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Core issue: Structures of Power to the Powerless

Core issue, we believe, is to ensure people’s ability to control the process of political decision-making and governance.

People are the ultimate stakeholders in development. If people have the power they will ensure that both the legislature and the governance respond to ensure a better future for them. If only the people - the majority of whom are poor - have the power, they will ensure that poverty is eradicated. Experts agree that poverty could be eradicated in India and that it could have been eradicated long time back. We had the resources. What was missing was the political will. Power-packed will. Those who had power didn’t feel the pinch of hunger and those who felt hunger didn’t have power.

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Power is the ability to have an effective say. It is to have one’s say in such a way that what is said matters. To have one’s say, one needs forums. People need forums for talking. People need structures for participation to make them feel that they matter. That their voice counts, that their participation counts.People don’t have at present such structures as would give them an adequate, effective and ongoing say.

 These forums have to be accessible to people. They need also to be small in size. The bigger a forum becomes the more the smaller voices get drowned or go unexpressed. Hence the need for neighbourhood-based, small-sized talking-forums to institutionalise people’s participation in governance. These neighbourhood forums are to be well linked, well-federated at all levels, even up to the world level, that people have their mechanism, institution, to interact with governance powers, other stakeholders in governance, at all levels.

One of the ways we could effectively begin promoting this would be to insist that the self-help groups of savings, credit and the like, that are being organized all over, be made into territory-based neighbourhood groups and then be promoted as neighbourhood units of participatory governance. The State of Kerela in India has more than 1,75,000 neighbourhood units organized and federated already up to the third level of federation. The same State had also a movement of planning by people, initiated by the State, where planning began at these well-defined, numerically-organized neighbourhood forums. Such forums were also used for experiments in monitoring by people, auditing by people etc.

Such neighbourhood groups could be situated within neighbourhood sabhas (neighbourhood parliaments?). And Grama Sabhas should be redefined as the federation of such neighbourhood sabhas. When people have such forums, the Right to Information Act of the government will become all the more effective. We could also involve the children in the process by organising them as children’s neighbourhood parliaments and their multi-tier federations at the levels of the village, panchayat, block and the district as is being widely done in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kerala, has already 35,000 children’s neighbourhood parliaments federated even up to the state level. They conduct the state level children’s parliament in a legislative assembly hall of the Kerala State. Here and in various parts of the nation, children are being initiated into participatory governance through these, leading to their personality growth and promotion of leadership skills.

The various other concerns that represent the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) could also find a forum for participatory action from below in these neighbourhood parliaments...

Women in these neighbourhood groups can become the women’s neighbourhood parliaments and get federated at various levels to become a bargaining force for women’s empowerment.The same way these same neighbourhoods could turn up as neighbourhood environment parliaments with “neighbourhood–responsible” or neighbourhood ministers for environment. They, federated at various levels, could again become an effective organised voice at various levels to fight for environmental sustainability. Again these same neighbourhood groups could also play the role of neighbourhood health communities or neighbourhood health parliaments to ensure community participation in action for integral health.

So too neighbourhoodization of marketing, through such neighbourhood forums and their multi-tier federations, could be the antidote to the alienation that globalization of marketing creates. When organised power for people gets inclusively institutionalised this way, the people will ensure that promises are kept and that the MDGs are realised in a way that no other approach would.   

From “Miles to Go” Mid-Point Report on Millennium Development Goals in Tamilnadu 07-07-2007, by Wada-Na-Todo, Tamilnadu.


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Party is over !

Neighbourhood Parliaments towards

Democracy beyond Political Parties


An unsettling question raised its head in various ways during the elections that just got over.

The question: Can we continue to trust political parties to ensure the  health  of  the  nation?  Or,  to  put  it differently: to ensure the well being of the people of India?

We saw unimaginable types of criss-crossing, alliances and betrayals of trust by parties and party leaders of various hues. Even "ideologies" were thrown to winds. The situation made political thinkers wonder if there was any more relevance left to the very concept of political parties.
         Wrote Amrita Abraham in Indian Express commenting on '96 elections, "It seems likely to go down in history as the terminal phase of the party system we have known since 1957".


Another party?

The answer is not, yet another party. Not even another ideal leader taking reins from the existing parties. Given the present structure and arrangement of things, every party runs the risk of encountering the same problems. And every leader, of getting submerged by the pressures of ground realities in the parties.


Judicial activism?

Recent trends in judicial activism raised fond hops in many that things could be put under control. But, even the judges concerned are aware that it cannot be a long-term solution. Asked Justice Bakhtavar Lentin, former Judge of the Bombay High Court, "If the judiciary is to be a super government, what will be the check on the judiciary itself?” Judicial activism is an unhealthy trend. Evidently, when too much power gets accumulated in the judiciary, judiciary itself could get corrupt.

People to monitor

What then is the way out? It appears the only agents on whom we can depend for the well-being of the people are people themselves. People themselves need to monitor the processes. They are interested to know what is best for them. And they cannot betray themselves. They need to talk. They need to control the course of events. And, not just once in five years. But throughout.


Grassroots parliaments

The challenge, then, for anyone interested in people’s wellbeing is to ensure that people have the required fora to continually interact. Health Action has been insisting through its pages that the present fora are not viable. That they are too big. That we need smaller neighbourhood fora of about 30 families and their networks at the level of village, panchayat, mandal, district, state etc. That such a network could make a people, who otherwise feel helpless, alert and responsive. With such a network, every other democratic provision, including the political parties, if need be, could be made more answerable.


