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Smart Villages for Rural India: Building vibrant, sustainable rural communities to stem urbanisation

The Smart Village Strategy revolutionises development with programs that create economic opportunity & make communities stronger.

Photo of United for Hope
20 19

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Our Smart Village Strategy tackles one of India's biggest economic problems: urbanisation. Within the next decade, more than 200 million people will migrate from India's rural areas to its urban centers, driving up levels of pollution, crime, infrastructure breakdown and housing shortages in cities. Meanwhile, rural communities have become less attractive to live in. The rural poor face a complex web of challenges: a lack of non-agricultural jobs, low income potential, poor infrastructure and healthcare, corruption, bad governance, low education levels, and more. The cause and effect relationship among these problems forces a constant stream of people to seek better lives in urban areas, which further degrades villages. Our mission? To rebuild the bridge between rural populations and their villages and stem urbanization by transforming rural India into a place of opportunity and prosperity through our Smart Village Strategy. The strategy is based on 3 pillars: Social Enterprise, Education and Community Service. Social Enterprise, the first pillar, combines small business creation with the supply of basic needs such as clean water and solar energy to create local jobs and improve living standards. We work with our partner social enterprise Shakti Empowerment Solutions to identify enterprises and build them in a hybrid for- and not-for-profit model. Education, the second pillar, supports the first pillar by countering skills shortages. We educate the whole community using different approaches based on the target audience. Initiatives include vocational training, and after-school education aimed at teaching hard skills, influencing mindset, opening new perspectives and mentoring. The third pillar of Community Service focuses on health solutions, and access to digital services and information from the government and other sources. We work closely with local leaders and the government to advocate for better infrastructure, funding and improved facilities.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are the rural poor in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. Currently we serve 25,000 people across 10 villages from one community center, where programs are developed and launched. Beneficiaries of our Social Enterprise pillar are small shop owners, brick factory settlements and rural families without access to basic services. Our social enterprises give them access to basic and environmental services and create non-agricultural jobs. Our Education pillar targets children ages 10-14, rural unemployed youth ages 16-30 and the general community by equipping them with employment skills and influencing mindsets to foster better futures. The Community Service pillar targets the whole community (people and planet alike) through initiatives around sanitation, waste management, connection to health and government services, and digital access to information enabling them to lead more dignified, safer and healthier lives.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

We bridge solutions in 3 unique ways: 1. Interdependent Projects The complexity of our approach is new in rural N. India. Our holistic vision bridges every aspect of development & involves the local population in mapping their own future, ultimately stemming a massive rural-to-urban shift. 2. Scalable approach We ensure scalability via a flexible, hybrid non/for-profit model, & testing and refinement of projects in pilot phases. This potential is underused in UP due to the lack of entrepreneurial expertise & guidance on modern ways of working. Development organizations are few, even fewer are those engaged in social enterprise. Many work on a silo basis, missing the crucial importance of comprehensive development and making our work even more impactful. 3. Expertise Our Indo-European team is an asset in the rural scenario. We work at grass-roots level, & train & employ locals. By building trust and a network, we have transformed a forgotten rural community into a Smart Village.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

United for Hope uses its Smart Village Strategy to build sustainable economic and social structures in rural India with the goal of making villages centers of opportunity and progress. https://unitedforhope.org https://www.facebook.com/unitedforhopengo https://twitter.com/UnitedHopeNGO http://instagram.com/unitedforhope_ https://www.shaktiempowerment.com

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

After spending years living in rural communities & piloting projects around sanitation & education, founder Tara recognised that even when provided with a toilet or improved schooling, an Indian child will still not be able to remove themselves from a similar life trajectory as their parents. Jobs & a new economic ecosystem are required to achieve societal transformation. Armed with this experience, Tara devoted herself to adopting learn-improve paradigms that form the core of our SV Strategy.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

