CORD India – for community empowerment

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Paul of CORD, an Indian organization strengthening communities and empowering them to alleviate poverty and reduce vioelcne and social and gender-based injustice. Would like to thank Paul for his detailed answers to our questions.



How would you define the approach of CORD?

CORD’s program in rural development revolves around building, nurturing, and strengthening Community Based Organizations (CBOs) of women, men, youth, adolescent girls and children, known as Mahila Mandal, Men and Farmer Club, Youth Groups, Yuvati Samuh and Bal Vihar, respectively. These CBOs are the major substratum component and work as an agent of change in the community. So as a first step CORD will nurture and strengthen the CBOs ward-wise (subunits of Gram Panchayat) in the selected Gram Panchayats. After that CORD will facilitate the institutional capacities of the CBOs to address the community’s diverse issues related to their life through the following programme components:
1.    Access to microfinance through Self Help Group (for women).
2.   Community Based livelihood-in the farm and allied and non-farm and service sector
3.   Social Justice and Gender sensitization
4.   Strengthening Local-Self Governance
5.    Health, Nutrition, Sanitation and Hygiene
6.   Community Based Inclusion and Rehabilitation for persons with disabilities
7.    Adult literacy-basic reading and writing skills
8.   Alcohol Abuse Awareness and Management
9.   Participatory and Natural Resource Management.
Along with this, CORD will also facilitate CBOs members for effective Up-Gram Sabha and Gram Sabha. Actually, this is a kind of direct democracy, where the villagers who have completed 18 years and are enrolled in the electoral list are the member of Gram Sabha (Village Council). Through this platform they can directly get involved in local self governance and able to participate in the planning, implementing, and monitoring of their village schemes.
With three decades of experience in rural development, CORD has developed an experiential development model where minimum 5-6 years of intensive efforts are required with rural communities to bring effective change addressing multifaceted issues through people participation and convergence. Further we hope to increase and leverage institutional capacity and mainstreaming of people in local self governance through Up Gram Sabha and Gram Sabha for sustainable yet dynamic process in rural development at Panchayat level.
CORD is a national trust formed in 2003 and working for comprehensive integrated rural development work. It is an expansion and absorption of the original development wing of Chinmaya Mission, Under Chinmaya Tapovan Trust (CTT) established in 1985 in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh. CORD has more than 30 years of experience in integrated rural development work. It has gradually expanded to cover more than 650 villages in rural Himachal Pradesh. Starting in 2005, CORD embarked on replicating its success in Himachal Pradesh to other states in India Viz. Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It reaches out to half a million rural people. So far CORD has facilitated more than 651 Mahila Mandals with more than 30,000 women members, 1575 Self Help Groups, 42 Farmer clubs, 107 Adolescents Girls Groups, 80 children groups known as ‘Balvihar’. CORD’s integrated programs include Social Justice and Legal Cell Program, in which there are 925 registered cases, Community Based Livelihood – Farm and Allied Sector and Non Farm and Service Sector, which supports 17000 beneficiaries, Community Based Inclusion and Rehabilitation for persons with Disabilities (CBIR), which is working with more than 601 disabled persons and their parents, and Health and Strengthening Local Self Governance through effective Up- Gramsabhas and Gramsabhas in Panchayati Raj Institutions.
What are the main challenges to the sustainable development of rural India?
The main challenges to the sustainable development of rural India are as follows:
1.    How to effectively engage people or facilitate people to centre stage of development in rural India in the process of their own development in sustainable manner.
2.   How people could leverage various existing systems and programs for their development and common good.
3.   The community is not aware about their rights and governments schemes.
4.   The passive attitude of responsible authorities.
5.    Working in isolated way by different government departments.
6.   Taking ownership by community as a central level of development.
7.    The migration of educated and potential people towards urban area and big cities.
How do you promote community empower and how do you promote women’s empowerment?
Women make up 70 percent of the world’s one billion poorest people, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food but earn only 10 percent of the world’s income and are said to control only one percent of the world’s property. According to the Global Poverty Project, on average, women earn half of what men earn. In India, the situation is not very different. In rural community the status of women is worse than in urban areas. Women are undervalued in societies and this attitude is often deeply rooted in societal and cultural customs and traditions. Women are often considered inferior and less capable than men. In the course of the early work related to rural health the founding team at CORD realized that to improve the life of the villagers, they have to find a way to enable women to take an active role in affairs of their communities. The women wear the unrecognized backbone of their communities and thus they themselves needed to be the change agents. The question was how to enable the women to act as a group and to be the change agents and the answer was to invest their efforts in encouraging women to form Mahila Mandals (Women’s Groups or Forums).