Starting straight away

We need to enter straightaway seriously, almost on a war footing, into the task of building such "grassroots parliaments." Starting early this way could give such neighbourhood sabhas (NS) time for a maturation process that they will be ready to make an impact at least during the next elections. How soon are we expecting the next general elections, by the way?

- .Edwin M.J






Governance by children


An Experiment

Let me begin by narrating an experiment we had in a coastal village in Kanyakumari District called Mel Manakudy. Sr. Sasikala, headmistress of Little Flower School, Mel Manakudy, was ready to make some new experiments in the school to make the school children respond to the needs of the community around.

Fortunately for her, the village had been organised into 23 neighbourhood communities of about 30 families each, with each community having a president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary, treasurer, etc. These neighbourhood communities had gone through a Participatory Learning Action (PLA) process which includes exercises like resource-mapping, social mapping prioritising of needs through venn-diagram, goal-fixing, making micro-plans and long-term plans, budgeting etc.

When they did their venn-diagram - called also chappathi diagram - they used paper chappathis of various sizes to prioritise the problems they faced and gave the biggest chappathi to the problem of alcohol. Their calculation showed that as much as rupees 9.8 million were spent a year on alcohol. This in a village where the people would plead with their parish priests for a project of three or four lakhs from abroad for a community hall or so. The school, by way of responding to this problem, organised the entire children of the school into 23 groups, basing on the 23 neighbourhood groups the school children belonged to. Each group was put under a teacher-animator.

These teacher-animators then were given special sessions by a team from Thiruppu Munai, an alcoholic rehabilitation centre in the adjacent town of Nagercoil. The artistically talented among the teachers put the basic messages in the form of a variety entertainment that impressed on the minds of the people the various ways alcohol affected individuals and communities and the ways to fight the problem. And each of the 23 groups of children was trained to perform the variety entertainment. On a fine evening, children took a rally around the village carrying placards and shouting slogans focussing on the menace of alcoholism. A public meeting followed this.

Later on, the twenty-three groups of children performed the cultural programme in their respective neighbourhood communities of about thirty families each. The fact that their own children were performing made the programme more appealing to the parents and impactful. The teachers were there to help in the discussions that followed the performance. In one such neighbourhood community, a fisherman called out to his wife as soon as the programme was over. "Come here," he said in a gruff voice that used to defy the sound of the waves. The people were wondering what was going to happen. "Take this money," he added giving his wife Rs.60/-. "I was keeping it for my drinks today. But after seeing my daughter perform and hearing what has been said I have decided not to drink any more."

People thought it was only an impulse of the moment. But the man kept it up for quite some time. A few others too gave up drinking or, due to the "gentle pressure" of children, reduced the intake or volunteered to undergo de-addiction therapy.The cultural sessions initiated by children were followed up in each neighbourhood community by six more educational sessions on alcoholism conducted with the support of the parish animation group. Eventually the local St.Andrew's Hospital had a separate clinic open for helping the alcoholics to cope with the problem of their addiction.

This is an example of how children can make an impact for social change. Given the neighbourhood community system the village had, it is possible for a creative school leadership to keep intervening this way on various issues the village faces and give the children a sense of fulfilment, meaning and direction and empower them to become agents of change. However, the above example does not portray the full import of what we mean by the title, "Children as agents of change".


Levels of Participation

The children as far as the above narrative goes come as "participants" only towards the end of the process. True, they do contribute as change agents here. But only as executors of somebody else's plans. Others identify the issues; others prioritise the needs; others decide on the intervention; and others work out the strategies and methods. And children in all these phases are just passive recipients, so to say, and become active agents only in acting out a programme worked out by others. But the children could be and do a lot more as change agents.Elsewhere we have more telling examples of children at the earlier stages of participation.


Levels and stages of participation differ.

Some participate by being merely the beneficiaries of others' projects! Some, as in the above narrative, act on others' decisions. Some participate by just deciding to choose among various alternatives thought out by others. Some go further and participate also in identifying the various alternatives to a problem identified and presented by others. And some participate at the very stage of identifying the problems themselves. The earlier the stage they begin the participation, the greater the control they have over the whole process. The more they are in charge.


Children in Charge

Today there are efforts all over the world to help children to be in charge. Children refuse to be anymore just objects to be looked at. They are not anymore to just listen to whatever the elders say without being listened to. They are not any more to be kept away from decision-making fora and processes.They are demanding today that their viewpoints be also heard. They are beginning to participate in various social and political decision-making fora. They too want to determine the direction of tomorrow's world.

They are not anymore just to be governed but to govern. Not in the sense of just preparing for tomorrow's governance. They are to govern now. And they have begun to share governance in certain places. Two recent publications by Roger A. Hart entitled, Children's Participation: From tokenism to Citizenship and Children's Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care, contain abundant examples of how children of various age levels all over the world are becoming participating citizens.


Participatory Learning Action

How, for example, to get the children of five to six years identify by themselves the problem of environmental pollution and involve accordingly? Very simple. Just make them count the number of birds that come near their class-window on particular seasons, and keep notes. Later get them compare the differences in the number of birds in the same seasons of the succeeding years. They will come to realise that there is a problem and that some thing has to be done.

