Bringing Opportunity to the Depths of India’s Cotton Belt

Bringing Opportunity to the Depths of India’s Cotton Belt

Swaniti Initiative | January 18, 2015 | The Swaniti Blog

Life in India is defined by social and economic hierarchies. In the past my efforts to contribute towards India’s development, attempting to raze such hierarchical constructs were often limited to the social and private sectors. However, through the Swaniti Initiative Fellowship, I gained an insight in to the power of harnessing the public sector and the importance of political will in driving change across grass-roots India.

This is how I came to be sitting across from an MP from a rural, backward constituency, located in the interior regions of Maharashtra. With a clear development agenda – to bring vocational training and employment opportunities to his constituency’s youth, the MP tasked our team to conduct a current state assessment and identify potential avenues to bring employment to the constituency.

So off we went – catching a train from Mumbai’s Lok Manya Tilak Terminal, headed deep into India’s cotton belt. As the train pulled out of the station and settled into its rocking rhythm, the bright city lights, towering high-rises and congested slums of Mumbai began to fade and give way to miles of green cotton fields with the occasional thatched roof under the shade of a tree. Upon reaching our destination, we were immediately reminded of the quintessential ‘Indian hospitality’ as we were put up at the local Government Guest House and treated to an authentic Maharashtrian breakfast of poha and chai. With one of the MP’s aides as our guide, we spent the following fortnight traversing the constituency.

We began with visiting villages, surveying farmers and Panchayat members, understanding the local way of life. Through interviews over steaming chai, we quickly learned that there was very little opportunity for industry, with the majority of the population engaged in agriculture. These perceptions were further reinforced when we met with students at one of the six local ITIs. With aspirations to improve their quality of life, in addition to their monthly income, students were forced to migrate to far-off cities such as Pune and Mumbai in search of work, leaving behind their families and all that was familiar.

However, through conversations with local bureaucrats and representatives of a number of Central Government programs, such as NSDC and NRLM we found ample scope to bring in vocational training and employment opportunities. Working in conjunction with student aspirations and the abundance of local cotton, the Swaniti team developed a plan to partner with third-party agencies focused on vocational training in the domain of textiles and apparel design.

Having gained the MP’s buy-in, we immediately went about identifying feasible partners who specialize in vocational training within the rural context, in addition to achieving a 70% employment placement rate. The Swaniti team is currently in the process of negotiating with the identified parties to bring about sustainable change.

With the world’s youngest population, India’s growth will inevitably be driven by its youth in the coming decades, but with 70% of this youth sitting idle in villages across the country, India risks losing out on the opportunity to capitalise on this ‘demographic dividend’. Contributing to employment opportunities for this constituency’s youth is an example of mobilizing our rural workforce but it is a drop in the bucket – a bucket that we at Swaniti hope to help fill, one drop at a time.