“Overcoming poverty is not an act of charity but an act of justice. As we celebrate 75 years of independence, Nelson Mandela’s words carry more weight than ever.
Since 1947, India has made great strides in health, industry, scientific achievement and poverty alleviation. But even though we lifted 140 million people out of poverty between 2004 and 2011, we are still no closer to fulfilling our appointment with fate.
The recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic pushed an additional 75 million people in India into poverty last year.
The persistence of poverty can be attributed to four factors: the deceleration of Indian GDP between 2017 and 20201; the spike in unemployment in 2017-2018, when unemployment hit a 45-year high; a depression in consumer spending with stagnant or falling wages; and the pandemic, which has destroyed off-farm jobs and sent millions back to the villages, seeking employment at MGNREGA at minimum wage.
The UNDP Human Development Report 2020 added little joy; India fell two places to 131.
India was ranked 101st out of 116 countries mapped in the 2021 Global Hunger Index, which takes into account factors such as insufficient food supply, child mortality and child undernutrition. | Photo credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP
Read in conjunction with data from the first phase of the Fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS 5), which reflects a decline in the nutritional status of children under 5, it appears that the slow rate of economic growth n has not allowed India’s poor families enough income to provide nutritious food to children.
India’s war on poverty needs more than just political support.
India has experienced one of the largest Covid-19 outbreaks in the world and a devastating second wave, but economic growth has regained momentum in recent months as evidenced by the recovery of important macroeconomic indicators such as employment and consumer confidence.
According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, September 2021 alone saw up to 85 lakh new jobs.5
Growing globalization and liberal economic policies introduced by the government over the years have created jobs and livelihood opportunities, leading to upward mobility for more than 300 million Indians, who have moved from poverty to middle class.
However, a closer examination of data on extreme poverty indicators shows that, overall, globalization and government policies have only benefited communities that have at least the basic level of health, education and essential facilities needed to participate in economic activities.
Millions of other Indians are currently deprived of such services and have no way out of poverty. This is an area where nonprofits and civil society organizations can become agents of change.
Large-scale development programs can be more successful through collaboration and partnerships
Philanthropic and private capital can go a long way in bridging the gap in markets and government as well as catalyzing solutions that can eventually be adopted and scaled up through traditional capital or public funding.
We have seen how, over the years, the integrated and community-based initiatives of many of India’s leading philanthropic institutions such as Tata Trusts and the Azim Premji Foundation have succeeded in increasing the incomes of agrarian communities through improved agricultural practices and links to markets.
Skills development programs are ongoing across the country, where government programs and the social sector combine their capacities to develop industry-relevant skills among India’s disadvantaged youth.
For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with the Central Square Foundation, which works to improve the quality of education for low-income students by helping state governments improve foundational outcomes by literacy and numeracy, amplified by technology.
Philanthropic efforts to build skills, entrepreneurship and livelihoods can build dynamism and industrial readiness among young people and bring the poor into the lap of economic development.
It is unreasonable to expect that any one government, industry or civil society can, on their own, provide the capital and human resources needed to achieve inclusive socio-economic development for the nation. Development goals as ambitious as those facing India are best achieved through concerted efforts among multiple stakeholders.
Philanthropy can be the catalyst for innovation and action, while markets and governments can bring the necessary scale to these efforts on the ground. We have seen, at least twice since India’s independence, that such models can be successful.
We can learn from the past to plan for the future
First, we had the White Revolution, which successfully transformed India from a milk-deficient nation into a world leader in dairy production.
The foundations for the White Revolution were laid with the government’s Intensive Livestock Development Program, which offered a set of improved ranches to cattle owners.
But its success can also be attributed to the efforts of social entrepreneur Verghese Kurien, whose “billion liter idea” made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustaining industry and largest sector. rural jobs, supporting the livelihoods of 100 million dairy farmers.
Of these, 70% were women and 69% belonged to socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society. Today, Indian dairy farmers are knowledgeable about efficient dairy farming technologies and their economy.
The other achievement we can admire is the eradication of poliomyelitis.
India accounted for more than 60% of polio cases globally as recently as 2009. India has long been considered one of the most difficult regions, geographically, to eradicate the disease.
However, the joint efforts of the Indian government, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and UNICEF have done what none of them could have done alone.
India was officially declared polio-free in 2014; there hasn’t even been a single case of wild polio since 2011 | Photo credit: SANDEEP SAXENA
The success of this program has shown that anything is possible when relevant stakeholders come together and dedicate sufficient time and resources to a common cause.
These are examples of socio-economic transformations at the population level in a very short time, sometimes even in a decade.
We can learn from these large-scale, systemic changes and replicate their success in reducing poverty through meaningful collaboration with all stakeholders.
Poverty reduction must be tackled on several fronts: improving the employability of young Indians by training them in life skills, English and essential vocational skills; enable visibility, funding and access to resources for non-profit organizations engaged in development work on the ground; encourage large-scale innovation; creating or rebuilding livelihoods for the poor and underserved, in both rural and urban contexts; and catalyze partnerships with and within government, the private sector and non-profit organizations for evidence-based programs.
To make India poverty free in our lifetime is not an impossible task. Let’s commit our collective efforts and resources to make this a reality.
Sudha Srinivasan is the CEO of the /Nudge Center for Social Innovation. Views are personal