Similarly the various rural participatory appraisal processes like the Participatory Learning Action (PLA) mentioned in relation to the Mel Manakudy experiment above are a big help. Children enjoy the various exercises in PLA wherein communities in the village draw on a big paper or on the floor various maps which depict the situation of their village or community, marking with colours and symbols the various indicators relating to various aspects of their life and problems.

Even when the process is for the entire population, it is the children who show keener interest in this and come out with more accurate data and sharper dimensions of the picture. The exercises like resource-mapping, social mapping, time-line, trend-line etc. give children a grasp of the situation, the problems, the needs and challenges that must be responded to. Venn diagram or chappathi diagram helps them to prioritise the needs and issues and leads them to formulate their vision and evolve goal statements. In places where children do their own PLA separately, they go on to make their own micro or long term plans. Or if it is the entire community that makes its plans in the neighbourhood, children watch with interest and see where they could come in.


Community Monitoring

After planning by community, comes the monitoring by the community to ensure that it achieves what it sets out to achieve. And children do especially well in this stage. An important aspect in community monitoring is putting the project and the goals in visible terms like putting it in the form of drawings, maps and symbols on a blackboard, chart etc. In addition to the goals, the achievements in relation to goals are also made visible.

This visibility helps the community to comprehend the process and thereby leads to a greater mobilisation of the community. Such ongoing flow of information as regards the project the people are involved in, keeps raising people's awareness of change. It keeps also giving them a sense of belonging and pride as a community, and enthusiasm to proceed further. Roger A. Hart gives an excellent example of community based monitoring from an extremely poor neighbourhood in little Baguio on the steep slopes of Olongapo in the Philippines:

In the centre is a large, well-designed community-based monitoring board, with up-to-the minute data on every house or all residents to see. Children would greatly enjoy collecting data and mapping it on such boards. This is an excellent opportunity for school teachers to engage children in a valuable ongoing role for their communities, which has great benefits for schoolwork in literacy, mathematics, and map skills.

Small groups of children from district neighbourhoods throughout the community could become the experts for their neighbourhood cluster and even take responsibility for establishing a community based monitoring board among their own small cluster of houses. The radical idea here is that of making the research process continuously visible to the community. Determining what indicators a community needs use to assess its development should be an effort involving the whole community. Where no community research, planning, and evaluation process has been established, children can, with a little help, develop their own monitoring system as a first step in convincing the community of the value of this kind of research. The critical step is for children to understand that the first need is to determine what they wish to assess and then creatively identify indicators that will accurately reflect that phenomenon. Brainstorming indicators in-group and then trimming them down to a reasonable number of realistic indicators would be a fascinating exercise for school children of any age.


Neighbourhood Community Network

The successful operation or community-based monitoring in the Philippines, for Roger A. Hart, is built on "a neighbourhood clustering approach." "Each neighbourhood cluster includes 15 to 25 families, who elect a leader to represent their interests in the larger community organisation. This model could easily be repeated with school children." Neighbourhood Community Networks are emerging throughout the world as the new paradigm to ensure people's participation and governance by people.


Basic communities of Latin America are an example.

The "Ayalkoottams" of fifty neighbouring families each, established already in215 panchayats by the government of Kerala, networked at the level of the village and linked to panchayat structures, is another historic development. A booklet published by the State Planning Commission of Kerala gives interesting details on Vidura, one of its model panchayats. Situated some 30 km from Trivandrum, capital of Kerala, this panchayat has neighbourhood parliaments of about fifty families each - each of these neighbourhoods consisting in turn of family-cells of ten families each. Planning begins from below at these neighbourhood parliaments, called "Ayalkoottams" in Malayalam. The plans made at these neighbourhoods are taken to the village parliaments called village sabhas. From village sabha the plans are referred for approval by the inter-village fora of the panchayt. As 40% of the "planned expenditure" of the State is put at the disposal of the panchayats in the state, for them to plan and implement on their own, decisions and discussions at these levels carry a lot of weight. Once they decide on implementing something, then follow also the processes of community monitoring and, later, social auditing, phases where these neighbourhood structures once again have a big role.

Where do the children come in this picture of Vidura panchayat? They too have here their own children's parliament within each of the above-said neighbourhood parliaments called ayalkoottam. And these children's neighbourhood parliaments too are federated. Says Mr. Appukkuttan Kani, the former president of Vidura panchayat, regarding his attendance at gram sabha level parliaments of children: "The children amaze us. They are sharp, specific and forthright. They even ask us to change our life-styles. They confronted for example regarding my smoking. How as a president I could fail to give good example in a matter that tells on health was the concern expressed ... And when our children speak we have no other go," he adds with a proud grin.

Children have their own strengths. One of them is their own way of prevailing on adults. They could call people "uncle" and "auntie" and stop even a chief minister's car and ask donations for their park, as the children of the environment-friendly Taru Mitra movement did in Bihar. They got away with not just a bigger-than-expected donation, but also with additional money for them to buy sweets. But whatever be their strengths, like most adults they feel helpless and frustrated unless they have adequate fora and structures to express themselves and get things done. Like adults too, hey should be helped with fora or participatory and direct democracy, for them to come together, to get listened, to talk, discuss and decide together and to act together. Here, both for adults and children, the above-mentioned concept of neighbourhood community networking has much to offer.


