Community Narratives and Institutional Change

I owe to my undergraduate education the key insight that knowledge in our world comes in myriad forms: local, generational, scientific, intuitive. This belief has both shaped my travel experiences in South Asia and been reinforced by them—and I approach my work in India this year with the intent to value the community-level knowledge I encounter in Delhi’s low-income neighborhoods.

What does this mean? It means that an illiterate mother of five in Sundernagari, earning four thousand rupees per month by selling her cow’s milk, has ideas about urban design and neighborhood planning that are just as important—perhaps more important—than a government official or NGO worker. She knows the experience of a slum-dweller far more intimately, and she must be heard. The question I struggle with, and the question this fellowship might help me begin to answer, is how that woman’s story can trickle up—from the community level to the sphere of institutional change.

I believe this question—of the disconnect between institutional policy and on-the-ground realities—is one that India as a whole continues to face. As Dr. Sagar Jain, a retired professor from my alma mater, said: India has the most progressive laws on the books in the entire world; the problem is with their implementation. Indeed, the disconnect between the social schemes and economic promises that New Delhi makes to its people and the grinding poverty and inequality that typify everyday life, demonstrate frustratingly the problem of implementation. The housing sector, in which I’ll be engaged this year, is a prime example: the government’s official policy in Delhi calls for in-situ slum rehabilitation with community input. Especially coming from the United States, this policy feels wonderfully and encouragingly progressive. And yet the number of low-income or slum communities in Delhi that have seen their quality of life improve due to government intervention remains minimal.

While this work of bringing local, unvalued knowledge to policy spaces might be extremely difficult, it also presents an extraordinary opportunity. This year, I expect, will expose me to wildly different scales of community and governance—from individual households in Delhi’s poorest neighborhoods to high-level discussions with the World Bank and the Indian government. The scope of Micro-Home Solutions’ work is what excites me most about this experience, and what I know will make it truly transformative.

The first time Greg traveled to India it was to join a mountaineering expedition in the Kumaon Himalaya. Be- yond an introduction to stunning (and challenging) landscapes, the experience sparked an avid interest in the diversity and pluralism of South Asia. Return visits to the subcontinent have afforded him opportunities to study at Jawaharlal Nehru University and conduct ethnographic research in the Bhutanese refugee camps of southeastern Nepal. Throughout college, Greg's involvement with Nourish-UNC‰ÛÓan organization that builds partnerships between students and community-based organizations around the world‰ÛÓtaught him to think deeply and critically about international development. An ardent believer in participatory community work, Greg is excited to take up Microhome Solutions' mission of creating socially inclusive cities. He's also hoping to compete in triathlons while living in India.

You Might Also Like

2 thoughts on “Community Narratives and Institutional Change

  1. This is an insight, I appreciate your deep understanding and the wonderful example of Professor Sagar Jain, which is true to a great extent in the society across the nation, however, when we talk about development, it is a two way process, at one hand the policy has been made on the other side there is another process of mobilizing people to bring mutual consensus, because, one thing I want to share with you that these policy makers are also the product of the Indian community, what they lack is the mobilization and mutual benefits of both…..

  2. Great post Greg. The work you will be doing with MHS I hope will be exciting as well because you will see the third player in the whole thing, “the India growth story”. As incomes of middle India rise, the marginalized are increasingly being pushed out of urban spaces, whether it is in the way that land is being grabbed for construction of high rises for high incomes or in the way the highways have not taken into account the needs and demands of the people who live alongside it. Do keep posting so that we can learn more from your experience!

Leave a Reply to Mohd Ali Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Us

Stay up to date on the latest news and help spread the word.

AMERICAN INDIA FOUNDATION IS A REGISTERED 501 (C)(3) Charity. © 2020
NEW YORK | CALIFORNIA | NEW DELHI

Privacy Policy

Get Involved

Our regional chapters let you bring the AIF community offline. Meet up and be a part of a chapter near you.

Join a Chapter