'Prosperity' is influenced by several factors: lack of quality education, barriers to starting a new business, patriarchal practices, caste discrimination, government neglect, and general lack of opportunities to earn good wages. As all these factors fuel each other, the foundation of economic growth is very weak, leaving prosperity levels stagnant. The very problem of urbanization also influences prosperity through brain-drain as educated people leave the area and seek employment elsewhere. 'Planet' is influenced by contamination, lack of awareness of harmful practices, slack governance, shortage of affordable energy alternatives, careless behaviour and actions leading to constant environmental degradation. Waste contamination is a problem as is the use of diesel, kerosene and fossil fuels for energy generation, wasteful farming practices, arsenic-containing water supply, air pollution due to burning waste, and many other issues.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

To develop strong partnerships, we work with community leaders & local government to identify ways to collaborate and to create synergistic alliances. We work in close cooperation with the area Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the District Panchayat Raj Officer (DPRO) in Kushinagar, both responsible for village development in our field of operations. Our multi-tiered approach has already ensured successful collaborations for education, social tourism and sanitation (we made our first village Open Defecation Free), and we are moving towards becoming an approved agency for the implementation of government programs. Many international companies, social startups, university organizations & NGOsssupport aspects of our social enterprise activities through social impact funding, in-kind or financial support, and pro bono work. To name some: IEEE SV, Clean Water e.V.; Munich RE; Impact Hub; Enactus; Engineers Without Borders UK & Rotary International.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In Uttar Pradesh, we see daily examples of creative solutions worked out under extreme conditions. Jugaad - a Hindi word meaning "flexible approach to problem solving"- is the most heard word locally. We believe there's huge potential in this resourceful environment and that well-executed social enterprises can generate impact. Further, a nearby, famous Buddhist pilgrimage site (Kushinagar) and ongoing government infrastructure improvement increase the potential for tourism enterprises.

Geographic Focus

We work in UP, India's most populous state (228 million) and home to 16% of the population

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We aim to fully develop our existing prototype in the next 12 months and once fully operational, begin work with 2-3 additional Smart Villages (SV) within the next 24 months. Our plan is twofold: 1. Expand programs in our current SV (e.g. waste management, new social enterprises around agriculture) 2. Begin building our second SV, using all our previously-won best practices. Our ultimate goal is to develop a self-sustaining SV that will be a blueprint for every village in N. India.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (2)

UserMap_WasteManagement.pdf

An example User Experience Map of one of our next projects to bridge planet and prosperity: Waste Management.

UfH_SV_PPT.pdf

The Smart Village approach and individual projects are explained in more detail in our presentation.

20 comments

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Spam
Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Hello! As promised as I expressed on my page I think these projects make for interesting and thought provoking reading.

Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk project offers a different view point but what I found to be very valuable to our project is the resources he shared, specifically http://www.ruralshores.com.

2. Rodney Lobo -His idea focuses on a problem I have heard discussed by individuals within the tech industry. @Developing skills to solve problems from a young age
(Update 2: May 28 - User Experience Journey attachment added)
  In my limited understanding this is an issue that needs to be tackled and within rural communities it may make a dramatic difference.

With these divides growing each year globally I am so glad to know there is a community of individuals working toward a solution. I would love to know how your program expands and evolves. Please connect with me on Linkedin or Facebook.
https://www.facebook.com/ruralsynergyfoundation/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-schwanke-3660b468/

Best,
Christina

Spam
Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk
Team

Dear Christina,

Thank you!, very nice to hear that my resources are useful, a more general description (with additional resources) can be found at www.a1216.refival.org and in my www.openideo2017.refival.org contribution.

Since my Refival project has been designed in/for a European context (with declining and ageing populations) and in relation to refugee or migrant integration, it would need some adaptation for other environments, but its basic structure is universal and based on my intercultural communication models (www.informationphilosophy.com).