CORD established Mahila Mandals which is a well recognized women empowerment programme.  Mahila Mandals are the hub from which all programme components of CORD have evolved, from which they have diverged, and with which they have converged again to progress further. Mahila Mandals are a catalyst, a space where women come together, empathize with others who live with them, conduct meetings, learn to discuss and resolve issues, and develop strong roots in their communities. They learn to lead and support each other laterally, first within their groups, before they venture out to solicit help and support from outside groups. Their encouragement with CORD facilitates their self discovery and development. Through this they have begun to break down the cycle of male dominance that excludes women from an active role in issues affecting their daily life. Many of them have succeeded in resolving personal, tragic or adverse experiences have channeled their efforts to empower other women. This transformed the ordinary women who were dull, uninspiring, miserable and oppressed to a confident and independent ones. The women are now progressively realizing that they can make a decisive difference in local self-governance too.
In 1990, CORD’s interaction with the rural communities and field-based learning had enabled the establishment of a simple system forming and nurturing Mahila Mandal(s) in a village and then amplifying the various programme components from this dynamic and vibrant group. The mobilization, motivation, formation, nurturing and stabilization of groups require an art that grass-root workers learn as they grow in the programme. The process is simple but may appear challenging in the beginning. At first, CORD identifies the needs of the village interact with the villagers especially women and ask them if they would like to work with CORD for their development and then request them to gather at a specified place. Once they assemble there, CORD informs them the importance of having their own women’s group and few stories of the progress and achievement of Mahila Mandals in other villages. Once the group is formed and positions are identified (president, secretary, treasurer etc), the women learn to write the minutes of the meeting, open their own groups bank account, discuss issues, prioritize interventions and delegate job responsibilities.
When a Mahila Mandal is formed, the members raise several issues of concern. CORD helps them analyze one problem at a time and find feasible solutions. As they grow and learn to tackle issues, CORD lets them take the initiative accordingly. Once the group is fairly stabilized, to give it a legal status as a registered organization, CORD helps the group to be formally registered as a legal entity. Once this is done, the Mahila Mandal becomes an eligible and recognized entity that can apply for financial and other assistance to the departments of government, and raise issues as collector.
What have been the benefits of micro-credit for the rural economies?
The strength of the group lies in the flexibility that is encouraged. The women make the decisions concerning loan dispersals, the purpose of the loans, as well as the repayment patterns. Each of these women takes loans for what each considers her priority. Usually the initial loans are what many bankers call consumer loans. Bankers are often quite wary of these loans and sometimes insist on productive loans without understanding that the women take out such loans only later-once they have taken care of the immediate critical needs for survival as well as social needs and obligations. Those who are able to see the realities from much closer quarters consider the so-called consumer loans to be essential investments of poor families. These essentials include food, health needs during illness, cloths, education of their children both in schools and colleges, repairing homes such as a leaking roof, purchasing important accessories for their kitchen such as a pressure cooker and changing from an earthen wood fuel cooking full of smoke to a modern cooking on a stove with a gas connection, fodder for their cattle and seeds, fertilizers, pesticides for their farms. Also to be considered were their essential social needs such as events and festivals, weddings, rituals connected with birth and death, and other small social obligations. Once, the women’s essential needs are met, they then move into taking loans for income generating activities, either individually or collectively. Later with their skills upgraded by CORD, they also adopt other means of livelihood. Taking loans to run petty shops, to buy cattle and goats, and to raise backyard poultry is common. Often women help their husbands in their business by taking loans for farm machinery, vehicles, and items for their shops. Taking loans to build toilets at home rather than practice defecation in open areas comes rather with the introduction of health education and once their other priorities have been met.
How do you promote the rehabilitation and social inclusion of disabled people?
CORD has been working with 1200 People with Disabilities through its Community Based Inclusion and Rehabilitation programme (CBIR) in over 90 Panchayat of district Kangra Himachal Pradesh.
We are aware of an immense need to transform disability into ability by generating useful new ideas, techniques and systems for Rehabilitation. There must be collective awareness on the part of parents, friends, and neighbors, which help to promote the effective and sustainable inclusion of the persons with disabilities into the main stream society. In order to achieve this, CBIR looks into integration of a person with disability in every aspect of their lives from family to society, vocation to health, awareness to accessing available government facilities, rehabilitation to social inclusion and livelihood. This is achieved not only by liasioning with CORD’s various components but also networking with diverse governmental/non-governmental agencies/disabled individual too.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions?
Yes, we cooperate with local authorities and institutions. CORD has nurtured and formed more than 651 Mahila Mandals with more than 30,000 women members, 1575 Self Help Groups, 42 Farmer clubs, 107 Adolescents Girls Groups, 80 children groups known as ‘Bal Vihar’. These are the Community Based Organizations (CBOs). CORD facilitates to strengthen Local Self Governance through effective Up- Gramsabhas and Gramsabhas in Panchayati Raj Institutions with the active participation of above mentioned CBOs.
CORD is working on the four major principals i.e. participation, integration, networking and sustainability. Thus CORD has strong networking at the grass root level between villages, Panchayats, blocks and district with villagers, government institutions & others as well as at state & National level with various stake holders for its different issues. CORD also tries to integrate various government schemes through CORD’s concerned programs for the benefit of community.