many were attending classes and the dropout rate in the village school.
The foundation engaged with the district education department, school administration and parents to improve school infrastructure, increase teacher-student engagement and sensitise parents about the importance of education. “We were able to correct that (drop-out situation),” Chatterjee said.
“This is a middle school till grade 8 and all the students passed in the last academic year,” she added.
The foundation also conducted grooming programmes, distributed uniforms and helped arranging the meals to incentivise the children to come to the school.
The meals were tested to enhance nutrition and were prepared by community people to maintain hygiene, she further said.
The foundation also engaged with the women for their social and economic empowerment. The community women were “very skilled” at making hand-woven baskets and the foundation turned that into a money-making proposition for them. “We created brochures and assured them that we would sell the products on their behalf,” she said.
The village now has ten women self-help-groups (SHGs).
Among other things, the foundation has managed to instill scientific temperament for agricultural practices among the youth. That has not only increased the produce but also allowed the farmers to grow more than one crop annually.
The foundation has also connected the farmers with buyers for better price per produce, reducing reliance on mandis, she said.
Enabling community, the mantra
The idea of CSR for us is to create sustainable models and not dole out freebies to the people, she said adding “There is no value attached to the doles. Barring 7-8 families, which were extremely poor, almost the entire village built its own toilets,” she said.
These families were financially assisted with a commitment from them for a repayment over a four-year-period.
The foundation has empowered people to avail benefits from the state and central government schemes, Chatterjee said.
The sanitation initiative broke the ice between the foundation and the community, which encouraged them to come up with their problems, Chatterjee reminisced. “We connected them to district authorities to avail benefits of the government schemes,” she added.
While this has created awareness among people about their rights, the district authorities have also woken up to the problems of the village people. “Now they have a water line, sewer lines and pucca roads in the village,” the Group MD said.
Feedback Foundation’s CSR is an enabler and has been instrumental in effecting behavioural changes, she said.