The "Universal Basic Employment" contribution I made this year to Openideo (www.openideo2018.refival.org) is a complement to last year's Inclusion Sourcing (www.n0118.refival.org) approach and addresses the current general lack of solidarity in Europe which likely will become a growing (there already is an enormous gap between Northern and Western Europe versus Southern and Eastern Europe) problem in the coming 10 years due to expected job losses and further urbanization.

Best,

Hans
P.S. There also is a very good and inspiring book on the "impact Sourcing" movement where www.ruralshores.com and www.samasource.org are both part of. It is written by Leila Janah, the founder of Samasource, https://www.givework.org/.

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Thanks for the info Christina. I have also been in contact with Hans independently and he told me about Rural Shores and I am checking that out. I have also connected to you on LinkedIn & FB.
Likewise you can find us here www.facebook.com/UnitedforhopeNGO
All the best for your project, Tara

Spam
Photo of Rodney Lobo
Team

Hi Christina Schwanke Thank you for sharing our idea.

United for Hope 
Recently, it was concluded that all villages in India had access to electricity.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43946049

Although the conclusion is based on an arbitrary number for the access to electricity -- 10%-- which is truly insignificant. Villages can still have hundreds of people living in them, and having access to electricity is one of the important factors that contribute to its economic development, but it is not the only one.

Education, healthcare, sanitation and many other factors play roles in the development. Your initiative of making rural areas attractive is crucial to its overall development. Agriculture is still the primary occupation in India, but it cannot alone be sustainable. However, by having access to non-agricultural jobs, villages have a better chance to sustain the whole community.

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Hi Rodney, thanks for taking the time to read our idea.
It is indeed true that many villages in Indian now have electricity access (not sure about all) but many people within those communities do not have access and in rural areas electricity is also unreliable - sometimes out for days on end. Without alternatives to agricultural jobs, people just move away, especially those with education - thats what we try to offer - dignified jobs and training across a number of areas.
Thanks again for your interest, if we can be of help to you, let us know. Best, Tara

Spam
Photo of Martha
Team

Amazing work!
I am wondering what strategies or methodology you use to “includes the local population in the the mapping of their own future”.
I work in a rural part of the untied states and am working to establish participatory community development to ensure a viable social and economic future for our rural communities.

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Dear Martha, thank you for your question.
Upon entering a community, we seek out the local leadership as an entry point. We explain our organisation, our plans, our vision and we assess interest. In almost all cases, there is interest as communities are keen to develop. From there, we begin door to door survey (accompanied by community leadership), getting to know the local population and their attitudes towards our proposed projects.
We also employ people from the targeted communities who also give us insight into possible challenges. Additionally, as we live onsite, we have become well known in the area and are in the advantageous position that communities now approach us having already heard about job and development creation from neighbouring communities. Finally, we now also work with District level administrative and political offices to ensure that our strategy is in line with larger national programs and try to leverage them where possible.
I hope this has answered your question, if not, I am happy to help further. Best, Tara

Spam
Photo of Martha
Team

Hi Tara,

Thank you for your response. We are using a similar model. I am finding that our culture is so conditioned to outside experts having the answers that when I reflect back to our leadership teams and ask them to create the solutions, I get confused looks. I am beginning to realize that this doesn’t mean I am doing it wrong, but that this is a part of the process, to shift our thinking from expert knowledge and resources to trusting our ability to create solutions ourselves.

Also, I LOVE that you name patriarchical practices and caste discrimination as barriers. These are real barriers in our community. But, because of the mythology of equality and feminism in the United States, we don’t name them and as a result cannot address them. Learning from others on this platform has inspired me to name them more explicitly in our work, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
Thank You!
-Martha

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Hi Martha,
In rural India there is a big issue with mid and management level staffing. Most educated people leave these areas for jobs in cities and its difficult to find people to fill that gap and run ambitious and progressive enterprises. We do however endeavour to train up employees with potential to one day step into management positions as part of our scaling efforts.
As for gender and caste discrimination, its unfortunately deeply engrained to all aspects of Indian society - and especially in our area of Uttar Pradesh, treatment of women is a huge issue. But patriarchy too exists in western societies.
There's another US based Rural-Urban project on here and we've had contact to Christina Schwanke  and her project with Rural Synergy Foundation- Bridging Urban and Rural for Peace and Economic Sustainability - you should check that out.