Let us list a few of the benefits of such neighbourhood networking:
One: The aspect of smallness makes it ideal for and even to mobilize it for action. As such it could offer the most accessible form for children to get initiated into social action.
Two: It is highly accessible: you don't have to get a bus to attend the meetings.
Three: It offers, so to say, viable and readymade arenas for children to enter into action.
Four: The fact that it is networked gives children scope to expand into ever wider realms. It gets you automatically to the wider world through its multi-tier representative structures.
Five: As it includes everybody in the neighbourhood like a mini electoral ward of the panchayat, and leaves out nobody, it could effectively speak on behalf of people as a mini or parallel government. It could claim to be the organ of people's voice, which in democracy is God's voice.
Six: It can be effectively linked to civic governance structures and thus could be a forum or people to participate on a day to day basis in governance.
Seven: It ensures better answerability or accountability
Eight: It paves way for better transparency in dealings
Nine: Monitoring is easier. The beneficiaries themselves, now that they are organised into viable structures can have an eye on the processes that are supposed to benefit them.
Ten: Better owning of the programmes and processes is ensured. The people in the neighbourhood are the real stakeholders and they will tend to show interest in the interventions.
Eleven: Follow up is easier. Someone living in the neighbourhood itself could often be entrusted with the responsibility to keep track.
Twelve: It is easily the most natural focus of convergence of many related activities.

       Such a neighbourhood-based network or 'a network of basic human communities' offers a context and a scope for action by children in a way no other approach does. With such neighbourhood communities and their networks children could really take charge and contribute mightily to change the world.






Adolescent Gram Sabhas, an Option for School Health and Community Action

For the twenty-three neighbourhoods of Mel-Manakudy, a sea-shore village in Kanyakumari District, India, it was an irresistible performance. Reason: the actors in this one-hour-long variety programme were their own children and then also it was not the same group that performed in all the neighbourhood sabhas.

Neighbourhood Parliaments of Adolescents and Their Multi-tier Federations in Kanyakumari District, India

Adolescents of about 30 families each come together in our network of neighbourhood parliaments of adolescents. Here they analyse the situations around them; discuss the issues behind; do value clarification; make decisions, plans and budgets; monitor the process, etc. In the process they get empowered and grow. Our district has 7,034 such parliaments of children and as many adolescents’ parliaments. We network these neighbourhood parliaments through representative structures to form 2,002 village parliaments, 125 panchayat parliaments, 9 block parliaments and a district parliament.

Our future citizens – the non-adults – do the job better than the adults! The children and adolescents often involve themselves better, make sharper analysis, and are more forthright in their articulation and keener to get things done. They exert their own gentle pressure on the adults and leave them with no choice than to get things improved. In some villages, the problems that remained unsolved for years like the need for an access road, a reading room, better facilities at the day-care centre were solved on account of the interventions by children and adolescents. In Nettamcode they made a demand to panchayat that streetlights be made available in an area. It didn’t seem to come through. The adolescents tied hurricane lamps to the electricity posts. The streetlights came in no time. It has been a joy for us to see them coming forward to take care of the less fortunate among them.

In Komanvilai, for example, adolescents collected money to support one among them for his books & school fees. Adolescents in these forums are initiated to take responsibility for the situations around them. They begin taking responsibility for their neighbourhoods through neighbourhood parliaments, and gradually, through their networks, reach out to the wider world. By accepting responsibility they get formed as responsible citizens. We call this “formation through involvement.” We bolster this further by various group interaction sessions, awareness programmes, meditations, inner healing sessions, exposure programmes, discovery sessions, etc. The above process of action by adolescents is backed by nearly 500 Community Mobilisation Teams (CMTs) which bring together people of various associations and nongovernmental organisations at various levels.

CMTs are a component of Convergent Community Action (CCA), a Central Government strategy/programme promoted by the Department of Rural Development, of the Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment. Right from the time of Collector Thiru. Sekaonkhar, Convergent Community Action (CCA) was introduced in the district. Later Intersectoral Facilitating Teams (IFTs), another component of CCA, were constituted at district, block and panchayat levels. Our district accordingly became the 51st district where CCA was introduced as a pilot measure.

As a part for this, a special CCA Taskforce for Adolescents and Children of Kanyakumari District came into being with some government officers and panchayat and NGO representatives as members. We are happy that the work of this district-level effort turned out to be one of the pilot programmes of Tamil Nadu Taskforce for Adolescents which brings together various related departments, some chosen NGOs and the UNICEF with a fivefold emphasis i.e. education, health and hygiene, protection from exploitation and abuse, personality development, and career development and employment.

The programme in the district is limited at present to the rural areas. The aim is to have nearly 12,000 such neighbourhood parliaments, so that the entire district is covered and this becomes a model for the nation. This District Taskforce organises its second District Adolescents’ Festival on September 30, 2005 to promote awareness and to encourage them further. Our seminars on this approach, conducted under such titles as “Governance by Children" and "Communitization of Education" at national and regional levels continue to be in demand and people who participate in these seminars keep replicating the programme in their respective places.

A strategy for sustained action for adolescent health. The bane of many interventions made by many quarters, especially for adolescents, has been that they have been piecemeal, sporadic, unlinked to other processes and hence unsustainable and of limited impact. It is as if interventions come and go isolated, and the problems go on forever. We see also unwanted duplication and even multiplication of interventions by various agencies that often end up cancelling out one another’s effect and neutralising the impact.

