CORD India – for community empowerment

By Denise
Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Paul
of CORD, an Indian organization
strengthening communities and empowering them to alleviate poverty and reduce
vioelcne and social and gender-based injustice. Would like to thank Paul for
his detailed answers to our questions.

How would
you define the approach of CORD?

CORD’s program in
rural development revolves around building, nurturing, and strengthening
Community Based Organizations (CBOs) of women, men, youth, adolescent girls and
children, known as Mahila Mandal, Men and Farmer Club, Youth Groups, Yuvati
Samuh and Bal Vihar, respectively. These CBOs are the major substratum
component and work as an agent of change in the community. So as a first step
CORD will nurture and strengthen the CBOs ward-wise (subunits of Gram Panchayat)
in the selected Gram Panchayats. After that CORD will facilitate the
institutional capacities of the CBOs to address the community’s diverse issues
related to their life through the following programme components:
Access to microfinance through Self
Help Group (for women).
Community Based livelihood-in the farm
and allied and non-farm and service sector
Social Justice and Gender sensitization
Strengthening Local-Self Governance
Health, Nutrition, Sanitation and
Community Based Inclusion and
Rehabilitation for persons with disabilities
Adult literacy-basic reading and
writing skills
Alcohol Abuse Awareness and Management
Participatory and Natural Resource
Along with this, CORD
will also facilitate CBOs members for effective Up-Gram Sabha and Gram Sabha.
Actually, this is a kind of direct democracy, where the villagers who have
completed 18 years and are enrolled in the electoral list are the member of
Gram Sabha (Village Council). Through this platform they can directly get
involved in local self governance and able to participate in the planning,
implementing, and monitoring of their village schemes.
With three decades of
experience in rural development, CORD has developed an experiential development
model where minimum 5-6 years of intensive efforts are required with rural
communities to bring effective change addressing multifaceted issues through
people participation and convergence. Further we hope to increase and leverage
institutional capacity and mainstreaming of people in local self governance
through Up Gram Sabha and Gram Sabha for sustainable yet dynamic process in
rural development at Panchayat level.
CORD is a national
trust formed in 2003 and working for comprehensive integrated rural development
work. It is an expansion and absorption of the original development wing of
Chinmaya Mission, Under Chinmaya Tapovan Trust (CTT) established in 1985 in
Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh. CORD has more than 30 years of experience in
integrated rural development work. It has gradually expanded to cover more than
650 villages in rural Himachal Pradesh. Starting in 2005, CORD embarked on
replicating its success in Himachal Pradesh to other states in India Viz.
Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It reaches out to half a million rural
people. So far CORD has facilitated more than 651 Mahila Mandals with more than
30,000 women members, 1575 Self Help Groups, 42 Farmer clubs, 107 Adolescents
Girls Groups, 80 children groups known as ‘Balvihar’. CORD’s integrated
programs include Social Justice and Legal Cell Program, in which there are 925
registered cases, Community Based Livelihood – Farm and Allied Sector and Non
Farm and Service Sector, which supports 17000 beneficiaries, Community Based
Inclusion and Rehabilitation for persons with Disabilities (CBIR), which is
working with more than 601 disabled persons and their parents, and Health and
Strengthening Local Self Governance through effective Up- Gramsabhas and Gramsabhas
in Panchayati Raj Institutions.
What are
the main challenges to the sustainable development of rural India?
The main challenges to the sustainable
development of rural India are as follows:
How to effectively engage people or
facilitate people to centre stage of development in rural India in the process
of their own development in sustainable manner.
How people could leverage various
existing systems and programs for their development and common good.
The community is not aware about their
rights and governments schemes.
The passive attitude of responsible authorities.
Working in isolated way by different
government departments.
Taking ownership by community as a
central level of development.
The migration of educated and potential
people towards urban area and big cities.
How do you promote community empower
and how do you promote women’s empowerment?
Women make up 70 percent of the world’s
one billion poorest people, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours,
produce half of the world’s food but earn only 10 percent of the world’s income
and are said to control only one percent of the world’s property. According to
the Global Poverty Project, on average, women earn half of what men earn. In
India, the situation is not very different. In rural community the status of
women is worse than in urban areas. Women are undervalued in societies and this
attitude is often deeply rooted in societal and cultural customs and
traditions. Women are often considered inferior and less capable than men. In
the course of the early work related to rural health the founding team at CORD
realized that to improve the life of the villagers, they have to find a way to
enable women to take an active role in affairs of their communities. The women
wear the unrecognized backbone of their communities and thus they themselves
needed to be the change agents. The question was how to enable the women to act
as a group and to be the change agents and the answer was to invest their
efforts in encouraging women to form Mahila Mandals (Women’s Groups or Forums).
CORD established Mahila Mandals which
is a well recognized women empowerment programme.  Mahila Mandals are the hub from which all
programme components of CORD have evolved, from which they have diverged, and
with which they have converged again to progress further. Mahila Mandals are a
catalyst, a space where women come together, empathize with others who live
with them, conduct meetings, learn to discuss and resolve issues, and develop
strong roots in their communities. They learn to lead and support each other
laterally, first within their groups, before they venture out to solicit help
and support from outside groups. Their encouragement with CORD facilitates
their self discovery and development. Through this they have begun to break
down the cycle of male dominance that excludes women from an active role in
issues affecting their daily life. Many of them have succeeded in resolving
personal, tragic or adverse experiences have channeled their efforts to empower
other women. This transformed the ordinary women who were dull, uninspiring,
miserable and oppressed to a confident and independent ones. The women are now
progressively realizing that they can make a decisive difference in local
self-governance too.
In 1990, CORD’s interaction with the
rural communities and field-based learning had enabled the establishment of a
simple system forming and nurturing Mahila Mandal(s) in a village and then
amplifying the various programme components from this dynamic and vibrant
group. The mobilization, motivation, formation, nurturing and stabilization of
groups require an art that grass-root workers learn as they grow in the
programme. The process is simple but may appear challenging in the beginning.
At first, CORD identifies the needs of the village interact with the villagers
especially women and ask them if they would like to work with CORD for their
development and then request them to gather at a specified place. Once they
assemble there, CORD informs them the importance of having their own women’s
group and few stories of the progress and achievement of Mahila Mandals in
other villages. Once the group is formed and positions are identified
(president, secretary, treasurer etc), the women learn to write the minutes of
the meeting, open their own groups bank account, discuss issues, prioritize
interventions and delegate job responsibilities.
When a Mahila Mandal is formed, the
members raise several issues of concern. CORD helps them analyze one problem at
a time and find feasible solutions. As they grow and learn to tackle issues,
CORD lets them take the initiative accordingly. Once the group is fairly
stabilized, to give it a legal status as a registered organization, CORD helps
the group to be formally registered as a legal entity. Once this is done, the
Mahila Mandal becomes an eligible and recognized entity that can apply for
financial and other assistance to the departments of government, and raise
issues as collector.

