Villages in Partnership


Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh


Greenstar India and Villages in Partnership, a locally-organized community development group in Mahabubnagar District, are collaborating to realize some of the visions of the local people. These ideas have been developed over a period of several years under the guidance of Dr. T. Nagender Swamy, Executive Director. Following is an edited transcript of a recent conversation with Dr. Swamy.



Originally, Villages in Partnership was an idea without an organization. The idea behind VIP was to create a model for participation of people in development in the spirit of Gandhiji.


An idea needs to take root in the minds of people. For this VIP chose to organize a widespread consultation with people through the simple, straightforward technique of asking questions: questions that make people think, for it is only when one thinks that ideas can become reality.


After more than 15 years of effort and struggle beginning in 1984, VIP has flourished as an idea and presently has 15 grass root organizations (9 Mandal Societies and 6 Mandal Mahila Samikyas) in the Mahabubnagar District of Andhra Pradesh. These groups are pursuing the idea of partnership and responsible participation in development. Recently they have moved closer to recognition even by the government’s District administration, which has sanctioned programmes to be implemented in the mandals. This achievement of building people and their organizations would have not been possible but for the continued and committed involvement of all village families.


A number of activities have been taken up including water resources development, agriculture community facilities and capacity building through experience and training. A sharp focus on the judicious use of water has permeated all the community efforts. Currently VIP through the Mandal Societies is involved in the implementation of 65 watershed projects in the District. It is hoped that soon the Mandal Societies will formally become the Project Implementing Agencies in their mandals.


The question of sustainability of the effort and short term results being transformed into long term solutions, has been a major preoccupation of VIP. In this effort, banking continues to be very instrumental. The Village Development Committees have established a core investment fund, which is linked to a revolving fund accessed by Mandal Societies and the Family Welfare Saving Programme. While this provides for the organizational sustainability, idea sustainability is being pursued through the concept of Village Voluntary service. This entails every member of a community being involved in half a day each month in the service of the village doing what she or he knows best.


The impact of the VIP idea in its most fundamental form has permeated the district and even traveled to other parts of the country.





What is development? We have moved away from looking at development solely in economic terms to an inclusion of questions of equity and social justice.


Generally, the world has landed at a place which establishes and perpetuates the beneficiary culture, leading to unprecedented dependence on government. The focus has been to gain something without attention to what we were losing, the gain always being quantitative and money-oriented. One singular achievement of all development efforts so far has been the growing obsession and preoccupation with making money, more money, quick money and easy money. Are happiness and contentment no longer cherished goals? While money should be regarded as necessary, we tend to look upon it as the be-all and end-all. Can there be limits or controls to such a tendency? What are the consequences and repercussions of such attitudes? There certainly appears to be no significant correlation between wealth and happiness. Are the wealthy the happiest? Are the poor the unhappiest? Among whom is there greater contentment?


One evident and pervading consequence has been the impoverishment of once highly-cherished values of self respect, mutual trust and contentment. The increasing fear to say and do what is right and the confidence by which wrong is said and done is a sad commentary on the progress of humankind.


Yet another frightening consequence has been the diminishing responsibility on the part of people, leading to callous and indifferent attitudes and behaviour. Our heritage of being able to live in harmony with nature and our environment has been lost and our erratic, irresponsible and selfish behaviour have been pushing us closer to greater peril.


At the village level one notices an upheaval of age-old customs and practices that enabled villages to be self reliant and self sufficient. One can, I am sure, find old people in the villages who would reminisce with pride about the days when people respected themselves and one another, the days when villages made their laws and enforced them, the times when people cared and shared.


We should perhaps question the very tenets of development, redefine the concept and reformulate the goals and objectives. Our planning approach at VIP has consciously shifted from "government will operate and people must cooperate" to "people must operate and government should cooperate." But then what is to ensure that this will not remain but one more unimplemented slogan?


It was in the above scenario that VIP set out to being back the focus of people to basic values and morals. In this endeavour it was imperative that transparency of the organisation was not merely symbolic, that its integrity and credibility were above suspicion or doubt and its motives, over a period of time, clear and accepted.



