With an average GDP growth rate of 5.8% during the first decade of reforms (1992-2001), India is among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Economic development has created several opportunities for those with access to information, capital, and the ability to negotiate their interests.
However, the absolute number of unemployed people in India continues to grow. Millions of Indians have been isolated from the benefits of globalization. Many communities have had to put up with increasing economic and social instability since India’s reforms.
A vital role of the voluntary sector is to assist vulnerable groups in building stable livelihoods. This involves providing support in developing capabilities, gaining assets and identifying strategies to make a living.
In order to be sustainable they should allow people to cope with and recover from shocks, maintain quality of life over time, and provide the same or better opportunities for all, now and in the future.
Many poor people in India are keen to work their way out of poverty by setting-up a small business. The availability of credit is a basic requirement in order to do this.
However, hundreds of millions of poor people have been kept out of India’s banking system. As a result many people have been forced to borrow from exploitive loan sharks. The high interest rates that they charge has resulted in an inescapable poverty trap for many people.
An innovative solution to this situation is micro-credit. This involves extending small loans to poor people through schemes especially designed to meet their particular needs and circumstances.
The benefits of micro-credit are being felt in numerous villages in India. Millions of people are using small loans to rewrite their present and future. Women self-help groups have been particularly skillful at using micro-finance to set-up successful small scale enterprises.
However, there is still a huge shortfall in the availability of micro-credit. Nearly 7.5 million poor households in India desperately want access to financial services. There is still a long way to go.
Using Waste as a Primary Resource
Waste materials can be a useful asset in generating incomes. For example, in India thousands of farmers have been able to reduce their use of chemical fertilizers by 90% by using vermicompost instead. They can produce vermicompost themselves, through the process of earthworms feeding on food waste.
Recuperation materials, such as tin cans and metal wires, can also be used to boost people’s livelihoods. In Dakar, an artisan workshop using recuperation material has become an important source of income for a lot of people.
Helping people gain access to new technologies can increase employment, generate income, and enable people to their meet basic needs. They can also conserve or rehabilitate the environment.
It is important to fully consider whether the technology is appropriate to the local environment in which it will be used. This involves an evaluation of whether it is socially beneficial, economically viable and environmentally sound.
The Auroville community in Pondicherry has installed a huge ‘solar bowl’ employing solar energy for cooking. The bowl follows the sun's position by means of a computerized tracking device, and focuses sun rays on a cylindrical boiler. Steam at a temperature of 150°C can be generated, which is then utilized to cook two meals a day for up to 1,000 people. A similar concept is in use at Mt. Abu in Rajasthan.
An Indian NGO worked with villagers in Azadpura to build homes using appropriate building technologies. After earning their trust and strengthening local capacities, they then helped the villagers create cooperatives. Members of these cooperatives are now running a mason's guild and a women's handicraft production center.
Training / Education / Skills building
Providing job related knowledge and skills can be a powerful way to help people raise their incomes. Education can also be a powerful empowerment mechanism as it strengthens local peoples' confidence and abilities.