Our wish naturally is that we be able to evolve a new strategy for adolescents that is, on the contrary, a well-integrated part of a concerted process and also sustainable. This requires among other things that we ensure that the programmes we suggest be linked to some viable structure and processes that promise to be somewhat permanent and ongoing and invite participation by all concerned. Such a structure and process should also promote a “coming together” or convergence of the various actors, whether governmental or non-governmental for a concerted effect.

Another factor that is never to be forgotten in dealing with adolescents is that adolescents do not want just to be beneficiaries and passive recipients but want to make their own contribution and to be themselves partners and agents of the processes for change. An action aimed at them should also involve them in action. Experts in youth animation have also been careful in distinguishing “action” from “activity”: action is a personal response to a situation involving one’s intellect, will and value systems and it arises out of one’s personal reflections; activity on the other hand can be just a routine, mechanical and unthinking act. “Action forms the person acting; an “activity” can leave the person untouched. Thus while it comes to forming tomorrow’s citizens, the slogan is “formation through action”.

Our intervention then should be tied to a process where people instead of just carrying out activities thought out and proposed or imposed by others, are put through a process where they assess the situations and arrive at solutions themselves. Happily, what we are after is not just an intervention, but a strategy design. A strategy that hopefully ensures all the basic components mentioned above.

The question then is what could be an approach that is strategic enough to ensure that
- It is sustainable
- It is permanently ongoing
- It invites participation
- It allows scope for youngsters to be more than beneficiaries
- It is formative
- It effectively reaches all and includes all
- It has significant impact
- It is adequately “placed” i.e. tied to required structures that ensure ongoing impact
- It is well integrated into other relevant civil processes.

There seem to be some options that we could go for that would help to meet some of the requirements listed above. One such is the neighbourhood-based approach. Another, the process of convergence represented by such government initiatives of the Central Government as Convergent Community Action. Third, to ensure the above network of adolescent-animation taskforces is linked at various levels like the state, district, block, panchayat and the village.


Neighbourhood-based Approach

What we propose is a structure that has been initiated as a part of Community–Based Nutrition Programme in Malappuram District of Kerala and by Nala Oli Iyakkam of Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu. Here they had a two-pronged structure: one was that of Neighbourhood Sabhas of about thirty families each and their representative networks at the levels of the village, panchayat, block and the district; and the other, of Neighbourhood Groups where membership was limited exclusively to women in poverty risk groups, and their networks. While the Neighbourhood Sabhas that included both the rich and the poor and men and women could take up common civil concerns, the Neighbourhood Groups that had only poor women as members concerned themselves with poverty alleviation measures like savings, income generation, etc.

Each neighbourhood has its governing body consisting of a president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer. In kanyakumari District, they had also “ministers” in each of these neighbourhoods for various concerns like health, environment, consumer interests, income generation, etc. These “ministers” too are networked through representative structures at the levels of the village, panchayat and the district. We wish that the action for adolescent health too converged at the neighbourhood. That the various sectors involved focus their efforts at the neighbourhood structures and forums.


Why Neighbourhood?


Nothing assures as much permanency as a neighbourhood-structure. As long as the houses in the neighbourhood are there, the neighbourhood continues to be there.


It ensures better answerability or accountability.


It paves way for better transparency in dealings.


It is right on the target. Ultimately every activity is aimed at people and people live in neighbourhoods.


Monitoring is easier. The beneficiaries themselves, now that they are organised into viable structures, can have an eye on the processes that are supposed to benefit them


It ensures easy organisability.


Especially when it comes to adolescents, it offers viable and readymade arenas where the youngsters can put into action whatever they learn.


It is cost-effective. You don’t have to take a bus to attend meetings


Better owning of the programmes and processes is ensured. The people in the neighbourhood are the real stakeholders and they will tend to show interest in the interventions.


Follow up is easier. Someone living in the neighbourhood itself could often be entrusted with the responsibility to keep track.


It is easily the most natural focus of convergence of many related activities.


Organised neighbourhoods, being small in size, well- defined and networked could offer the most accessible forums for adolescents to get initiated into social action and expand into ever wider realms.


It facilitates flexible, situation-specific responses.



An Illustration

An example of what this neighbourhood-based action by adolescents can achieve is the community-involvement programme by a high school in a coastal village called Mel Manakudy in Kanyakumari District. Here the entire village is organised into 23 neighbourhood communities of about thirty families each. Each of these neighbourhood communities has its ministers for various concerns like health, civil amenities, etc. And the school wanting to make the school community responsive has taken the initiative of organising the entire body of school children into twenty-three student groups. That is, students hailing from each of neighbourhood communities form a separate group with its own governing council and a teacher animator to assist it. The students then are conscientized regarding the problems affecting the village and are helped to make the required interventions in their own neighbourhood.

One such case: the “ministers” from the neighbourhood communities - i.e. the adult category - identified alcoholism as a major problem affecting the village and wanted to have awareness and treatment interventions. The school-neighbourhood-groups supported this effort in an interesting way: each student group went to its neighbourhood community and performed a variety-entertainment programme where each item was meant to educate the people on the immensity of damages alcoholism causes. The fact that their own children in the neighbourhood were performing had a welcome effect with a lot of impact. The performance by the high school students turned to be the curtain raiser for further five serious evening sessions in neighbourhood communities on facing the menace of alcoholism. The school is planning to involve its adolescent students in such interventions on other concerns related to health and environment.


Convergent Approach

Various sectors – whether governmental or non-governmental - make various interventions without reference to one another. This takes away the scope for a concerted impact and leads to dissipation of energies. Against this background comes a shining ray of hope in programmes like Convergent Community Action (CCA) where various government sectors and voluntary forces come together to plan together at various levels.

