What Are You Looking at When Helping People? Discussion From the Lens of Socio-Economic Analysis

People are poverty-stricken, they must receive immediate help and primary support. Does this line of reasoning stand persuasive enough to intervene? Is it convincing enough to decide about the support and help to be offered? If not, what will build an argument for intervening? What can present the cost-benefit transaction of helping out people? The answer to this has to derive from a socio-economic analysis of the intervention.

Photo By Awadhesh Kumar

The harsh realities of poverty, hunger and inequalities are not imperceptible in day to day observations. Many people struggle hard in fulfilling their fundamental needs. There are individuals and organizations who immensely would like to help them with genuine intentions to create a better world for all. This effort requires a considerable number of resources, including financial and human. At the same time, we can not ignore that social sector interventions are extensively dependent on funder and donors which necessitates a pressing need for informed use of resources for any intervention. But it poses a larger question of how we ensure that the required resources are used most effectively with a lasting impact. Socio-economic analysis delivers an answer to this. Let us infer in detail with a hypothetical case of intervention using different approaches.

Assume that in a particular area of a metro city, 100 people sleep in the open (on footpaths, under the flyover, etc.) during winters. An organization observed this and decided to help. The organization has only 1 lakh rupee to help, and members in the organization suggested possible ways of doing it.

– Few team members in the organization recommended that as it is winter they can distribute a blanket and a mattress to all 100 people. The cost of a blanket and mattress was 1000/- rupees. Therefore, if they distribute blankets to 100 people, the total cost would be 1 lakh rupees, and this way, the organization can use the entire amount.

–  A couple of other members suggested providing dinner to these people. They decided to serve packed food to everyone at night. The cost of each packet was 20/- rupees. Therefore, the combined cost of serving meals for one day to 100 people would be 2000/- rupees, and based on the total amount (1 lakh) that the organization has, they will be able to serve packed food for 50 days.

–  Some members of the organization decided to spend a day in the lives of these people before suggesting anything. The members wanted to identify why these people sleep in the open at night? After spending a few days, the members discovered that most of them did not have any occupation, and those who had, their earnings were insufficient to get rented accommodation. The organization launched a skill center in a small rented premises in that area. This skill center was uniquely designed, keeping in mind the most demanded skill in that area. Through observations, the organization identified that this place is famous for street food. For this reason, they strategically designed a one-month course to assist people sufficiently learn the basics of preparing popular local food.  The organization calculated that with 1 lakh rupees, they would be able to train only 50 people in two groups of 25 each, where each group will undergo one-month of training. The organization also thought of distributing the prepared food during the training course to the needy ones. The cost breakup of conducting training for one group is given below.

Skill center rent -15000/- rupees
Cost of hiring a trainer -10000/- rupees
Cost in procuring cooking material -15000/- rupees
Other operational costs -10000/- rupees

There are no definite tested paths of helping out people, but certainly, there are frameworks and tools that can direct our actions while intervening. The socio-economic analysis represents one such tool that can immensely contribute to delivering impactful solutions. Rather than choosing the best approach out of the above, I would like to leave you with the following questions that touch upon the social-economic aspects of these approaches and make you brainstorm to arrive at an informed decision.

  • Which approach addresses the root cause of the problem and can deliver a lasting impact?
  • In what way do you think people will feel more dignified and can become independent?
  • In which case does the organization secure a better opportunity for rapport building with the beneficiaries?
  • Which approach demonstrates the potential to become a self-sustainable model?

We shall explore some answers together soon.

Aman is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with IFMR Lead in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. For his fellowship project, he is piloting an initiative to institutionalize and scale up tested approaches to gender integration and transformation using women’s federations under the National Rural Livelihood Mission and State Livelihood Missions. Aman is a recent postgraduate with a Master’s in Development. He holds an undergraduate degree in Engineering and has six months of work experience in the corporate sector. “How will an ideal society that we dream of look like and what would it take to build that society?” has been an unsettling question for him for years and a driving force for him to make the transition from Engineering to Social Science. He has the experience of carrying out research studies in semi-urban and rural settings, which supported him in understanding the challenges faced by different marginalized social groups. It also encouraged him to brainstorm about the ground-level complexities of the social sector. He conducted a research study about “(de)coding human development through the use of technology in a digital village” in the first digital village of Haryana. It was an attempt to establish an inter-linkage between technological intervention and human development components and how social interactions take place in an information society. The outcome of the research study emphasized on the need to “localize the digitalization” and to move from “service delivery to sustainable deliverable.” Aman enjoys working in a multidisciplinary, cross-functional environment where he can execute a multi-pronged strategy to solve a problem. He is often excited by the use of empirical methods to address social problems. His special interest lies in preparing the socio-economic analysis of development interventions. In his free time, he likes exploring the realm of experimental and non-experimental research methods for program evaluation of development interventions. He considers the AIF Clinton Fellowship opportunity as a training ground to explore, experiment, and test whatever he has studied in books and theories about the development sector.

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