Self Reliance

SELF-RELIANCE OF PEACEFUL SOCIETY: A STUDY

By Mamta Saikia

 

 

Peaceful Society / Nov 12, 2003

1. Background:

Peaceful Society is based in a village of Goa, called Kundai. (It is generally believed that) Tourism contributes significantly to the economy of Goa. It is believed that Goans face no big issues like poverty, hunger etc, but a rural-based research by Peaceful society revealed that the real situation left a lot to be desired. It was in 1983 that Peaceful Society was formed to work in a few villages of Goa with an objective of ensuring their self-sufficiency without over dependence on external resources.

Peaceful Society believes in alternative models of development and focuses on providing women and youth with additional sources of income. Its focus areas also include environmental issues and it led a very successful ‘Save the Western Ghats’ movement in mid 80s.

Basic Information about Peaceful Society:

  • An NGO that has initiated a very strong Network called Swaraj.
  • It works in both the rural and urban areas.
  • It is working in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.
  • Two key issues it focuses on are environment and empowerment of rural people.
  • It uses training and on-ground development activities as methodology of its work.
  • Works with youth, and women in marginalised communities.
  • Its total yearly budgets are in the range of Rs 50 lakhs to Rs 1 crore.

 

2. Its History :

Mr. K.K. Mani, founder of Peaceful Society has been a Gandhian activist since beginning. Peaceful Society was formed in Goa, when he moved to this State in early 80s. He formed Peaceful Society in 1983 and initially it survived on funds from friends and his writings.

Peaceful Society’s vision at that time was to build a society that was self-sufficient. It undertook a house-to-house research in villages of Goa to understand the issues confronting the local people. As a result of that survey, Peaceful Society short listed livelihood and environment related issues as its focus areas. It decided to start work in five most remote panchayats of Goa.

It designed a project for ensuring additional income for women of a village as an experimental model. It tied up with a marketing agency to sell the products made by women and this project did well. It was wound up because of Peaceful Society’s shifting focus on environment and a larger than life ‘Save the Western Ghats’ movement. In fact, it was wound up in 1991 due to shifting from main centre at Bandora to its own campus in Kundai-Madkai village where it was politically not possible to run such activities.

In 1986, it did two workshops on environment, which led to the birth of, and ‘Save the Western Ghats’ movement was born. It completely consumed the organisation for almost two years. It positioned Peaceful Society as an environmental organisation and raised its profile at national level.

Slowly Peaceful Society evolved as an organisation with three-pronged strategy to bring about a change in the lives of rural people. It focussed on environmental issues, village industry and community based education with an objective of empowerment.

Peaceful Society, in it’s thinking always kept its focus on two aspects of self-reliance, which served it well in coming days: independence in decision-making and financial self-reliance. It shaped the way it looked at survival and meeting core-costs of the organisation.

The inherent strength of the organisation to look at alternative source of income generation as means to survival saw Peaceful Society through its most trying and creative phase in 1995, when it shifted its focus from project and programmes to networking and empowerment. Closing projects meant, drastic reduction in donor grants, but Peaceful Society survived that phase due to its self-reliance instincts. Its investment in the form of a farmhouse saw it through that phase, till it was ready to come out with a revised vision and development strategy.

Rethinking and a lot of internal questioning made the organisation focus its energies towards networking and empowerment of people as two methodologies of its work. This also gave people at the grassroots the freedom to choose locally relevant issues to work on. Result of this phase was a very complex form of governance called ‘Sawarj’. Swaraj is a Forum for Gandhian societal perspectives and action to bring together likeminded groups and individuals to work towards Gandhian alternatives to today’s challenges. Swaraj was based on the principles of Gram Sarkar (parallel rule of people) as against Panchayat Raj (extension of state government.)

3. Vision and Objectives :

Its vision is a society that is based on Gandhian ideology, with economic self-reliance for people, political self-rule with decentralisation of power and resources and democratic processes with real participation by both men and women.