What have
been the benefits of micro-credit for the rural economies?
The strength of the group lies in the
flexibility that is encouraged. The women make the decisions concerning loan
dispersals, the purpose of the loans, as well as the repayment patterns. Each
of these women takes loans for what each considers her priority. Usually the
initial loans are what many bankers call consumer loans. Bankers are often
quite wary of these loans and sometimes insist on productive loans without
understanding that the women take out such loans only later-once they have
taken care of the immediate critical needs for survival as well as social needs
and obligations. Those who are able to see the realities from much closer
quarters consider the so-called consumer loans to be essential investments of
poor families. These essentials include food, health needs during illness,
cloths, education of their children both in schools and colleges, repairing
homes such as a leaking roof, purchasing important accessories for their
kitchen such as a pressure cooker and changing from an earthen wood fuel
cooking full of smoke to a modern cooking on a stove with a gas connection,
fodder for their cattle and seeds, fertilizers, pesticides for their farms.
Also to be considered were their essential social needs such as events and
festivals, weddings, rituals connected with birth and death, and other small
social obligations. Once, the women’s essential needs are met, they then move
into taking loans for income generating activities, either individually or
collectively. Later with their skills upgraded by CORD, they also adopt other
means of livelihood. Taking loans to run petty shops, to buy cattle and goats,
and to raise backyard poultry is common. Often women help their husbands in
their business by taking loans for farm machinery, vehicles, and items for
their shops. Taking loans to build toilets at home rather than practice
defecation in open areas comes rather with the introduction of health education
and once their other priorities have been met.

How do
you promote the rehabilitation and social inclusion of disabled people?
CORD has been
working with 1200 People with Disabilities through
its Community Based Inclusion and
Rehabilitation programme (CBIR) in over 90 Panchayat of district Kangra
Himachal Pradesh.
We are aware of an immense need to
transform disability into ability by generating useful new ideas, techniques
and systems for Rehabilitation. There must be collective awareness on the part
of parents, friends, and neighbors, which help to promote the effective and
sustainable inclusion of the persons with disabilities into the main stream
society. In order to achieve this, CBIR looks into integration of a person with
disability in every aspect of their lives from family to society, vocation to
health, awareness to accessing available government facilities, rehabilitation
to social inclusion and livelihood. This is achieved not only by liasioning
with CORD’s various components but also networking with diverse
governmental/non-governmental agencies/disabled individual too.

Do you
cooperate with local authorities and institutions?
Yes, we cooperate with local
authorities and institutions. CORD has nurtured and formed more than 651 Mahila
Mandals with more than 30,000 women members, 1575 Self Help Groups, 42 Farmer
clubs, 107 Adolescents Girls Groups, 80 children groups known as ‘Bal Vihar’.
These are the Community Based Organizations (CBOs). CORD facilitates to
strengthen Local Self Governance through effective Up- Gramsabhas and Gramsabhas
in Panchayati Raj Institutions with the active participation of above mentioned
CORD is working on the four major
principals i.e. participation, integration, networking and sustainability. Thus
CORD has strong networking at the grass root level between villages,
Panchayats, blocks and district with villagers, government institutions &
others as well as at state & National level with various stake holders for
its different issues. CORD also tries to integrate various government schemes
through CORD’s concerned programs for the benefit of community.