CCA that is initiated as a pilot measure in some fifty districts in India through the Union Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment has four major components.
• Intersectoral Facilitating Teams where government functionaries functioning at levels like the village, the panchayat, the block and the district come together at their respective levels to plan and thus to have a coordinated impact.
• Community Mobilisation Teams (CMTs) where representatives of NGOs, women’s organisations, youth associations etc. come together.
• Panchayat councils and gramsabhas.
• Four: Neighbourhood Groups, especially of poor women, which so to say become the focus of convergence.

Such a convergent approach leads to mutual reinforcement of various initiatives and sustained impact. Our interventions related to adolescent health too would be the stronger if they were linked to such a process. This would call for some policy lobbying. Maybe our own initiatives in integrating such a process in the youth interventions we plan could turn out to be a trendsetter inspiring other sectors to follow suit.


Adolescent Animation Taskforces

A practical way of initiating such a convergence would be to get adolescent animation taskforces organised at all levels. i.e. the state, the district, the block, the panchayat, and the village. The Adolescent Animation Taskforces should bring together, the panchayat, the school, Tamilnadu Integration Nutrition Programme (we understand it has an adolescent contact programme), the govt. health services, voluntary health services, non-governmental organisations, youth-focus organisations, youth organisations themselves etc. for planning and implementing health interventions through a neighbourhood-based adolescent network. (Paper presented by Edwin M. J. at the Taskforce for Adolescent Programmes in Tamilnadu sponsored by UNICEF.)









Alternative Marketing through Neighbourhood   Parliaments


Conceptual Background

While dealing with the various self-help groups in the district, we found certain problems crop-up very often when it came to income-generation activities. To explain: The marketing world today seems to be characterised by certain factors.

One: 'Brands' seem to be more determinant today than the quality of a product. People do not, say, ask for coconut oil as they used to do in earlier times. They rather ask for, say, 'Postmen', 'Idhayam' or, so i.e., the brands given by various firms.

Companies spend big sums trying to promote and popularise the brands. Be it through T.V. advertisement, competitions, cultural programmes, etc. The problems for the poor entrepreneurs here is that they, being poor, cannot compete with mega marketing forces in creating a slot for their own product by projecting another brand. They could end up by being losers in the game.

Another factor is the mega forces that keep the sale outlets with them. The big market forces give a lot of incentives to the retail or whole sale dealers, which the poor entrepreneurs are not able to give. The incentives include big commission rates and other perks. The big companies are able to do so
• Because they do it in large scale as a part of a mutually supportive multi- enterprises system; and,
• Because they have confidence in their sales promotion system.

The result: the poor women in our self-help groups, for example, produce curry powders of various sorts. The consumers who use them were highly appreciative of these powders saying that they were of high quality and genuine. Still what get sold are the products by big companies which are found to be of lesser quality than our products.

How do we beat the problem? How do we ensure that we sell our products without spending too much on building brands which, any way, we cannot afford? How do we ensure that, even in spite of all the incentives given by big market forces we still have an abundance of sale outlets?
• The answer we found seemed not only to solve the above problem but also give some other dividends.
• The answer is to make the thousands of neighbourhood parliaments, we have, serve also as buying and selling units.



  • The approach we propose is as follows:
    Each neighbourhood community will elect a “Commerce Minister”.

  • These “Commerce Ministers” will each be responsible for buying things that are required for the community. That means whatever can be bought together are bought together for the community.

  • These commerce ministers will be federated at the level of the village, panchayat, block and the district.

  • Each block will have a marketing centre, equipped with a van that will transport the material to various panchayat centres.

  • From panchayat centres the village centres will buy the stuffs and make the provisions available at the neighbourhood level.

  • The commerce minister at each neighbourhood will run a kind of an informal shop where the materials will be sold to people.

  • The entire structure would be like a chain of marketing societies at various levels beginning from that of the neighbourhood.

  • The various households in the neighbourhood will become the members and shareholders in the marketing society. They will get dividends according to the shares they have from whatever profit the society makes at various levels.

  • The fact that the profit comes to their own selves could be an incentive for them to buy through the neighbourhood networking system.

  • The approach could be such that it does away with unnecessary travel expenses. The first market should be within areas where they can reach without a transport vehicle. Vehicles are only to be used to take it to areas where they really need it.

  • This approach of getting the things produced in places as near to them as possible give also an opportunity to people to counter check as regards the authenticity and quality of the products.

When this marketing system is integrated with the present support and subsidies given by the government for income generation programmes through self-help groups, we could go a long way. What we envision is a system where the poor, especially women will get:

- Work and wages for their work as workers;
- Dividend from profit from their products as shareholders;
- Share from profit from their products as co-owners;
- Commissions for the sales as sale agents;
- Profit from the sales as co-owners in the marketing enterprise.
- Good quality items at reasonable rates as consumers.


The above would mean
• Selling the concept of a neighbourhood network based marketing chain
• Creating consumer interest consciousness as a part of the process
• Getting shares
• Getting 'commerce ministers' identified and fixing their emolument system
• Training them in finance management system
• Networking the neighbourhood commerce ministers to form 'village commerce council' and evolving procedure for their functioning
• Federating the above respectively to form commerce councils at panchayat, block and district levels
• Finding the infrastructures, instruments and transports required for the above
• Continuously monitoring, guiding and motivating them
• Ensuring a professionally competent staff to guide the above process.