The author, Dr. Nagendra Swamy

In order to establish and achieve these goals it was necessary and prudent, on the part of VIP, to have some clearly defined principles and well formulated policy to nurture the central objective of VIP:


To facilitate the villagers' own understanding of their problems through consultation, and to assist them in formulating programs through community planning and help them increase their participation and responsibility as partners in achieving their development.


  • Not to further diminish the self respect of people with subsidies and gifts but to challenge them. Villages are neither orphans that need to be adopted nor helpless people that require alms. Given opportunities, like you and me, villagers will do well. In the process of tampering with their self-respect, has not their respect for us been severely mutilated? They do not trust those that are entrusted with their development.
  • Efforts should be to work with the Community and not with groups in the village. We should enable people to come together and not divide the village. Consensus through debate among all is far better than confrontation. While history may be remembered, those that have been responsible for ills in the community should be given a fair opportunity to be part of the responsibility in setting things right.
  • Restoring the credibility of village leadership and structures must be a priority. In the last few decades the lack of credibility has become a major obstacle in people coming together and doing things together. Dishonesty needs to be exposed and the dishonest taken to task. Village communities today are not short of resources and resourceful people, but they suffer severely from lack of mutual trust and confidence.
  • Give people opportunities to blame themselves. Real development begins when people stop blaming others and start blaming themselves. Responsibility is taken and power given. When people are encouraged and supported to take responsibility and are given power, they learn fast that power is used, abused or misused and responsibility cannot be taken lightly. It is amazing how quickly one notices the change from blaming everyone else to looking within for the causes of failure. Giving people power over financial matters tends to hasten the process.
  • A community whose members are aware, alert and responsive is best positioned to ensure peace and justice. No person should be a stranger to, and ignorant of, happenings is his/her village. People should be partners in their development and not passive recipients or beneficiaries. The big question that continues to haunt us is, are people really the beneficiaries of all our development inputs?


As an organization we have had to make some tough decisions. The real tough part is, however, to live by them. Some of these major critical decisions are:


  • Not to peddle projects but to support people's initiatives. This is not easy, but it is a must. Many organizations that started out playing the role of facilitator have ended up being project formulators and implementers. There are always tempting offers and opportunities, but one must be firm and determined. Any organization should participate in and contribute to the people's programmes and not vice versa. Over the years, people have demonstrated their ability to come to grips with their problems. Given moral support and assistance, they are quite capable of implementing their decisions to resolve problems.
  • The organization shall not acquire any fixed assets. We have refused to even have an office building of our own, as this would make it easier to look first to our own welfare. Many a good organization has lost focus and the sense of purpose of the movement they started by acquiring property in their name. It appears there is a strong negative correlation between property ownership and the tendency to look within.
  • The growth and development of the organization shall be limited and controlled. We strongly believe that any development and growth should be out in the village communities rather than in the organization. This will ensure that bureaucracy-related ills and red tape will not creep into a voluntary organization. Once again, the quicker and greater the growth of an organization, the further away it tends to get from its set goals and objectives. Facilitation of full-time workers employed by the village is desirable.
  • People as the focus of the attention and recognition and the organization in the background. Even if the people are participating in the projects and programmes of organization, there is hardly any recongition of this. It is always the organization that is the hero and the image is invariably projected thus. This is certainly one factor causing delay in the spread of good ideas and programs. What people have to do, and in fact do, to organize themselves and manage their resources, is rarely highlighted. This is far more difficult than a department releasing funds or an organization mobilizing resources and spending for their glory.
  • All decisions must be people-based and arrived at after broad based discussions. An organization would do well not to rub its ideas and decision on people. Any idea, if shared with and discussed among people, leads to decisions of which we can be sure are more pragmatic and functional. One of tenets of self-respect is to respect one's own word. If people have the opportunity to make decisions and are challenged to live by them, then they have the opportunity to develop into self-respecting individuals. Losing face is certainly losing opportunities.