All the best for you and your work, Tara

Spam
Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Thank you Tara and United for Hope for sharing our idea. I read Martha's idea The Future of Rural Vermont: Real Communities with a Real Future and think that their maybe room for collaboration! I am going to reach out to her!

I noticed her question about strategies or methodology you use to “includes the local population in the the mapping of their own future”. We use similar methodologies as far as contacting leadership and organizations. We also communicate with individual in rural communities. One of the things for our program to make an impact we don't need the whole community involved; five to ten individuals participating in our program would shift the local economy and better the families involved. We believe that once others see the change they will be more open to participating. It's interesting because there are so many ways to accomplish local participation!

Christina

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Morning Christina,

Indeed, one always has to find the early adopters. No community will come on board all at once and then adoption goes out in waves. When we started with sanitation (toilets), we only found 5 families who were interested, now its every family and that in just 4 years.

Tara

Spam
Photo of Snigdha Jha
Team

Dear United for Hope team!

Really inspiring work! I like your approach of empowering the beneficiaries through skill development and generation of economic opportunities. That is the most crucial part of curbing the problem of urban migration. I was wondering whether you keep a record of the progress of each enterprise created in the communities and for how long are you actively engaged with the community during the process of training and opportunity generation, could you throw some light on this?

Regards
Snigdha Jha

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Hello Snigdha, thank you for your question.
We do not co-create enterprises for individual ownership, rather we as a social enterprise own those enterprises (water, solar, tourism etc) and employ and train local people to work for us and with us. Many of our enterprises require large upfront investment (solar infrastructure, water purification plant, buildings etc) and this can't be handed over to individuals or even an organisation due to the investment involved and the complexity of maintaining the business. Rather we use our own businesses as a base for education, training and dignified work opportunities. However, and in particular with the case of solar energy, being. consumer of our projects, also enables extended social enterprise for the consumer. For example we have many small business customers for our solar solution who are enabled to work at night or simply to have access to energy during their working hours.
I hope this has answered your questions, if not, I am happy to help further.
Best, Tara

Spam
Photo of Krishna kumar
Team

Hi United for Hope team!
I was reading your contribution and really like your holistic approach. I especially appreciate that most of your initiatives are led from the community and, regarding to this, I wanted to ask you which ones are the main challenges to develop successful social enterprises and social businesses in a rural area, where an entrepreneurial scenario is still unknown?
Keep up the great work!

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Hello Krishna kumar and thank you so much for your comment and your encouragement.
Yes, you pointed out an aspect that is very important to us, as we believe that community based solutions are the only ones that lead to sustainable, long lasting development of the rural populations as well as the only solutions that really empower the people we work with.
Of course we encounter many challenges in our work, the main ones being the lack of basic education of most of the rural population, the lack of business/entrepreneurial skills and the lack of freedom of one of our main targeted group: the women.
To overcome these barriers we made the "education" one of our core pillars, as it acts as a base for the development of each of our programmes.
We run a lot of after school classes for the children of our areas (to allow them to grow in a direction that will allow them to achieve their most ambitious goals) as well as many skills development and vocational courses, which are tailor-made for our beneficiaries and their situation and taught in a language they can understand.
To counteract the lack of freedom of many of the women of our villages, we run a wide variety of women's empowerment activities, ranging from awareness work, self help group, agency training and vocational classes only for women, that are aimed designed around their needs and availability.
I hope that answered your question and with you all the best!
Federica and United for Hope team

