Localising SDGs will pay off

NN Sinha | Updated on August 19, 2021

Leverage women’s collectives and the Panchayati Raj system

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global effort that has one major objective — achieving a better future for all. To achieve these global and national targets, localisation is a crucial lever. It correlates how local and State governments can support the accomplishments of the SDGs through bottom-up action, and how the SDGs can provide a framework for local policy.

If India is to achieve its goals by 2030, it must build a mechanism for effectively localising the SDGs — one that leverages and integrates the social capital that exists in women’s collectives and with the local self-governance of the Panchayati Raj system. Today, 76 million women have been mobilised into self-help groups (SHGs) under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and there are 3.1 million elected panchayat representatives. For localisation to truly work, we need to leverage the strength of both these institutions through a partnership.

Women collectives have successfully overcome the deep-rooted bias of caste, patriarchy, and wealth by challenging norms and unequal social relations. In doing so, they have created conditions for social equality and ultimately, paving the way for Gram Swaraj. The women of Kudumbashree in Kerala exemplify this. By articulating the aspirations of the local community, the women were able to engage elected representatives in a two-way process — complementing their efforts while also holding them accountable.

Undoubtedly, there are inherent challenges associated with involving community institutions like SHGs in developing the Gram Panchayat Development Plan, including human resources, capacities, and disaggregating department budgets. But to truly localise the SDGs, this is the route that ought to be taken within the framework of the Constitution. This action should not form a parallel track, but become a way of reinforcing the institutional capacity of panchayats.

Building social capital

Let’s consider this in the context of the five southern States — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana — which have done better than the others when it comes to poverty reduction. Why has this been the case? There are five things that these States did that seems to have had played a significant role in curbing poverty.

First is the participation of adolescent girls in secondary, higher secondary, and higher education. Second, the decline in fertility has a far greater correlation to the participation of adolescent girls in secondary, higher secondary education than any healthcare and family welfare services. The third is the formation of collectives: when women came together to form SHGs it created an identity outside of the house. Fourth, since these women over time had had basic secondary level education, their collectives or SHGs could leverage skills and diverse livelihood opportunities better than others. And fifth, the decision that permits lending of up to ₹10 lakh without collateral for women SHGs, which was recently been raised by the RBI to ₹20 lakh.

Clearly, these five elements can serve as a blueprint for other States to implement local solutions to problems.

Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) are the tier closest to the people. The 73rd Constitution Amendment transferred 29 subjects to them. To be successful, PRIs need not only emphasise their governance role but also focus on their developmental role. The entire discourse should focus on how to enable PRIs focus on their leadership role in achieving the SDGs. This would need work on many leadership traits — visioning, mobilising and seeking partnerships, among others.

There are not many conversations about social capital being a strong foundation for economic activity. Ultimately, localisation efforts should lead to transformation not in social relationships alone, but also the level of economic activity in villages. Unless we build enterprise and credit leveraging as part of our overall agenda, our efforts will be in vain. Not enough time is spent on understanding how a poor household can leverage systems or institutions to move up faster. There’s a need to look at these small collectives as the root of more shared growth.

Innovation and collaboration through engagement with community foundations must be advocated for achieving the SDGs . Localising the SDGs at the rural level will not only challenge existing unequal relations but also provide an institutional framework that is in sync with national and global priorities.

The writer is Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development

Published on August 19, 2021

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