Taking a hard view and not compromising on the above, where are we -- and what is our increasingly shared vision for the future ?


Village Development Committees (VDC) that are still struggling are increasingly becoming a concrete reality. Recognition is coming their way, particularly from their own people as well as the government. There is a steady increase in the number of matters being dealt by the VDCs both within the villages as well as with the government and other institutions. The credibility of the committees is marking a gradual improvement, as a result of which their resource base is also developing. How has this become possible?


  • Having active and honest members on the committee. Some committees have had to make frequent changes to ensure this.
  • Regular monthly and special meetings of the committee, which are also attended by members of the community.
  • Stricter adherence to agreed-upon guidelines, rules and procedures for organization of people and management of community finances and resources.
  • Improved ability to plan, implement and follow up on community projects and programmes. Maintenance (recurring expenditure) is well organized. The ownership is total.
  • An enhanced ability to take a more comprehensive look at issues and problems is developing a broader community base.


Partnership (linkages) between villages is just as important as within a village. Pressures tend to facilitate change. While villages are independent, they are still able to exert moral pressures. This is conceptualized and given shape in the form of :


  • Mandal Development Committees and Agriculture Development Training Centres (ADTCs) operating at the Mandal level and bringing together all the member villages in the Mandal. These Committees meet every month on a fixed date in a different member village hosted by the VDC. Every village is represented by five members. This approach has resulted in the following :
    • Improved discipline and time-consciousness are on the way to becoming new hallmarks of this effort.
    • Better participation and articulation of village issues and problems by the representatives at the meetings. A tendency to better appreciate issues beyond the boundaries of their villages has emerged.
    • Facilitation and organization of various inputs and services for farmers and members of their communities and in the process mobilizing resources for the VCDs and the ADTCs.
    • Bringing pressure on individuals who step outside the line and "belling the cats" in the village.
    • District Development Committee and District level meetings -- including the MDC & ADTC, all VDCs and Mahila Mandals (Mahila Samaikya).


These forums facilitate discussion and decisions regarding common programmes and laying down the rules, conditions and procedures as well as sanctions. Many officials and visitors have found these meetings interesting and useful.


  • The District Development committee (DDC) meets every month on the third Monday. Each Mandal nominates two members to this committee.
  • District level meetings are held once every quarter, each time hosted by a village in a different mandal. These meetings have proven invaluable in may respects. Decisions regarding training requirements and necessary external expertise are taken in these meetings besides interacting with the official government machinery, the business community and other institutions.
  • All VDCs meet twice a year to review their functioning and plan measures to further improve and strengthen their role in village development. An important decision has been the appointment of village development managers by the VDCs.
  • The Mahila Mandals meet once a year on the 7th and 8th of March. The meetings so far have exposed the fact that we have barely scratched the surface of their potential and the role they can play in their village development. They have recently formed the Mahila Samaikya, both at the Mandal and District Level. We are watching eagerly their progress and experience in operating a loan programme for women.


All the above effort, we (the people and VIP) are hopeful, will diversify the present mono focus on economic (monetary) preoccupation to psycho-social and cultural dimensions of life as well. Dignity and respect of the individual will be restored, and honesty and integrity in the management of public affairs will not remain an inaccessible goal.


There will be present in the villages credible leadership and communities that are responsible and responsive. Their participation and contribution will not have to be solicited but will come forth as a duty and responsibility.


This is an approach and methodology that helps Committees to be transparent, their functioning closely watched and evaluated by its people. Committees that function and are not merely functional will be the proud asset of the villages.


An alternative to the general world model of development is being kept alive that can be emulated by others who might be seeking a different approach — an approach made by communities who are not entirely dependent and waiting for handouts but an approach with initiative, confidence, capability and commitment to begin and keep going. In brief self starting communities.



Villages in Partnership

Performance to Date


In our context there are the three major partners in the development process. There are inherent problems with all the three partners and yet they have to learn to work together, develop on the firm basis of mutual support and assistance. The challenge of development is to work at problem resolution.