Spam
Photo of James Patton
Team

Dear United for Hope 

I really like the governing idea of your program: aiming to curtail the rural-urban flow in India. As you clearly recognize, urban poverty is more stark and dehumanizing than rural poverty in many ways, particularly with respect to the lack of community. I believe that the crush of people moving into highly stressed urban peripheral areas with low infrastructure, lack of security and high corruption is one of the great crises facing humanity in the coming generation. Once a family leaves a rural setting, as well, it is very difficult to reestablish in a rural area, making the reverse migration from urban areas highly unlikely. I am particularly impressed by the "systems" approach that you take, integrating a range of critical needs into your program. In our own project we have tried to add ownership over the private company that generates electricity through solar, as well as progressive home ownership, which offer two more sources of stability. You inquired into the agro aspect of the project. We would use the sale of electrical power to fund a cooperative agricultural business among the families in the village, based on the local needs and economic opportunities (in Colombia, for example, palm oil, coffee, sugar and other such agro-products command a large market). This determination would be made, however, based on market analysis and engagement with the community members themselves. Like the solar energy production, we would seek to do something at scale, in order to meet higher margins and sustainability which would provide significant stability for the community. Have you considered how to scale your efforts? How is the private sector involved, through charitable giving or is there some return on their investment?

I think your idea is great and hope that you have success!

Warm regards,

James

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

HI James, thanks for your comprehensive comments. Everything you state about life in urban areas is correct and also valid for India, and although what we are doing in rural areas has the consequence of limiting this shift, we create our programs from the perspective of what needs to be done to improve the lives of the rural populations.
Right now as a hybrid NGO/Social Enterprise, we are the owners of the infrastructure but we do work with local government around sanitation and housing to ensure fair and non-corrupt administration of these programs. Our pilot community is now ODF thanks to our collaboration with government.
Generally though, we are still dependant on support for infrastructure development (eg solar or water purification technology). With investment upfront we can then run the project as a social business and become independent from there in. India offers a wealth of such private-NGO partnerships through the 2014 CSR Act which we are hoping to access.
Right now we are also in discussion as to what enterprise to create next aided by our solar facility. Front runners are dairy chilling (milk goes sour in a very short period of time) and polyhouses for the introduction of higher yield farming - all to be decided soon but the possibilities in these areas are many - even if execution requires some more refinement:)

All the best for you in your work,

Tara & United for Hope

Spam
Photo of Udayan
Team

The cities in India are overpopulated and the infrastructure is unable to support this. Migrants live in squalor because of economic need. There is a wealth of brain power in rural areas that can be utilized through education and entrepreneurship. United for Hope has a great vision for achieving this.
What are the best skills to develop in the rural environment to meet this challenge as per your program?

Spam
Photo of United for Hope
Team

Hi Udayan thank you very much for your comment and the appreciation towards our vision and project. Generally speaking, literacy is, of course, one of the top skills that need to be addressed. We do so through our basic education for adults and children. But we also have further identified several 'best' skills for the rural population addressing different levels and needs:

1) English & Computer as basic employment skills: English is very much needed in these parts especially to grow tourism which further creates job opportunities and generally increases local income. Likewise, often higher level jobs require English as well as basic Computer skills. Thus, these skills are aimed at young college graduates and literate people wanting to advance their skills.

2) Vocational classes concerning the agricultural and technical sector with special focus on nudging towards sustainable entrepreneurial activities. Creating new jobs through new businesses is the most critical and important point. Such skills include knowledge about installation and maintenance of solar systems (as experts are mostly further away in cities), general electrical knowledge, dairy farming, mushroom cultivation etc. We believe that the general sense of 'jugaad' combined with proper instructions around the skill and a nudge towards entrepreneurial activities can seriously increase the number of new businesses and job opportunities.

I hope that this answers your question. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask!

Spam
Photo of Tara McCartney
Team

Dear Ideoers,
I am the Director of this organisation. Thank you for taking the time to read about our project. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions for collaboration, we would be most happy to hear from you. Best, Tara