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THE DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT–FOLLOW UP WORKSHOP ON 11TH JULY 2010

July 16, 2010

A few days back I had reported on beginning of the Devipur experiment by Joydhak together with the Bishwashuk Shevashram Sangha.. The post can be seen at the following address: https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

After that, the first follow up interaction was done on 11th July’2010.

Here’s the report:

Date: 11th July’2010

Time: 10 AM to 4 PM

Venue: Ashram Campus of Ichhapur Bishwasuk Sevasram Sangha.

Participants:

1. Debjyoti Bhattacharyya and Arindam Debnath : Representing Joydhak

2. Makhan Maharaj and Shankar Mandal : Representing Shevashram Sangha

3.Sukharanjan Roy, Shyamal Sutar : Representatives from Devipur

4 Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala: Guest participant

RECAP

The village among the mangroves

Devipur is a poverty stricken remote village in the Sunderbans. An organisation named Bishwashuk Shebashram Sangha has a small property there. They want to do something for the villagers. They requested Joydhak to conduct a workshop there for exploring the ways and means of starting a self sustained development process among the inhabitants. This resulted into starting of the  Devipur experiment.

The first on the spot survey and workshop was conducted in May 2010. The basic philosophy adopted for the Devipur experiment is that the villagers would have to generate their own resources for initiating a self sustaining process. Outside assistance would be only in the form of providing basic infrastructures, lending a little assistance in marketing etc. In other words , no money will be pumped in from any outside source in any form.

During the in situ workshop at Devipur on May’30, the following ideas had come out of the discussions:

IDEA FOR THE MEN:

  1. The men would look into the possibility of installing a multipurpose diesel operated motor that could be utilized for running implements like Mustard oil press, Moong Dal husking machines etc. suiting various seasons.
  2. The space and other physical infrastructure would be provided by the Ashram who will allow its premises and room to be used for that purpose.
  3. The fund and skilled manpower would be organized by the local people. They would themselves study the feasibility of taking out a portion the little amount of money that they are rolling in an informal micro-credit business in the locality, as initial capital and once some asset is in place that could be used to get further bank loans.

IDEA FOR THE WOMEN:

  1. The primary idea that came up was that the women could start a soft toy making business there. The Ashram would provide space and sewing implements and organise basic training and assist in procurement of raw material and marketing.
  2. Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala, a businessman selling Indian Handicrafts in Indian and overseas market would be approached to explore the possibilities of whether he could provide some simple job works of painting earthen pots to the villagers , to be used in making designer candles.

WE DID NOT WANT TO IMPOSE ANY PREFIXED IDEA—INITIALLY WE WANTED THEM TO THINK

The underlying principle was not to force some prefixed ideas and notions on the people but to begin a dialogue with some basic ideas and leave the villagers with the germs of the ideas and allow them to study their feasibility and improve upon them. This was essentially designed to liberate an independent thought process so that they could reach some ideal strategy of their own.

We were eagerly awaiting the response, to see whether they could improve upon these initial schemes to arrive at practicable solutions, by modifying, accepting, discarding and replacing various components of the initial ideas.

The follow up Workshop at Ichhapur—a report

It was a overcast Sunday morning. It was not raining though. The Ichhapur Headquarter of the Shevashram was as usual busy—patients flocked into the low cost medical facility, guardians waited into the waiting hutments for their day-scholar wards undergoing Sunday classes, the inmates were busy with their daily chores, some were cleaning the yards, some washing their clothes and spreading them on a piece of green field to  dry in the open air.

The daily chores by asram inmates


Sukharanjan and Shyamal had reached the Ichhapur Ashram from Devipur on 10th July and had initiated the discussions with the Ashram authorities. As per their reports, since the last workshop they have done the followings:

  1. Feasibility study of the men’s proposed project of the multipurpose agro processing plant.
  2. Feasibility study of the proposal for soft toy making by the women and market

study for alternative work plans for women.

  1. Forming a core group of willing families who would participate in the

experiment.

After the arrival of the Joydhak team in the Ashram premises at around 10 AM on 11th July, the workshop started. We took up the above points one by one:

The meeting begins

(I) Feasibility study of the men’s proposed project of the multipurpose agro processing plant.

The village representatives appreciated the fact that the scheme of establishing a multipurpose diesel operated engine on the Ashram land and catering to the various seasonal agro processing was a sound strategy for triggering a sustainable growth.

However, on the flip side, the issue of initial capital could not be completely addressed by the method of bleeding their micro finance business.

Following the last workshop, they had taken a thorough look into the financial strength of this informal business and have come to the conclusion that out of the total financial asset of around Rs. 40 thousand being rolled in this micro finance business, hardly 10 thousand rupees could be spared without maiming this business.

