Collaboration and Co-Independence among NGOs in India

Sita and Pospa, two women artisans at Avani.

Anecia’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust. 

A common thread I have noticed while working in the NGO sector in India as an AIF Clinton Fellow, is the idea of collaboration and sometimes even co-interdependence within the NGO sector. In the past, my NGO experience comes largely from internships. One of my internships focused on community organizing, voter registration, and advocacy. While the other centered around education, and how at a young age it is important to get children interested in learning, especially those that come from communities that are often overlooked. Regardless of these NGOs’ different thematic focus areas, they both were founded to help benefit marginalized communities. Avani is no different. Avani, founded in 1997, originally as a chapter of Barefoot College, became fully independent as its own NGO in 1999 [1]. Avani creates livelihood opportunities for disenfranchised groups from the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand [2]. Within this organization, I specifically work with their social enterprise, which is governed through their cooperative, Kumaon Earthcraft Self-Reliant Cooperative, also known as Earthcraft.

During the Midpoint conference of the AIF Clinton Fellowship, which was hosted in Alwar, Rajasthan in January 2019, I realized during a site visit just how influential the foundation of Barefoot College was to Avani’s mission and current work. Barefoot College is not just a technical college where people can gain a degree; it is instead an institution where those from alienated groups can gain hands-on skills to share with their own communities. Although located in rural Rajasthan, people from all over the world have gained skills and attended this institution, especially through their “Solar Mamas” project, they host women from all across the world [3 , 4]. Through this experience, I could not help but notice the collaboration that takes place among the NGOs within India. The formal definition of collaboration is the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing. The reason why I find this so profound within India is because I’ve witness countless times where my host organization has extended an olive branch in order to collaborate with like-minded individuals as well as times where they have benefited from being offered a collaboration with others. Therefore making it a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Testing a hand-made paper crane toy during a tour at Barefoot College.

Furthermore, through this idea of collaboration, I learned a new concept: exposure visits. Exposure visits grow on the idea of exchanging knowledge through experiential learning [5]. They are a tool that is used to facilitate learning and entails two or more parties where one is learning from the other through observation and activities [6]. Through the fostering of this collaboration not only do people acquire new skills they also widen their network [7]. Avani has utilize exposure visits in many innovated ways that have not only helped their participants gain more skills but also in terms of also sharing their own knowledge.

Last year, through an exposure visit to Bhuj, thirteen members from Avani’s team including senior supervisors and weavers worked with Somaiya Kala Viday’s weaving clusters and Ajrak’s printing unit at Dhamarka. During these exposure visits, Avani’s team learned about the rich weaving techniques from traditional weavers from both these areas. They then have paid this forward by also sharing their work through tours and workshops. One workshop I have been privy to is when a young woman from another NGO in Odisha came to learn more about natural dyes in order to share this information with the people in her organization. Avani assisted her with learning the techniques and information, and from this interaction she will pay it forward by teaching the people of her NGO in Odisha.

The lady to my right works for a nonprofit in Indonesia and right beside her (not pictured) was a community member from one of the villages her nonprofit works with. They arrived at Barefoot together. We were talking about the limitations of the project that the rural women were working on. She was saying how “Mama (used out of respect) has bad vision so it’s hard for her to learn the skills being taught.” I thought it was really interesting and made me wonder, how can there be more done to further foster inclusivity within development, and also what tasks are being taught in order to advance rural developing communities and foster economic growth?

If one was to label this, I would call it the domino effect. By fostering a collaborative set-up and partnership with other NGOs, Avani has been able to help increase their own skills while simultaneously helping to build skills of other people from different organizations. There is an old saying that, “As one we can go far, but together we can go further.” The idea of interconnectedness among NGOs and of fostering a mutually beneficial relationship not only promotes inclusivity, but it also makes me wonder: how can these relationships ultimately fuel sustainable change in India at the grassroots level?

References: 

  1. “About.” Avani-Kumaon.org, 2019. Accessed at: https://avani-kumaon.org/#about.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bhowmick, Nilanjana. “The Women of India’s Barefoot College Bring Light to Remote Villages.” The Guardian, 24 June 2011. Accessed at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2011/jun/24/india-barefoot-college-solar-power-training.
  4. “Solar Mama.” Barefoot College, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.barefootcollege.org/tag/solar-mama.
  5. “Training and Exposure Visits.” Greenfoundation.in, 2018. Accessed at: http://www.greenfoundation.in/training-and-exposure-visits.
  6. Bhatia, Ritika. “Importance of Exposure Visits.” Projects and Programs. Gendermatters.in, 15 March 2018. Accessed at: http://gendermatters.in/2018/03/importance-of-exposure-visit.
  7. “Exposure Visits.” Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2019. Accessed at: http://www.centrepeaceconflictstudies.org/interventions/exposure-visits.

Anecia recently completed her degree in International Studies from Spelman College. This will be her second time travelling to India; she studied at the University of Hyderabad in the spring semester of 2017. Her time there opened her eyes to many issues in India, and she became particularly passionate about the issue of farmer’s suicides in India. Anecia is passionate about uplifting women and girls, and is the co-President of a mentorship program for young girls called TeenAngel Society Inc. Anecia has also worked as a community organizer in Atlanta, and also has blogged on various issues facing women.

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