Encountering Heroes within the System
Shivika Bhasin
May 10, 2019

One of the unique things about Samagra is the opportunity it provides to interact with the administrative machinery across different levels. This means that in the course of work, one might end up working with officials from the Chief Minister’s Office, District Collectors, block officials or the sarpanch in a panchayat.

Not only does this provide a good vantage point to understand the complexity of governance but also to learn from passionate changemakers who are continuously striving to bring about change in their capacity, and beyond.

During a district visit to Faridabad, I was supposed to meet three village sarpanches. Before seeing them, I conjured the image of old men sharing their experiences. In stark contrast, I was met by three dynamic, young individuals, including a woman sarpanch! They stood there as a testimony to the positive effects of the minimum education qualification requirement contesting panchayat elections in Haryana and reservation for women.

On being asked about her struggles, the woman sarpanch spoke about the time she chose to stop wearing the purdah. The purdah seemed paradoxical to her as she was a public figure, yet hidden behind a veil. She also wanted to establish herself as an individual visible and available to her polity. While the decision was not difficult personally, she faced resistance from the village women for not following traditions. Ironically, she strived hard to empower these very women by giving them the right information to access gram panchayat schemes and services. She also had to step in to address the lack of teachers in the village school by herself teaching students English, an initiative that resulted in a 100% pass result. This woman has to juggle multiple roles, balance her family commitments, study to acquire an M.Ed. degree while always being available to her electorate. Her not shying away from all these multiple responsibilities, inspired me to tackle all the challenges I face in the course of work head on.

Another sarpanch I met filled the room with a rare and contagious energy as he spoke about a village-level job fair that he organized. He personally funded the job creation effort which achieved nearly 35% employment in the first round. Unsuccessful candidates were provided with soft skills training before the second job fair. To facilitate the process, he also set up an enrollment portal and a toll-free helpline. Champions such as these display an unwavering resolve to achieve their aim and improve the lives of citizens. By going the extra mile, he taught me to overcome odds by compensating for the paucity of resources through innovation and sustained effort.

Service delivery to citizens is a pillar of good governance which ex-IAS officer, Vivek Atray, highlighted. He gave the example of Aadar Samman, a scheme for the elderly that he launched when he was the Deputy Commissioner of Panchkula. His focus on service delivery to the end beneficiary, translated into separate queues for senior citizens in government offices and home visits for awareness drives. This emphasis on making life simple for users is an essential element of the way Samagra also develops solutions to governance challenges.

One of my interactions during the district visit was with a school principal whom teachers credited with leading the transformation of a school in Faridpur village. She addressed the problem of teacher shortage by roping in retired teachers. She trained teachers through school-level programmes and a WhatsApp group by sharing what she learnt in her trainings. She wanted her school to achieve ‘Saksham’ status for her school (80% of students achieving grade-competency) and prepared students accordingly for assessment. This includes conducting pre-assessment, getting students to school on assessment day by making phone calls to parents, impressing upon them the importance of assessments, etc. Her elegant and simple solutions to engage all key stakeholders within the school system–students, teachers and parents–resulted in the school being declared Saksham with 80% of students scoring over 50% in the assessment. Her attitude of taking people along to drive change was a lesson in creating an army of enablers that help generate momentum and bring about systemic transformation.

The opportunity to interact with individuals who strive to alter the system on the ground was an eye-opener for me. Understanding the challenges they face and the solutions they develop gave me invaluable insight into how governance plays out on the ground. These examples are a testimony to the potential for positive impact a motivated leader can create. Each of the changemakers embodies the way Samagra approaches its work. These are not just directives created in a room and mounted on a wall but a way of working that has developed through on-ground experience and has now been embedded into the very DNA of the organization.