Promoting Holistic Development in Rural India
Deepali Khanna

Deepali Khanna Director, SPRD, The Rockefeller Foundation

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March 16, 2017

Promoting Holistic Development in Rural India

The Rockefeller Foundation, Essar Foundation, Samhita, Mlinda, OMC, TARA Urja, and Ecozen team members at the forum.

An estimated 83 million rural households across India still struggle for access to a dependable source of electricity, making them particularly vulnerable, as cities take precedence over “last mile” connections to rural villages. While a significant commitment has been shown the Indian government to bridge this huge chasm, it is still a long way. In fact studies have shown that even villages classified as electrified may have as few as 10% of households connected to the national grid, and even when connected to the national grid, electricity may often be erratic, making it unviable for enterprise or agricultural use.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s belief that with power comes social and economic development, resulted in the launch of the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative, about two years ago, to provide access to electricity to the most electricity deficient states in India of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. Today, the SPRD initiative is delivering a dependable source of clean energy for both home lighting and productive use via decentralized mini-grids, covering close to a 100 villages.

As we progress on this journey to bring more villages under the SPRD initiative, a need is felt to expand the partnership base by collaborating with few more fellow travelers. Primarily enterprises who have rural development at the core of developmental commitments.

On 20th January 2017, The Rockefeller Foundation along with its partner organization Samhita organized a conference to explore possible ways to facilitate collaboration between companies and organizations in the development sector, under an expansive topic, “Creating Collaborative Opportunities for Rural Communities”, to deliberate on holistic development of the rural communities.

Anil Misquith, Executive Director of Samhita, interacts with the panel audience.

It would be amiss not to first and foremost thank the ESSAR Foundation who were most gracious in hosting and helping organize the event.

The event was an ideal platform – comprising eminent representatives from across industries and with diverse experiences and expertise – that highlighted the need to electrify bottom-of-pyramid communities in India to accelerate development especially through clean energy sources.

Several companies expressed interest in undertaking a ‘community approach’ that looked at a comprehensive set of interventions to benefit the community, as part of their CSR initiatives, while exploring innovative models to make their own social intervention programs sustainable and scalable. I also felt that the success of the SPRD programme impressed the company representatives and many expressed interest not only in pursuing projects as CSR programs, but also saw the merit in exploring and investing in such projects as business opportunities for spawning entrepreneurial talent. Such a positive response was significant, as right investment can help completely electrify villages within few months and help cover a much wider geography.

To support this endeavor, Samhita was also able to showcase its capabilities in helping companies develop the interventions needed, such as choosing a location, and if the company provided funds directly to an NGO of their choice, work with the organization to manage the project. In this context, the Samhita team also presented a comprehensive overview of six program models for rural development, which the companies could choose to implement and scale up.

The interactive session was very participative where every member reminisced their companies’ CSR engagements, offering everyone an excellent overview of the impact intervention best practices followed by India’s most respectable companies.

I was thrilled to see that the forum was successful in creating some new relationships for everyone. Over the next three months, Samhita will take the conversations initiated at the forum to the next level, to successfully convert a few of them into fruitful partnerships.

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