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Rural Business Hubs: Models and its Unique Features

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By Dr. Amrit Patel:

With its rapidly growing economy, India is now recognized as an important economic power. Concerns on who are the beneficiaries of this hitherto unseen economic development has been engaging the minds of the Government for some time. In November 2004, the Prime-Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had observed that “the benefits of rapid economic growth unleashed through the reforms of the last two decades into two distinct zones, one a modern, competitive, prosperous one and the other a stagnant, backward one.” He also visualized the Panchayats as the medium to transform Rural India to 700 million opportunities.

The Ministry of Panchayati Raj developed theses ideas into the Rural Business Hubs initiative which aims at developing an integrated relationship between rural producers and business partners for mutually beneficial cooperation, the entire process being facilitated by the Panchayats. This initiative is build on the idea of convergence of resources available under Central/State Governments Schemes, institutional credit and partnerships at once level. The Ministry Planned to promote at least one RHB in each of the 6000 Development Blocks of the country.

Unique Feature: [1] Linking rural producers with the wide market through a professional marketing partners and developing this integrated business relation benefiting both sides and therefore, sustainable. [2] Panchayats/ Rural Local Self Governments- the democratic grass root level institutions playing the key role of planning and implementing plans for economic development, where in the plans are based on local resource endowments, felt needs of people and relative absorptive capacity. [3] Based on economic activity not charity. [4] Any economic activity could be taken up but RBHs are ideally suited for Agriculture/Horticulture/Handloom/Handicraft marketing where production is decentralized. [5] Located in Rural areas. [6] Generating rural employment/livelihood.

The 4-P Model: The RBH initiative has been developed in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as a 4-P Model (Public-Private-Panchayat-Partnership) with clearly laid out roles and responsibilities for each of the identifying skills and endowments of people and natural resources, address the concerns of local inhabitants, establish and sustain community linkages, extend institutional support to viable business initiatives that economic development plan emerging from RBH initiative with the decentralized district planning process. The business partners would perform the roles of identifying local skill/ products that have wider market potential, prepare Business plans acceptable to the Community and provide sustainable local employment. The Central/State Government would support the initiative through conducive policy regime, dovetailing gaps in infrastructure etc.

A National RBH Council Co-Chaired by Minister PR and past President CII and Minister of State (Commerce) as Vice Chairman, is leading the initiative since December 2004, Similar Councils have come up in 15 States.

Convergence: The initiative works on convergence of resources from Central/State Governments Financial intuitions and other partners. The Exim Bank has signed MoU with Ministry through which the Bank will provide assistance in identifying exporters, especially from the SME sector, who can source the products from RRBHs with transparent pricing being ensured. The Banks will also provide enhanced visibility to identified RBH products in international markets by linking them with the Bank’s rural portal and displaying them at their overseas offices. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has extended financial assistance to CII for identifying RBHs in North Eastern Region and three RBHs have been initiated, based on this study. The National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) under Department of Science and Technology has converged with the RBH initiative on Sumak Carpets in Nagaland and TIFAC has done so in case of essential oil project in Bihar, Spices Board is involving the PRIs in their joint initiatives with ITC in the North East while Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts is doing so in Bastar, NABARD in Bihar, Eatern Zone Cultural Centre Kolkata in Purulia, Handloom Export Promotion Council in Nagapattinam and Punjab National Bank In Bharatpur. Convergence has been achieved in case of a few special SGSY projects in Karnataka and World Bank assisted DPIP in Rajsthan.

RBH MoUs: 131 MoUs across 15 States have been signed so far setting up RBHs. 28 of them involving Sumak Carpets, Pottery Products, handloom, handicraft, fresh fruit and vegetable and processing of agri-produces are functional. Another 22 covering folk arts, handicrafts, compressed bricks, vermin compost and agri processing are ready to take off. Partners have been identified and the RBH process in under way in case of 27 other proposals covering handloom, handicraft, woolen products, agri produce, bio Diesel, essential oil etc. The Ministry in consultation with the state Governments has identified 33 focus districts for setting up RBHs. District level Workshop have been held in seven of these districts and potential economic activities identified. Similar Workshops are scheduled in the remaining district. CII has constituted a National Council consisting of rural facing companies interested to set up RBHs. First meeting of the Council was held recently. Members of this Council are expected tp participate in the district Workshops and identify economic activities for setting up RBHs in their area of interest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Amrit Patel holds a doctoral degree in Rural Studies and Masters in Agricultural Science. He has extensive research and teaching experience with Gujarat Agricultural University and College of Agricultural Banking of Reserve Bank of India. He has extensive rural banking and micro-credit experience with 25 years with the Bank of Baroda and 10 years as consultant for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and International Fund for Agricultural Development. He has worked in Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, and India. Dr. Patel has published 3 books on optimal farming practices, use of tools in farming, and rural economics and has contributed over 500 papers on these subjects.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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