1. People


The people have come a long way, in a short period, from asking what we will give them to telling us what they would like to do. Some of their major achievements are:


  • Have become members of the organization paying an annual village subscription of Rs. 1000/- ($US 25), with recent efforts aimed at collecting this amount from all members of the Village community.
  • Have formed local organizational structures such as the village development committees (VDC’s), Mahila Mandals and in some villages; youth societies.
  • At the Mandal level they have formed the Mandal Development Committees and Agriculture Development Training Centres (ADTC). An extent of 5 acres of land has been donated in each of the mandals for setting up to the ADTC. They are busy collecting Rs. 5 per acre from all farmers towards the ADTC fund. An ADTC bank account has been opened in all the mandals. The ADTC committees have assumed total charge of the machinery and equipment at the centres.
  • At the village level three bank accounts are being operated — Village Development Fund by the VDC, Mahila Mandal Account and Drinking Water Hand Pumps Maintenance fund by two of the women hand pump caretakers. The hand pump maintenance has been taken over by the communities.


In turn, they are sponsoring and organizing the monthly Mandal meetings and the quarterly all mandals meeting (two days) of the MDC and ADTC members. (5 members from each of the member villages). Recently the women have also started organizing monthly Mandal Mahila meetings. VIP does not pay for any of the costs except in the case of the two day meetings where the expenditure towards the hiring of accommodation material (shamianas, carpets etc) is provided. The rest of the costs are met by the hosting village. Out of the registration fee of Rs. 10 per head paid by the participants, bus fares are provided for the two day meetings. For the monthly meetings no travel is provided, the hosting village provides tea and lunch.


The concept of partnership having made its entry, the people are also able to discuss the conditions of development assistance for various activities and programmes, before finalizing formal agreements.


The village communities are learning while struggling to draw up their village plans in consultation with the members of the village, and are trying to come to grips with the problems of local resource mobilization.


While the people should be congratulated for the above, I should like to draw your attention to the other side of the story.


The initial response to the call for shouldering responsibility was unbelievable. We learned only later the reason. People thought that they could make a fast buck and get some personal benefits. The realization quickly dawned that this was not to be, and the initial enthusiasm began to fade. It took a little longer for regular members of the village community to realize that there was no exclusive reward for being a member of the committee.


Fortunately, in the villages at least, a handful of people were able to realize that their personal benefit could be derived through collective benefit. And it is these people who are carrying the major load and burden of responsibility to ensure that their village realizes the benefits of partnership. How long they will be able to carry the burden, and how soon will others come forward to share, is a matter of concern as well as hope.


While the women have proven to be more serious and willing to try new ideas, they have to fight for their place and role in the Village Development Committees. The pace of their progress in some of the villages is quite commendable.


Partnership interaction has pushed to the surface some social problems and issues in the villages, which hitherto were not considered as problems owing to the meek acceptance of dominating posturing by some. Questions are now being raised about temple entry, special drinking glasses in village tea shops, wage rates etc. One notices hidden threats and underlying fears that continue to delay and defer solutions.


A major setback for development is the lack of mutual trust in people. The apprehensions and suspicions make people appear as unwilling to contribute or give. One cannot blame them, for they have had bad experiences and plenty of sad stories to tell.


Responsibility and accountability must lead to credibility. Encouraging progress is being made in instilling elementary financial discipline. No money is to be collected without a proper receipt. All money collected must be deposited in the village development fund account in the bank, no withdrawals are allowed without a resolution of the committee, all expenditures must be property recorded, and periodic reports must be delivered to the people. Insistence on these basic controls is beginning to show results.



2. Government


The above must be looked at in the background of the prevailing ‘free’ and ‘subsidy’ environment. We have yet to see conscious effort on the part of the Government to replace the "beneficiary culture" it has ushered into the rural community, which has made the people so dependent and expectant, when they hear the words "partnership effort".