Once this is done, we believe we would have found an effective antidote to the alienating tendencies of globalization. With the above vision in mind, this particular project aims to achieve the above in the nine blocks of Kanyakumari district. The thrust of the present application is alternative marketing. We have seen that income generation measures, especially by poor women, will not bring in adequate results unless adequate provision is made for alternative marketing.

Hence we propose to have a network of hundreds and thousands of neighbourhood community-based sale out-lets, federated at various levels into a marketing. This will be owned and controlled by the people-at-the-base, instead of being exploited by various types of middle-men. The structures mentioned above were organized in a ten-year long process with health, children's welfare and poverty eradication as the major thrusts.

Our neighbourhood groups and women's self-help groups are in thousands throughout the district. The neighbourhood units meet once in a week. The village/panchayat meetings take place once in two weeks. The block meetings are held once in a month. And the district parliament meetings are held every second Saturday.

Over the years these structures have won the attention of both government departments and various other social thinkers and voluntary organizations. We are getting visitors from various states coming to study this programme. People as far away from Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of India, as Manipur situated in the North Eastern part of India, are visiting the project very often to study the programme. Our focuses over the years were in terms of savings, credits, income generation, children's rights and governance by people.

The alternative marketing programme is not just about getting better income in a mere short-sighted venture. It comes also as means of strengthening the movement for neighbourhood parliaments. Our vision of global multi-tier federations of neighbourhood parliaments is a call for a new political, social and economic order. It is structural struggle for a society, brought about through structures for direct democracy or sociocracy that go to rout out the helplessness that people experience in the merely representative democratic structures that we have today.






Kerela’s Kudumbashree

The state of Kerela, India, has a very interesting programme of neighbourhood assemblies (ayalkoottams) for peace.

A trend-setting programme that has won quite a few international awards as one of the best practices.


A short note on this:

The best success story I could think of as regards partnership for development to eradicate poverty is the one of Kudumbashree of the State of Kerela, India.

This is a programme where we experience the partnership of the various departments of the central and state governments, the community-based organizations, banks, UN agencies like UNICEF, NGOs and even business firms.

The state government of Kerela, for example, has geared eight departments of the state government to focus their activities on these community-based organizations (CBOs) of the poor in terms of neighbourhood groups and their federations.

The factor that makes it especially appealing and effective is the focus on systematic involvement or partnership of the people at grassroots, especially the poor women and children, in terms of what could call neighbourhood parliaments, in Malayalam "ayalkootams", of about fifty families each.

To focus especially on "vanitha ayalkoottams" or the neighbourhood parliaments of women in poverty risk: the State has 1,84,435 Neighbourhood Groups (NHG's) such neighbourhood units of poor women federated into 16,934 Area Development Societies (ADS) and 1058 Community Development Societies (CDS) at the level of the local governance units.

Their avowed aim when it started: to eradicate absolute poverty in ten years.


Their achievements as per their report of July 2008

Poverty risk families covered: 36,33,797
Thrift: Rs 9,841.4 million
Credits: Rs 24,887.9 million
Mobilized as loan from banks: Rs 5,425.2 crore
Acres of Land under Lease Land Farming: 50,445
Group Micro Enterprises: 3,282
Individual Micro Enterprises: 1,167
Dwcua Units: 1,740
Urban Self Employment Programme : 25,034
New houses: 44,410

Among the activities this multipartite programme focuses, are human resource development of the poor, community health, education, children's neighbourhood parliaments, infrastructure development, micro finance , destitute rehabilitation, lease land farming, micro house, micro enterprises for income generation, etc.

They also involve children in the process organizing 43,782 neighbourhood parliaments of children and federating them at various levels like that of the area, panchayat, block, district and the state. The children actually had their state parliament meeting in the legislative assembly hall of Kerela state.  Among the much international recognition this programme had over the yeas was the choice of it by UNDP as one of the best 15 best practices in the world. The thing that makes it a success is the systematic, neighbourhood-based, small group-based organization and federation of the people at the base, with focus on the most vulnerable in poverty risk groups.

Here people themselves identify those at comparative poverty risk levels using externally observable criteria. The state government reinforced the programme further through its "people’s planning campaign" where the state set aside 40% of its planned expenditure for projects planned by people themselves in their neighbourhood forums and their federations. Whoever be the partners, people should have the ultimate control over the process and people are effectively organized and linked miracles can happen.






Neighbourhood Parliaments and Peace Building

The whole world remains so interconnected today that we cannot have peace in any part of the world unless we work for peace in the entire world. We are all interrelated and interdependent.

Such global peace needs global efforts for peace. We have responsibilities in this regard. We all make the world we live. We wish we consider the following in working for world peace.


A New Peace Order

Peace is impossible without justice. We need to work for a just world, if global peace is to be ensured. Such a world would include a new political order and a new economic order. Such a new world order would call also for democratization of power. People should be able to exercise power not just on a once-in-five year basis as it happens in the present representative democracies. We need also to have provisions for direct democracy where people at some level are able to have an ongoing and effective say on how the world is to be run. Placing the chances for peace in the hands of a few power hungry politicians as is done now is a risky proposition for world peace.


