A soaring day for Seva Mandir it was to host the 2019 Nobel Laurate Prof. Abhijeet Banerjee, Economist, Director J-Pal (The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) and Mohammad Abdul Latif Jameel, Chairman and CEO, Abdul Latif Jameel Group.
The Nobel Laureate Prof. Abhijeet Banerjee has a profound relationship with Udaipur and Seva Mandir. He has spent more than a decade studying various development problems of the region and contributing to their solutions. The journey has expanded globally across the country through J-PAL, a renowned research institute hosted at MIT.
Seva Mandir hosted the visit for J-PAL team in Udaipur, Rajasthan for 2 days. The visit was attended by Mohammad Jameel, Prof. Abhijeet Banerjee, Fady Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel (Deputy President and Vice Chairman, J-Pal), Ms. Uzma Suleman (Associate Director for Community, J-Pal), Mohammad Arshi Abrar Khan (Director, Toyota Accessories), Shobhini Mukherjee (Executive Director, J-Pal South Asia) along with other J-Pal team members. From Seva Mandir, Ronak Shah (Chief Executive, Seva Mandir), Ajay Singh Mehta (Trustee, Seva Mandir), Janat Shah (President, Seva Mandir), Suraj Jacob (Trustee, Seva Mandir) facilitated the visit.
“Climate change and water scarcity are global challenges, and it will worsen in future. In India, the rural community have vast knowledge of water related challenges and its solutions. I look forward to understanding community perspectives and suggestions on tackling the future challenges and its solutions. This democratic approach will enable us to find collaborative solutions to the futures challenges.” - Professor Abhijeet Banerjee
The J-Pal team visited community lead development initiatives on natural resources, common lands, early childcare and nutrition, women empowerment, and education in remote villages Jalpaka and Jhabla in Udaipur. All these interventions undertaken by Seva Mandir in past 54 years are based on area specific needs and necessities.
Prof. Banerjee and Mohammad Jameel had a discussion with women of Self-Help-Groups, community members, and children. The discussion focused on current rising issues of poverty and challenges in development. The major concerned issue of climate action and global warming and its impact on vulnerable regions and communities was also discussed.
Ajay Singh Mehta, Trustee, Seva Mandir added, “Seva Mandir has initiated the dialog with communities and will continue to do so among remote and rural communities of southern Rajasthan to find a better solution for future generations.”
Ronak Shah, Chief Executive, Seva Mandir commented, “Water contamination is major challenges presently and it affects health of people in rural settlements. Seva Mandir corelates to Prof. Banerjee and believes that deeper discussions with rural communities would lead to find ways to eradicate the water challenge.”
On 2nd November, a conversation on “Action Beyond Poverty” was organized in Udaipur by Seva Mandir. The conversation shed light on thinking beyond the current actions being taken for poverty eradication. Mr. Ajay Singh Mehta, Trustee, Seva Mandir anchored the talk with Professor Banerjee. Ajay Mehta and Professor Banerjee discussed about challenges of climate action, poverty, water scarcity, and youth and new ways to go above and beyond to end poverty.
"Climate challenge surely is a global challenge and there is no reason to not do something when we can do something about it. We need to see how the world shapes and we along with it must take actions for climate change. We need more organization who do the right things and local efforts are crucial for climate actions.” - Professor Abhijeet Banerjee
“The core of Seva Mandir’s work is communities and people. Climate action is become global issue, with having adverse impacts on lives of people. The impact, is more on economically and socially marginalized people, living in rural and
semi-rural settlements. Being a community focused democratic organization. The climate change requires collective action for capacity building of community, especially youth, through local level collaborations.” - Ronak Shah, CEO,Seva Mandir
Seva Mandir and Prof. Banerjee's Association
Seva Mandir's has old association with Prof. Banerjee. It started in 1996 with research projectset out to improve the health and educational status of remote
rural and tribal communities in Seva Mandir work area in Udaipur Rajasthan.
To improve the conditions in villages, Seva Mandir partnered with Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer to conduct a series of action-research projects using the Randomized Control Trial (RCT) methodology. The first experiment showed that increasing from one to two the number of teachers in Seva Mandir's village schools (see Education) did not necessarily increase their efficiency, but that a camera - monitoring system linked to teachers' pay could greatly increase their attendance rate. Another study showed that immunization rates could be increased by offering families small incentives (such as lentils or utensils) to ensure that children attended Seva Mandir's regular immunization camps.
In the article of the Mint on October 15th, 2019, Prof. Abhijeet said that “Seva Mandir then and as now was an organization that suffered from the Groucho Marx problem. No standard that they could realistically meet was high enough for them; there was always room for self-criticism and to aim higher”.
For Seva Mandir, the partnership helped to enhance the effectiveness of the programs, not only of those studied but also of future ones, showing the significance of evidence-based planning. We continue to use the outcomes in our programs even today, and the camera monitoring being expanded to other interventions.
About Seva Mandir
Seva Mandir is 54 years old Gandhian organization that works in and around Udaipur and Rajsmand districts, trying to build effective community-based development. Seva Mandir works with more than 500,000 people in 1,500 rural villages in two districts of southern Rajasthan. Seva Mandir believes in not just delivering aid, but in long-term and sustainable social transformation. Since inception over 50 years ago, the fundamental principal underpinning all our activities has been that rural development work in the villages, however much it is needed, is not an end. Rather, it is inextricably linked to the aim of transforming social relationships within the villages, strengthening communities' capacity for self-development and governance, and reducing traditional social barriers based on caste, class, gender, and age.
Seva Mandir has sought to achieve its twin aims of improving lives and strengthening communities by engaging all members of a village in the process of self-governance, including decisions relating to, and the management of, development projects. The results and sustainability of all our integrated development work depend on this foundation.
Seva Mandir believes that people have a better understanding of what their communities need and are better able to manage the implementation of development projects than external organizations. Seva Mandir and the panchayats can act as facilitators and enablers but should not simply become givers of aid.
Therefore, instead of just delivering aid, Seva Mandir has worked painstakingly with local people to set up inclusive and accountable institutions which can take part in the development process, thus endeavoring to build sustainability into all its work.