While there is growing interest and increasing willingness at the top to associate voluntary organizations, the attitude at the lower levels of the Government machinery is annoying, frustrating and sometimes disturbing. While at the policy level voluntary organizations are considered capable of making worthwhile contribution, at the lower levels we are considered a pain in the neck. For example:


  • Even 5 months after the Governor had inaugurated a drinking water scheme, the 50% matching contribution had not been paid by the Panchayat Raj department. This occurred in spite of registered letters, reminders, and representations from the village development committee.
  • Despite an agreement with the Chief Engineer, Panchayat Raj, we have not been able to get the spares for the hand pumps, even six months after our request was made.


However, there is encouraging recognition of our Village Development Committees and the ADTC by the District Administration. One of our VDCs is executing a rehabilitation programme for released bonded laborers while a few VDCs are managing the village fair price shops and a few have been given the opportunity to take up village development programmes under different government provisions in place of contractors. Our ADTCs have been given a matching grant of Rs. 25,000/- each for purchase of farm implements by the Directorate of Agriculture.


We are also working with the DRDA, which has been entrusted with the new experiment of multiple financing of IRDP to voluntary organizations. While we will be working with tribals of two thandas (attached to our member villages) in the above programme, we have also assisted them in the IRDP survey in three of the five mandals in which we are operating.


We have been able to establish cordial relations with a number of the departments, particularly the Agriculture Department, from which we get good support for our ADTC activities.


The Government as a major partner is a must because of its consequential machinery, infrastructure and resources.


3. Villages in Partnership


VIP remains adamant and continues to stick to its principle of enabling people rather than taking up programmes for them. We are busy with the "process" rather than with the "programmes" of development. While VIP never initiates, it instigates and provokes, on the basis of opportunities that come up in the process of our development assistance effort. Such disposition, we have learned, is very conducive to bringing about inspiration and establishing aspirations in the people.


Our idea of limited organizational expansion and growth is being frequently challenged with increasing requests and pressure for taking up more mandals. Our stand, however, remains to be focused on the present five mandals. While most are understanding of our limitations, to many we are disappointing.


Our conscious and continuous efforts to keep the organizational profile low is gaining considerable acceptance among the people and the communities, which drives the effort to improve their profile. Both successes and failures in attempts to achieve are that of the people, and therefore the "responsibility for their development" is in "their hands, heads and hearts". While VIP may be called on the carpet for lapses in its effort, it cannot be blamed for the absence of self-imposed targets.


Our belief and emphasis on "Community Planning" at the village level has also come face to face with some ardent critics of the idea of empowerment at the individual level. These critics strongly feel that people at the village level are simply not capable of carrying out such an exercise. We ask them, "Is it their inability and incapacity, or the lack of opportunity"? Given the opportunity they will certainly learn as we all do.


The most satisfying aspect of our work is our technique that has borne encouraging fruit — to challenge people and communities. Our answers to people’s questions are questions to awaken their thinking faculty, lying dormant and unused. It is easier to tell and give, than to ask and challenge.


In spite of the above, the fact remains that VIP, being a new entrant, is as yet only as small part of people's life, while for those in the organization, people and villages are a major part of their life and work. While VIP does not wish to enter into their total lives, it is our hope that one of the aims of VIP, to see people including their villages as an integral part of their personal pursuits, pervades their life. This inevitable initial gap, that requires bridging, remains a major challenge to our service partners. It should be said in their favour that they are trying.


The increasing pressure of demands on the organization and its Service Partners to guide and assist, even the present membership villages, is becoming a problem evading resolution. This is largely due to the fact that there is a severe shortage of competent and professional personnel, locally. VIP has chosen, generally, to restrict its recruitment to the district. Those we have recruited appear to have reached the peak of their present levels of competence and ability, enhanced considerably by training within the organization. The major demand is for people with managerial and organizational abilities. While our quest for such people continues, the tunnel seems unending.


Problems are plenty but so are opportunities. We like to look at problems being faced as opportunities to get deeper into issues, broaden the base of responsibility, strengthen the foundation of partnership and enhance the managerial and organizational efficiency of local structures. At the end of it all we hope to have impressed upon the people the fact that there is no running away from responsibility, if there is to be lasting, self-replicating development.