A 22-year old graduate, fresh out of city life, I was like most others around me who were up for going to villages to make some ground change possible. We had all the excitement of being part of the development sector but little awareness of ground realities. As fellows of the India Fellowship, we were all placed in the pilot phase of various projects, so that we could learn and aid the setting up of the organisation we were associated with, learning from the challenges therein.
I was placed with Drishtee, a Noida-based organisation that’s spread across six states in North India and works towards making rural communities more sustainable. The goal of my project was fairly simple – bring together marginal women farmers in the villages, form them into a Farmer Producer Company, and connect them to the market through a vegetable door delivery service called MadhuKrishi.
But things were clearly not as simple as they seemed.
For the first four months, I was placed in the field in Gohana, a block in the Sonepat district of Haryana, where I was working directly with the villagers, trying to form informal groups of farmers called Farmer Clubs. The work at the field level is quite confusing and too huge to completely understand at the onset. Issues in getting things started ranged from farmers not turning up for the meetings (which you so excitedly arrange) to working with the local field staff who have their own issues and dynamics, making it a big lesson in adaptability. Along with this, I was dealing with the various stakeholders like donors, organisations, local governance units, the community itself and understanding the synergies and conflicts between them.
Not to mention the water and electricity problems that plagued the village and in turn, me, which I had to contend with! I can say for sure that it was a bit of an eye-opener to the fellows who had joined the fellowship with an “all things in villages are rosy and ideal” kind of attitude. However, it was also the sharing of experiences with my co-fellows who have similar passions and were experiencing similar emotions that sustained me through this period.
But all said and done it was in these first four months, that I learnt a lot about farmer clubs, farmer producer companies, and various programmes of NABARD. I was also researching a lot about Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) act and various things related to agriculture sector.
To help us further augment our learning, the fellowship team shared various tools that could be used to analyse the impact of ideas and problem solving strategies in development sector, and they encouraged us to do a “Theory of Change” for our respective projects.
We did one for our project and presented to Drishtee’s management team. How this helped was that post the presentation, we were asked to design and carry out two field researches – one with urban consumers to understand the consumption behaviour, and second with the farmers to understand their problems and needs.
We also did an analysis of the study and presented the findings to the organisation. This experience taught me a lot about data analysis, about how to interpret data as well as about survey designing. More than anything, it has taught me one skill that I value a lot, and get a high from whenever I work on it i.e. “Making Sense Of Data”. After the survey analysis and presentation, I was shifted to head office and made responsible for managing operations of MadhuKrishi’s supply chain. While working in operations, I learnt loads about planning – resource planning for day to day operations, process planning of the supply chain’s processes and business planning. I even made a business plan for the FPO that we are forming in the villages.
Fellows report directly to the top management of the organisation, and each fellow is assigned to a mentor in the host organisation. I had a lot of support from my mentor and the host organisation in implementing my ideas and was given space to express my ideas without any hesitance.
For instance, I thought I won’t get a chance to use any of my engineering knowledge while working at an NGO. But then, my knowledge of engineering drawing was very helpful in designing the layout for our warehouse and designing a box for distributing our delivery bags. I also presented a design of an automatic vegetable packaging machine using sensors.
Over and above everything, the work I was able to do as a fellow, to be able to observe and work at the ground level was what gave me in-depth exposure to the concepts of setting up, managing, and scaling up. These concepts are applicable to any sector, but that I am now well-versed in using and applying them for solutions in the development sector of which I want to be a part, is what has been my biggest learning in this time.