By Anwesha Dhar:
Rural Gujarat –An abundance of bamboo –A set bamboo trade – And some amazing handiwork; looks like a good enough setting? Definitely does. On picturing this village and its people involved in making artefacts, the raw material for which is naturally available – things appear to be going well. It equates to the perfect use of available bamboo by a community which had the required skills. How and why then, would one think that there is a need for any improvement here!
When given a chance to look closely, you will find something extremely basic, which when improved, could bring in a revolution for these villagers who have been dwelling upon a single model of work since a long time. And this is what Anant did; an entrepreneur from IIT, he simply looked closely and found one basic need for change, with the scope for betterment.
The Inspired Individual:
Anant forsook working at his start up to work for the development of a community in rural Gujarat. After a stint at IIT and acquiring a Masters degree, he went on to open not one, but three start ups. His last venture dealt with providing high quality IT services to corporates around the country. Life was moving at its own brilliant pace. But then something struck him. “It wasn’t enough anymore,” Anant told me, “I wanted to do something more. Something which would go beyond the four walls of an office-I wanted to be active on the ground.” It is at this juncture that he applied for the SBI Youth for India fellowship and on being selected, was stationed in rural Gujarat. Here, Anant learnt some valuable truths about rural life, “First thing I realised is how complacent they were with their lives-perhaps a little too complacent for their good. However, once you interact with them, you realise they are not much different from any average person from the city. It was fairly easy for me to adjust.”
The Underutilised Resources:
He decided to put to use his experience in the technical background to help the village community. Once settled, he observed, “People here are mostly involved with bamboo trade-they cut bamboos and make lovely artefacts. That is their main source of income.” Bamboo in the village was available in abundance. As a result, bamboo trade was a natural choice of vocation for the villagers, as it involved almost zero cost of production. However the main challenge lay in the fact that the way they cut the bamboo was time-consuming and demanded a lot of labour. It became imperative to do something that would make it cost effective, less time and energy consuming. Anant set to work to create two prototypes. The prototypes mainly employ basic mechanics-a lever system that helps cut bamboos without much toil. Its simplistic design and usability has made it a boon for the villagers, who previously spent several back breaking hours doing the same job manually.
The machines have been functional for some time now and are making the lives of an entire village much smoother. When I asked him how the villagers warmed up to the idea of using these prototypes, Anant said, “They readily accepted it. It was something that, perhaps for the first time, was making their job a lot easier.” Anant is, however, still working to improve on his solution. “Since these are still prototypes, I have not yet figured out a business model. My main focus right now is to help these people use these machines properly so that tomorrow, even if I am not there, they know how to use and maintain it.” The project is based on the vision of making the villagers completely self-sufficient.
That should be the long term goal of any project-not to glorify or depend on the creator but to master the tools oneself so as to sustain the benefits of such projects. This vision has kindled in the villagers a sense of independence and the desire to be masters of their own destiny.