Anjali Makhija, Chief Operating Officer (COO), S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) said her organisation is reaching a population of about 25 lakh in eight states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, UP, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka covering 980 villages and 31 districts .
For India CSR Leadership Series, she talks about how Sehgal Foundation contributing to the sociatal progress of the nation. Excerpts:
Please tell us about Sehgal Foundation.
Sehgal Foundation has been making a positive impact in the rural communities for more than twenty years. As a rural development NGO, we design and implement rural development interventions to address the needs of communities in rural India in the critical areas of water security, food security, good governance, and the empowerment of schoolchildren. The foundation team is dedicated to bring positive social, economic, and environmental change in the lives of the rural poor with particular emphasis on the empowerment of women and girls.
With support from our partners in the corporate, private, government, and social sectors, we work with rural communities to create and execute sustainable programs for managing water resources, increasing agricultural productivity, strengthening rural governance, and transforming the lives of schoolchildren. Corresponding programs are Water Management, Agriculture Development, Good Rural Governance, and Transform Lives-one school at a time. Gender equity is a cross-cutting theme across all of our programs.
As an emerging knowledge leader on rural development issues in India, the foundation team engages in participatory research, impact assessment, interactive dialogue, and community media to take informed actions and achieve sustainable results.
How has your organisation been engaged in Covid19 relief?
Upon the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, our team’s immediate response was to disseminate information among rural communities about this new virus and steps toward its prevention. Our already established linkages with panchayats and community leaders gave us a lead in filling in gaps of communication about the virus and addressing the concerns and queries of villagers. Alfaz-e-Mewat, our community radio station, has played a key role during the lockdown to continue the spread of awareness. Even our Citizen Information and Support Centre (CISC) continued its operations, providing a free call-in facility to villagers to provide information about COVID-19 and related government initiatives. In addition, the team facilitated safety measures such as village sanitization through spray of disinfectants, and stitching and distribution of masks locally within the villages.
As the lockdown lifted and migrants began returning to their villages, our team initiated relief work including distribution of food and nutrition kits targeting underserved communities; distribution of agri-inputs to smallholder farmers to improve yields; and distribution and demonstration of essential items such as soaps, sanitizers, masks, gloves, and thermal scanners to villagers and frontline workers. Details of some of our ongoing work included the distribution of about 40,000 masks, 4,500 sanitizers, and 3,000 gloves across Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, Maharashtra, UP, AP, Telangana, and Karnataka; about 2,000 underserved families received food and nutrition kits, about 1,800 agri-inputs were distributed to farmers, among others.
As we move from relief to rehabilitation, our current programs focus on building rural resilience by making water available in villages through rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge; improving agriculture productivity through better agri technologies and practices; building awareness of villagers on government programs and availing entitlements; making schools safe for children by providing hand-washing stations, toilets, and drinking water facilities; providing digital literacy and life skills training to youth; and making communities safer by providing information and awareness sessions and Information Education Communication (IEC) materials including wall paintings and posters.
What are your core focus areas and interventions you have undertaken so far?
We work with rural communities through our programs on Water Management, Agriculture Development, Good Rural Governance, and Transform Lives one school at a time.
Our Water Management program works with communities to harvest and store rainwater for direct use and replenish groundwater by building and restoring infrastructure in villages. It also promotes safe drinking water through innovative and sustainable technologies, safe disposal of wastewater, and WASH behaviors.
Our Agriculture Development program builds the capacities of farmers, including women producers, on improved agricultural practices and technologies; and facilitates the adoption of advanced agri practices that include soil health management, crop production management, input use efficiency, water-efficient irrigation techniques, horticultural development, and livestock management, among others.
Our Good Rural Governance program promotes citizen’s participation in local governance for strengthening democracy at the grassroots. Citizens are empowered to work collectively for better delivery of government services, build their capacities to improve functioning of village-level institutions, and create greater awareness on health and sanitation. This program is instrumental in promoting participatory, accountable, and sustainable village development.
Our Transform Lives program aims at positively impacting the morale of parents, teachers, and children to increase enrollment and reduce absenteeism and dropouts. It provides schoolchildren with access to essential amenities in the school including WASH facilities, digital literacy training and life skills awareness, and an enhanced, conducive, and safe school environment. It further supports school administration by building their capacities for improved functioning of the school.
Women’s empowerment is integrated into all our programs.
How many people have benefited from Sehgal Foundation till date?
The foundation is currently reaching a population of about 25 lakh in eight states covering 980 villages and 31 districts. We have presence in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, UP, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. We are expanding our work to Punjab and Madhya Pradesh this year.
What are the focus areas for FY21 Sehgal Foundation social activities?