Its objectives are:

  • To ensure self-rule of community to re-establish its rights and access to natural resources and other means of production for sound and sustainable development.
  • To realise positive transformation in all spheres of life namely social, political, economic, cultural and environmental.
  • To reject the influence of internal and external exploitative forces in society through WB, WTO and MNCs etc.

4. Existing Organisational Strengths :

Peaceful Society’s biggest strength is the entrepreneurial outlook, which flows from Gandhian values of self-reliance. Its founder Mr. Mani is constantly looking for ways to generate funds to take care of organisational core costs. His attitude towards self-reliance has ensured that Peaceful Society has experimented successfully with small enterprises to generate funds and its future expansion plans incorporate income generation and financial independence at community and project level, which is very inspiring and is detailed out in following sections.

The organisation and network structure is well thought out and fits with current development strategy of organisation. A new structure is being evolved to support the shift in organisation’s ideology and programme strategy. Presence of a clear structure, roles, and authority delegated down to grassroots is a strong point with Peaceful Society.

5. Something Distinctive about Peaceful Society

The fact that self-reliance and financial independence is woven into programme strategy so as to impact sustainability at community level is a very special trait in Peaceful Society.

6. Understanding of Self-Reliance :

Mr. Mani believes that an organisation is truly self-reliant if its staff and all members have internalised its vision and values, and that organisation has established its identity and credibility among its current and potential stakeholders. A self-reliant organisation, in due course of time reaps benefits in terms of independence in decision-making and financial sustainability.

7. Strategy for Organisational Financial Self – Reliance :

Peaceful society’s largest current initiative is Swaraj, which is a forum/network of like-minded individuals and organisations. For an organisation, which does not run projects, funding is not an easy option, especially to look after its core-costs. It therefore adopted the following approach to ensure financial sustainability at organisational level: Well SWARAJ has part financial support from EED whereas part support comes from the community and associated groups,

  • Minimum staff to cut down on salaries and other costs;
  • Investment in an income generation project, a farmhouse, to generate income for organisational expenses.
  • Ensuring independence and income generation focus at grassroots level, so organisation does not bear additional financial burden.
  • Building reserves to last it almost a year, in case no funding is received.

8. Existing Models of Revenue Generation :

The organisation, through its savings, membership fees, farm receipts, and product fees etc has put together a corpus fund of almost Rs 30 lakhs. This along with ownership of the farmhouse gives them a sense of financial security. After at least 5 – 6 years of hard work the farmhouse has today reached a level where its incomes are increasing every year. PS has set itself a target of saving at least Rs 1 lakhs every year from its farmhouse income to add to its corpus.

It is looking at ways of improving its income from the campus by converting the campus into a training centre for NGOs and also non-hazardous corporate sector.

It is also looking at ways to improve income from its farm by improving its output and space utilisation.

PS believes that it is possible to generate at least Rs 3 lakhs from the farming income and a similar amount from the training centre, which can take care of annual core-costs of the organisation.

a)     Farm – house:

When PS bought the land, it did not know much about profitability of a farmhouse. They knew that it would contribute to their financial self-reliance, space for staff and help them experiment with organic farming.

Staff at PS learnt from their mistakes and continued to increase the farm output. Staff at PS took assistance from technical experts, wherever available but adapted their knowledge to their local needs and environment. Networking with other groups working in the field also provided a lot of practical learning. Key learning came from local farmers and now the farmhouse has 4 layers of farming – roots, creepers, flowers, and canopy – to ensure optimum utilisation of land.

Following are the key inputs one has to evaluate and understand before any organisation looks at setting up a farmhouse to raise additional financial resources:

a.                                       Type of land / surroundings (should not be barren, there should be ground water and top soil)

b.                                       Manpower should be available locally

c.                                       Key person should have some basic knowledge about plans and farming

d.                                       Clear-cut plan about marketing and selling the produce.

Some of the things one has to careful about in the field of farming is:

q       Output: One also has to be strategic about the choice of products. Non-perishable products are better and offer a longer shelf life.

q       Pests: In organic farming dealing with pests in an organic way is important and most of the learning comes from the groups working in the field.

q       Labour issues can affect the farming if not thought through. Local labour ensures better understanding of soil, climate, plants, and ensures continuity. Imported labour results in local unrest, lack of continuity – issues that should be avoided. Local skills, such as plucking a coconut, cannot be taught easily, so local labour is critical to farming.

q       Climate is another factor that impact farming negatively.