Structures for Peace

Democratization of power calls also for structures that are appropriate and adequate for people to exercise power. One of the ways to ensure power structures for people is to promote neighbourhood parliaments and federate them at various levels like that of the village, panchayat, mandal, district, state, nation, international regions and the world. When people have such “talking forums” or parliament’s people will find it easier to articulate their views and have them heard; and when they speak it will be for peace as none is more interested in peace for people than people themselves.

Ensuring a multi-tier global federation of neighbourhood parliaments could be thus a step in the right direction to give expression and thrust to the yearnings of humanity for peace and justice. Hence we propose the “Dream of new world governance” as a structural provision to ensure peace. The structural provision we feel is as important as building attitudes for peace.


Mass-based Dialogue of Life, Love and Action for Peace

Interreligious, interracial dialogue through neighbourhood parliaments. The bad situation is that tomorrow’s wars are likely to be religion-inspired. So too, racism – its Indian version, casteism - divides people but destroys peace. Various forms of terrorism base themselves mostly on religion and ethnic identity. Religions and ethnic animosities are threatening world peace. We need to learn how to be peacemakers in such situations.


Identities and Sensitivities

The positions taken by people on various issues, the identities with which they associate themselves are precious to people. They enjoy being respected in the positions that they have taken and in their identities.

An attitude of dialogue is sensitive to such sensibilities.


Dialogue Principles

   Dialogues processes, whether among individuals or religions or races, are best served when they follow certain principles.
• Focus on what unites or what is common rather than what divides.
• Appreciate the good points in other identities/ religions/ groups.
• Be wary of pointing out the negative aspects in other identities/ religions or castes.
• If you are pointing out the negative aspects, let it be first on your own religion or group and let it be done in an attitude of constructive self–criticism.


Dialogue of Life, Love and Action

 Unfortunately, for too long, inter religious dialogue has remained mostly a cerebral affair limited to a few elites. It has to come down to people and to grassroots. Dialogue among religions, cannot be merely one of ideas. We need also dialogue of action and life.

Dialogue of action means: whatever we can do together with people of other religions we do it together with them. When we work with people of other religions this way, we create better trust and good will.

Mass-based dialogue

We could make the entire process of dialogue of life, love and action a mass-based movement at grassroots when we have neighbourhood parliaments of people and their multi-tier federations.

Clique www.ncnworld/papers/dream to know more about neighbourhood parliaments and their global federations ??



Whereas a people’s system of monitoring and involvement will help to tone up any health promotion system,

Whereas people themselves are the ultimate stakeholders in community health and as such are keen to make it work if only they are given adequate forums and structures for the same,

Whereas presently people do not have viable, inclusive, participatory structures that are small enough for the “small’, most vulnerable and the least, to actively involve and have a say in an ongoing way,

Whereas in big forums the small voices of the “small” and the most vulnerable get drowned,

Whereas health is an inclusive concern with not just physical, but also mental, social and spiritual dimensions,

Whereas mental, social and spiritual health, especially, will not be achieved by people without some sense of dignity and scope for participation for people,

Whereas community health is not supposed to be a mere extension service to rural areas wherein people remain mere passive recipients and objects, but more to be a  process of empowering people to claim and obtain health as their right,

Whereas even as regards physical health, the concern is not  just to be in terms of preventive and curative involvements, but also promotion of all that lead to health like safe water, balanced nutrition, and affirming social interactions,

Whereas all the above require organized responses by people at the base,

Whereas inclusive, territory-based organization and federation by people, will make the contribution of local and other governance structures towards health more effective,

Whereas the present self-help groups are not territorially and inclusively organised so as to measure up to the above challenges,

It is proposed
- That neighbourhood health communities (NHCs) be organized all over India;
- That these NHCs be territorially organized units of about thirty families each*;
- That these NHCs be inclusive like mini-wards, within wards, where everybody residing within the territory is considered a member;

- That these NHCs have each its own office-bearers like president, secretary, treasurer etc;
- That these NHCs each prepare a health action plan for the neighbourhood, using Participatory Learning

Action (PLA) techniques and taking into account preventive, curative, and promotive aspects;
- That these NHCs be federated at the levels of the ward/village  and the panchayat to form respectively ward health sabhas, panchayat health sabhas, block health sabhas and district health sabhas, interacting with decision-making forums and governance structures at the respective levels;
- That these NHCs and their federations at the above-mentioned levels be enabled to help keep monitoring the services of health providers and promoters at the base and holding them accountable;
- That these NHCs and their federations be motivated and enabled to do also documentation and promotion of indigenous home remedies and alternative therapies;
- That these NHCs and their federations be encouraged to involve in activities like promoting home gardens of organically grown vegetables; alerting people on  the need to balanced nutrition; organizing  heart-fitness measures like walks, exercises, relaxation, meditation, yoga and counselling; administering DOT for TB patients; taking responsibility for midnight blood check for filariasis; planning and organizing for AIDS-related prevention, community-based care and rehabilitation measures; anti-alcoholism campaigns etc.;
- That the base level staff of the government health departments and of programmes like ICDS be directed to integrate and focus their programmes on and make maximum benefit out of these NHCs and their federations;
- That gradually these NHGs are guided to be the base for a community health insurance system enlisting also the services of government and voluntary sector institutions;
- That the above be promoted as joint ventures of government and non-government organizations, international funding partners, community-based organizations and panchayat raj institutions.
* 30 could be the standard number. It could be from 15 to 45 families. Where self-help groups are territorially organized, two neighbouring self-help groups could make a neighbourhood health community (NHC).



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