On the other hand, the cost analysis made by them showed that starting of the engine business required an initial capital of 35 to 40 thousand Rupees. Thus, to start with the scheme they required at least thirty thousand more.

At the same time, the basic plan is that no money should come from any outside resource and they fully appreciated and supported that. Aamra Bhikkhaa chaaina (We donot want any alms)—was the expressed stand they took during the meeting.

Problem statement

Their only question was, how to go about generating this fund through their own resources.

The suggested solution

We asked them about what local assets did they have that they could sell. They proposed that

(a)                they could supply ample quantities of honey from various seasonal flowers all round the year.

(b)               they could supply chilly, mustard seeds and Moong Dal from amongst the surplus production they had.

Hence, a plan was required to be built up around these assets so that these assets could generate the requisite capital for their original project of establishing a multipurpose agro processing unit at Devipur with the help of a diesel operated multipurpose engine.

The Plan for execution of the suggested solution mechanism and the decisions taken in the workshop

(a)    It was found that the Ashram at Ichhapur served around 9000 plates of food to its inmates in a month. It was decided on the spot that the Ashram would buy the chilly, mustard seed and mooong dal they require for that purpose from the villagers at market price, pay them back their cost price and keep the profit amount separately towards developing the required fund. This amount  would be the villagers’ money only, but kept locked in by the Ashram authorities in order to allow it to grow.

(b)   If it succeeds then the Ashram would consider extending the same offer in respect of its other branches at Midnapore and katwa.

(c)    The Ashram gets lots of visitors everyday. It will open a small outlet in its campus that will sell the above products including honey. The Ashram will also lend its name (backed up by its goodwill) to be used as a brand for these products which will be packed in plastic packets and bottles bearing the Ashram label and logo, to be printed at the Ashram press. The villagers would package their products in small bottles and plastic wraps and send the supplies to the outlet. The Ashram will employ some of its student beneficiaries as sales personnel which would in turn act as a vocational training for the students so engaged. The financial arrangement will be same as described above. This outlet was targeted to be inaugurated on 15th August’2010.

(d)   The Ashram authority would then open another such outlet at its Midnapore Branch.

(e)    The Katwa branch of the Ashram holds a monthly congregation that draws substantial participation. The Ashram will arrange for a periodic sale outlet there during this congregation.

(f)     (d) and (e) will be implemented before October 12th (i.e. the Sharodiyo Durgotsav festival)

(g)    Depending upon the results yielded by these three outlets, the Ashram will approach its followers among the business community spread at various places to  provide more sale outlets for the products.

(h)    The Maharaj remarked that side by side with the Devipur products the Ashram could sell its own products ranging from coconuts to incense sticks to religious books from the same outlets which would generate some revenue for Ashram also.

(i)      A survey of the Ashram premises was taken immediately after this discussion and a prominent location was selected , close to the main gate. The location is a hut made of bamboo thatch which is presently used as a guardian’s waiting chamber. It was planned to augment the room, partition it and use its front portion as the sale outlet.

Surveying for the location of the outlet

(j)     It was decided that the entire operation would be run under the auspices of “Sunderban Bishwashuk Swanirbhar Goshthi” (Sundarban Bishwasuk self help group), an informal group of 10 volunteer families from Devipur who have initially come forward to participate in this experiment.

(k)   Once the requisite fund is generated by this process, the plan for setting up the multipurpose agro processing facility at Devipur will be implemented by the villagers, while the selling business would continue to generate additional fund.

(l)      The representatives from Devipur were agreeable to this suggestions and drew up a delivery schedule whereby the Ashram would deliver the first batch of printed labels to them by 6th August and they would deliver the first batch of products by tenth of August to the Ashram authorities. The designing of the labels were to be done by the press workers of the Ashram.

(II) Feasibility study of the proposal for soft toy making by the women and market  study for alternative work plans for women.

(a)    A market study taken up following the first workshop showed that the competition in this area was quite tough with lots of players functioning locally in and around Kolkata. The business required regular to and fro movement of raw material and finished products between Kolkata and Devipur that is bound to adversely affect the costing. Also the distance factor and the communication glitches need to be taken into account.

(b)   Mr. Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala was invited  in the workshop by Arindam as a special participant for evaluating the possibilities of giving simple job works (like painting of the earthen pots for designer candles) to the villagers. He  showed his products and on being briefed about the location of the village, he stated that sending in raw materials to such a distance and getting back the finished products would adversely affect the profitability of the venture. He suggested whether the villagers could themselves make the earthen pots from their local resources , paint them and send them out. In that case he would guarantee a readymade market, provided the products come up to the standards.