For FY21, our focus will be on WASH and agri-livelihood activities, more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With reverse migration, villages are coping with a larger population that may not return to cities any time soon. This is going to add to the existing strain on resources, threatening food and water security. We will continue to advocate for WASH behavior change in communities by promoting good hygiene and sanitation practices; replenish underground aquifers through rainwater harvesting; improve crop yields and diversify farm incomes through adoption of improved practices, new technologies, and allied activities.
Our governance program will focus on disseminating key information and on building communities’ ownership of the development initiatives carried out in partnership with the foundation. We are also preparing the schools by installing hand-washing stations, creating wall paintings depicting information on prevention of COVID, and digital literacy and life skills awareness among schoolchildren. We will continue to leverage the reach of our community radio station, Alfaz-e-Mewat, and the Citizen Information and Support Centre.
How has been the journey of Sehgal Foundation over the last ten years?
Sehgal Foundation has a rich experience strategizing needs-based projects for rural India in partnership with communities, corporates, PSUs, government, and the social sector. We design projects to align the CSR vision of organizations with the needs of the community within our areas of expertise. Over the past ten years, we have worked out effective mechanisms to sustain our programs and expand geographically in an organic manner.
At regular intervals, we take time for serious introspection and evaluation of our work and make whatever changes are needed, discard what may not be working, and inject new ideas to ensure that the communities we serve are being positively impacted. We have further strengthened our internal policies regarding program implementation, financial management, and staff welfare. We believe in maintaining an organization culture that empowers the team at every level to promote individual and group leadership.
Which new partnerships and projects is your team most enthusiastic about?
We are excited to expand to Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, replicate our rural development models, and pilot new ideas. There is tremendous scope for development work in these states, and we will collaborate with more CSR partners. We follow a PPP model: promoting partnership with communities (people), government (public), and corporates (private). We believe in creating synergy based on the areas of interest of our partners and community needs, thereby promoting integrated rural development.
How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the social sector in India? In your view, how will the road to recovery pan out?
COVID-19 has had an overwhelming impact across all sectors globally. Its effect on marginalized communities in India has been immense as it has added to social inequities such as lack of food security, financial stability, and health care. Many development sector organizations shifted gears to align their funding and programs to address the crisis at hand; however, many struggle with the fate of their programs and projects. While funding from corporates, PSUs, and individuals has increased, the funds are strictly directed toward COVID-19 relief work, affecting long-term priorities of development sector organizations. This has further led to organizations going into hibernation or closing down, and development professionals losing their jobs.
For a recovery plan, a broader approach is required to transition from relief work to rehabilitation and restoration. While development sector organization needs to go back to the drawing board to design programs to include improvement in delivery of health-care services and government programs, livelihoods generation, technology for information dissemination, among other such things; corporates, PSUs, philanthropists, and individuals need to build their trust in development sector organizations. Support from existing CSR partners and funders is needed more than ever.
What is your vision for the next decade on social development?
Sehgal Foundation’s vision is for every person across rural India to be empowered to lead a more secure, prosperous, and dignified life. Over the next decade, a multifaceted fast-paced development is needed with goals aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With depleting water resources across various geographies, concerted efforts are needed to harvest water in urban and rural areas and work on WASH initiatives to achieve SDG6. To achieve SDG2, innovative strategies must be adopted for improvements in crop productivity, livestock productivity, crop diversification, and better returns to farmers, among others. Aligning with the Digital India program, there is a need to diminish the rural/urban digital divide by mainstreaming digitization. With the lack of adequate social security in the area of health, citizens need to be enrolled in the national flagship programs on health to prevent them from falling back into the poverty trap; and emphasis is needed to be made on preventive health.
This will promote good health and well-being as envisaged in SDG3. To achieve SDG4, the Government of India has visualized the New Education Policy; therefore, the social development sector needs to align their programs to enhance the quality of education especially in government schools. Women’s leadership needs to be built at all levels to promote inclusive development across all sectors, aligned with SDG5. The communities are resigned and their drive for developing themselves needs to be rekindled. Aligning with SDG16, strong institutions of citizens need to be created and their capacities built so they are empowered with knowledge and skills to access government services and actively participate in social development. Collectively, all these activities aim at achieving SDG1.
Various successful models have been created across India that need to be scaled up by the development sector to create a snowball effect. A cohesive, integrated approach is required to achieve the big vision of overall development across all sectors in our country.
Our partners ensure value in our expansion process to reach out to more and more communities in need. Support from government bodies and local, regional, national, and international organizations; corporates through their CSR programs; universities, research institutions, individual donors, and volunteers ensures a broader reach and greater impact on rural communities. I invite all stakeholders to join Sehgal Foundation initiatives and work together to empower rural India!
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