Over the last four months, the Swaniti team has been working tirelessly with the community in the Pindari glacier valley in Uttarakhand on improving the access to government schemes and services. The journey over these months has been backbreaking at times with the unforgiving terrain and unpredictable weather playing havoc with our plans.

So where is this place called Pindar and why is it so difficult to work there? The valley comprises of a population of around 5000 across 10 Gram Panchayats. Mules remain the primary mode of transporting goods and hiking the only way to reach these villages. Interestingly, what is striking about the valley is the absence of stark poverty and major deprivations. Due to the high altitude and cold climate, diseases that ravage the plains are notably absent here. Access to education has improved remarkably in recent years; however, employment opportunities in the organized sector are too few. Electricity supply is intermittent or absent and paved roads have not yet made way into the valley.

As part of the Swaniti team, we have been staying in the region for over four months now and have been engaging with the community members on various issues. Development planning in India has often been a patronizing top down approach with the powerful and the wealthy diagnosing the ills in rural areas using their ‘expertise’ – the case of the valley, we have found through the course of stay, is no different. After intensive and often animated consultations, we have envisaged a model where solutions could appear from the ground. Using a mixture of data analytics and grassroots connect we have harnessed the power of qualitative and quantitative data to design interventions in the region that are more likely to succeed and sustain in the long run. Our PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) exercises have yielded as important insights as the extensive data we collected on ground.

Let me highlight one such ‘bottoms up’ intervention that we have planned. During our stay, the community members we met spoke about the lack of garbage collection centres across the valley. Our data showed that burning garbage was overwhelmingly the primary mode of garbage disposal. Using this quantitative data as well as people’s inputs from the villages we met with the government officials for allocating MGNREGA funds for building garbage collection centres. When we combined the people’s voice with hard numbers, we were able to make a strong case in front of government officials that could not be refuted. We are now working towards getting 5 garbage disposal centres sanctioned across the valley. This is a perfect example of how inputs from data and people can be combined to design solutions to basic problems. This is the kind of impact we want to create by leveraging data and grassroot knowledge. The Swaniti team plans to analyze the data over the next month to find trends and patterns that need to be addressed.

Swaniti’s engagement with the community has been an enriching experience for all of us. We are constantly humbled by the rich wisdom displayed by people, often reminding us of our own shortcomings and condescending attitude. During our stay here we got to experience the complex microcosm that is an Indian village. We travelled across each of the 8 villages that we are working in, living in each for weeks at a stretch. Hiking more than 20 kms to far flung habitations was a common affair during our stay here. We held multiple meetings in each of the villages trying to understand issues at a village level. Although often the most insightful of views were received privately, away

from the prying eyes, from the lower caste community and women. Gradually the Swaniti team has built an understanding of the region, of the poor state of agriculture, the debilitating effects of climate change and the hollowing of villages due to migration.

After analyzing the data, we are sure to see some underlying patterns and trends that we missed during our stay in Pindar valley. While some of the potential intervention points come out as obvious, there could be potentially a lot more that is ailing the region and needs urgent attention. Often data shows us such aspects that are hidden or missed by human interactions. As the Swaniti team continues to engage with the community, we hope our unique mix of data analytics and community engagement helps in bringing about small yet powerful changes in Pindar valley. We will continue to share these challenges and changes with you. Do look out for the next blog post.

Written by Nixon, who works as an Associate with Swaniti initiative.