Advantage of using farming as a source of revenue generation is he fact that it is tax-free.

Farming needs 4 to 5 years before it starts giving profit. One needs to sustain and invest in it for this period. A good thumb-rule experienced to have worked in farming is to sell off 5% of the land, which would sustain the farm for the gestation period.

b.)  Women Employment Programme (WEP) :

WEP started with an objective of empowering the poor rural women to improve their financial and family conditions. In spite of the fact the PS was not very strong on the marketing aspect and did not do a human resource planning, the programme performed well and yielded profit, which was very encouraging. A guiding philosophy that ensured that the programme never went in loss was the focus on making sure that investment costs were always met.

The products that the unit decided to sell were papads, sweet biscuits, wafers etc. It employed 10 – 12 women for 300 days in a year. It started with a very small initial investment, which was used to buy utensils, stocking up the raw material and to make labour payments.

Of the total income, the broad break up used to be like this:

Material                                             : 40%

Wage & Management costs             : 30 – 35%

Marketing expenses:                        : 10%

Profit                                               : 15% – 20%

 

One innovative idea that helped this initiative to de well was floating a “marketing’ company of local youth, who earned commission on the sales made. This ensured that the unit saved money on delivery boy, transportation etc and the products were aggressively pushed in the market. The sales volume tripled in a short span of period and PS had to set up another production centre to cater to the demand.

Some key aspects in this initiative are:

Ñ      Quality of the product is critical to the success of this enterprise. One cannot compromise on these commercial aspects, if one has to compete in the market. It will negatively impact the profitability and commercial viability. Aspects of market, profitability should get equal weightage as social values.

Ñ      In charge of the unit should have technical knowledge about the production process, so the variant nature of raw material prices is kept in check by improvising on production process.

Ñ      Constant improvement in the quality of the product and introducing new products as per market demand is also critical.

Ñ      Key people should ideally be trained in financial management and marketing etc. Right kind of manpower is critical.

Ñ      A very clear understanding about the market, buyers, gap that exists and is there a market for your product is very necessary.

Ñ      It is important to launch a good quality product, because if it is rejected once, it will be very difficult to re-establish itself in the market.

Ñ      Profit focus from day 1 is important for such units to survive and generate financial resources for programme work or organisational core-costs.

Ñ      One has to have a good plan for buying, production, storing, packaging, and marketing aspects – one cannot experiment in these departments.

Some of the risks associated with such an initiative are:

a.       Demand fluctuation in the market by middlemen specially due to ‘margin’ focus. One has to devise ways to deal with this.

b.       One has to focus on always feeding the demand, otherwise other players will fill it and it is difficult to regain.

c.       There has to be a non-negotiable focus on quality. Any compromise in this aspect will make you lose the market immediately.

d.       Understanding the market and its ‘taste’ to deliver products as per its liking.

e.       Perishable items have to move fast, so marketing channels have to be well set and oiled.

f.        Pricing – one has to be very clear about pricing of the product, considering existing prices, and the quality and quantity of your product. Pricing has to be competitive.

These kinds of initiatives take 5 –6 years to become profit generating. It needs constant focus on the aspects mentioned above

9. Learning :

Each income generation initiative will have its own unique features and risks, and in addition same kind of enterprise may even have different experiences for different organisations. The above two examples therefore, though very valuable for the data and information shared cannot be the base for any financial calculations for the aspiring entrepreneurs. Some key learning from Peaceful Society:

a.       Income generation programmes require a mindset of an entrepreneur with a clear focus on the market and profitability, without compromising its social values.

b.       Right kind of knowledge and skills can be brought into the institution by hiring the right kind of employees.

c.       Opportunities to generate resources by setting up commercial enterprises exist around us. One needs the mind of an entrepreneur to locate those, ensure the required funding and implement these initiatives with the energy and focus that it requires.