ACF has built up a special expertise for community mobilisation and engagement, and has also created models which work for rural India, such as the ability for ‘last mile reach
Published on December 20, 2020 at 7:41 am
Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:50 am
Clean drinking water availability is also a focus of ACF.
ACF has built up a special expertise for community mobilisation and engagement, and has also created models which work for rural India, such as the ability for ‘last mile reach.
The global spotlight is upon India as an emerging economy, and our demographic and gender dividend has us poised for remarkable things in the future. Despite this great potential, inherent gifts and talents of our people, poverty continues to prevail. And as the urban-rural divide deepens, it becomes our responsibility to ensure that as the country rises, so do all of its people – equitably.
Whilst India has seen some traction in development over the last few years, there is much yet to be done. Rural communities, even today, lack basic infrastructure and connectivity. Whilst we may have some of the best policies in place to address these issues, how do we enable their reach at a grassroots level? There is a need to reach that last mile, which in India, is no small feat.
Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) has accepted this challenge – to create necessary awareness at that last mile, to demonstrate practices to solve problems, to organise people into social networks, build their capacity, help them take charge of their futures, and advocate bringing about a better quality of life in their own households.
Over the last 26 years of its mission, ACF has been able to achieve this last mile reach, honing a grassroots approach. ACF has created sound models for its work – keeping livelihoods at the core. Yet there is much more work to be done, and the need of the hour is additional, collaborative investment in rural India.
Women empowerment is a key functional area of ACF.
ACF began in 1993 when parent company, Ambuja Cements Limited (ACL) kick started community engagement in communities around its manufacturing plants. Its Chairman believed that as the company grew, rural communities and the people in them should grow too. So the focus remained on strengthening rural livelihoods, and fostering prosperity in villages.
But as the company deepened its work over time, expanding across 11states and 2,073 villages, it realised that the problems in rural India were so vast, and that there was so much more to be done.
Livelihoods at the Core
Indeed, now more than ever, there is a need for a united approach to help facilitate rural transformation. To try and ensure ‘quality of life’ – which can only be achieved by enhancing livelihoods. What would that quality of life look like? It is one where every human has the necessary capital he or she needs to earn a livelihood – because with a decent livelihood, a person can carve their own destiny.
ACF aims to generate such income levels that can meet 8 basic household needs: food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education and social security. And this remains the focus of ACF’s all programme verticals.
ACF has focused its efforts on the pressing issues of Water, Agriculture, Skills, Health, Women and Education. All these areas are integral to our rural villages and positive changes in each of these areas has ripple effects across the entire community as a result.
A key differentiator and strength is ACF’s ability to leverage the opportunities the government creates, by linking communities to various schemes and subsidies established to ensure that the people can avail of the benefits. ACF’s role as a connector and enabler here is the key.
Ambuja Manovikas Kendra improves the quality of life of differently-abled children.
Ensuring People Participate in their Development
At ACF it is believed that every community must contribute to its own development. Unfortunately, the majority of India has got used to receiving things for free – ‘donations’ and ‘subsidies’ – therefore very often there is resistance to ‘contributing and participating’ to various projects. This can be a real set back because ACF believes, that in order for anything to be sustainable, the people themselves must ‘buy in’ and contribute to the project, financially or in-kind.
This approach has worked as far as ACL is concerned. Across all locations of ACL, community members contributed a total of almost Rs 19 crore last year – from building toilets to helping create water harvesting structures. Everyone pitched in and the community members now feel proud, responsible and empowered as a result. In order to overcome the initial resistance from communities, ACF team members do a lot of community dialogue to involve people and help them see that this is the best way for sustainability in the future.
Challenges Along the Way …
A big challenge also faced is around basic infrastructure. The places in which ACF works are often very remote and have electricity supply issues. This hampers ACF’s plans for integrating e-learning and technology in village schools. Dearth of good quality buildings for initiating a skill institute add to the challenges. Poor road conditions also make it difficult for ACF team to reach out to isolated communities.
ACF also finds it difficult to get the right kind of technical people in the remote areas. This creates a road block because getting the right expertise on-ground is critical smooth functioning. ACF has addressed this by creating a team with sincere and interested local people and building them up through training, to deliver quality services.
Lastly due to various other conflicts in the system, many potential partnerships are held back leading to the people losing out being the ones on the ground. From the get go, we have wanted to be ‘clean operators’ and conduct our work with integrity – placing a lot of emphasis on core values. As a result, we have stuck to our values and that has put us in good stead with many stakeholders, who over time, have come forward to partner with us, collaborate to do good, meaningful development work at the grassroots.
ACF is working with 1,75,000 farmers across locations.
Why Rural India?
Primarily ACF is committed to rural India. By and large there is still so much work to be done in rural India so why shift the focus? And ACF has a firm belief that if India is going to flourish as an emerging economy, we need to uplift rural India.
In saying that, ACF has a strong Skill and Entrepreneurship Development programme. It runs institutes to skill rural youth. At the same time, if some skill training opportunities arise in semi urban or urban areas, ACF caters to it as well.
Over time ACF has built up a special expertise for community mobilisation and engagement, and has created models which work for rural India, such as the ability for ‘last mile reach.’
ACF’s efforts have shown tangible results across all programmatic areas. The customised monitoring system of ACF helps it generate enough data to ascertain impacts.
Macro Impact Data
• Spent Rs. 160 crore to create water storage capacity of 55.60 mcm
• Increased from 1 crop to 3 crops per year
• Working with over 1,75,000 farmers across locations
• 146 villages with 100% toilet coverage; 30,395 toilets constructed
• 45,000 youth received skill training with 75% placement rate until March 2019
• 2,424 Self-Help Groups with a corpus of 14.44 crore
• Supported 150 schools and anganwadis and rehabilitated nearly 100 special children
• 2,769 large village level institutions in places to ensure sustainability