The solution:

The villagers were of the opinion that a project should be considered that reduced this need for substantial movement. Their study revealed that this could be achieved in two alternate ways:

  1. by developing some local products and selling them in and around Kolkata (like in the men’s plan). This would reduce the movement by half, by curtailing the inward movement of raw materials.
  2. By locating some close by market (for collecting raw materials and supplying finished products) from where this to and fro movement would be far less and more stable.

Regarding (a), the Devipur representatives informed that they could not envisage, as of now, any product that the women could make from local resources. Response to the proposal from Sanjib Nath Choudhury was a definite “No” as , the villagers opined that it would require a specific skill development, infrastructure development, resource planning an continuous involvement of manpower which could not be afforded by the village women at this point of time.

As a result of this above-described situational analysis the Devipuraites were found to have concentrated on strategy (b) after the initial workshop and has successfully zeroed on a suitable local market and product.

Joynagar, the township nearest to Devipur, has a huge market for cheap ladies apparels including undergarments and children’s dress material. The villagers reported that they had already done a survey at Joynagar market and have found wholesalers interested in supplying material for making of such products. The villagers could easily collect the raw materials from the wholesalers, get the work done by their women and bring back the finished products to the wholesalers. Sewing of such garments donot require any extraordinary skill and ordinary sewing machines can serve the purpose.

The Plan for execution of the suggested solution mechanism and the decisions taken in the workshop

(a) The Ashram authority immediately provided them with a sewing machine to carry back to the village for starting of the operation.

(b)   It was further decided that one of the rooms in the Ashram premises at Devipur will be used as tailoring room for the purpose and the ladies of the ten volunteer families will share time in using the sewing machine. The progress in this matter will be periodically reviewed and once satisfied that it is progressing smoothly the Ashram will consider augmenting the facility with more machines.

This room, who knows, may hold a bright speck of future for the women there.....

(c)    The ladies will also share a part of their profit in the dream scheme of establishing a multipurpose engine in the village.

(III) Forming a core group of willing families who would participate in the  experiment.

It was reported by Sukharanjan and Shyamal that the villagers had conducted an internal meeting wherein the proposal of the last workshop was discussed threadbare and  after debating the various facets, a willingness survey was conducted regarding who were really interested in the experiment. It was seen that  initially ten families in the village were committed to going ahead with the experiment. The to men had come as the representative of this group of ten families. They produced the list of ten with the names neatly written in Bengali:–>

list of participants, prepared by the villagers

They proposed the group to work under the banner of Sunderban Bishwashuk, Swanirbhor Goshthi (Sunderban Bishwashuk Self Help Group). All the members of the family would work together according to capacity on the different plans decided above and the profits gained would be in custody of the Ashram, to be released when enough fund is accumulated for installing the multipurpose engine.

The names of the ten families were brought by Sukharanjan. It was interesting to note that all the representative names were those of the women of the families followed by the names of their husbands or fathers.

It was observed in the meeting by the villagers that once new families start coming in for membership they would not augment this group but instead encourage them to form another group. This would ensure, according to their observation a healthy competition and also not disturb the functioning of an existing group.

Evolution of this last concept needs to be carefully watched. Though a promising new kind of plan, it also holds the seed of some future problem. However, we did not discuss this issue further during the meeting, as it was too early for any serious discussion to begin on it. The developments in this matter would be followed closely.

AN INTERESTING SPIN OFF

During the discussions about supply of honey, the representatives of Devipur remarked that they generally throw away the drained honey combs containing bee wax.

On this issue, Sanjib, the special guest in the workshop, informed that Indian bee wax is too soft for making of candles and hence is of no use to his specific industry.

Subsequently the matter was discussed with painter.Sri  Amitava Bhattacharyya. He informed that Sunderban bee wax is widely used in sculpting activities. It was sold from Barabazar, the main business district of Kolkata and provided the contact number of  the person who will be able to guide.

Mr. Shankar Mandal of the Ashram was immediately contacted and  the information was passed on to him. He is currently taking up this issue. Further report awaited.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. PARTHA GHOSHDASTIDAR permalink
    July 18, 2010 10:00

    i first gratulate JOYDHAK and the participants for the very meaningful and WOULD BE FAR REACHING initiative.
    may this PROSPER AND BE REPLICATED I NORTH BENGAL ALSO.
    TOBEI AMADER BANGLA SONAR BANGLA HOBE.
    debajyoti i shall be following your effort very closely. what about your “CHELE”? ISNT HE TEACHING IN TISS?
    cant be of some help in ideas?
    regards to JOYDHAK

  2. PARTHA GHOSHDASTIDAR permalink
    July 18, 2010 10:05

    congratulation to joydhak and participants.may the initiative prosper & be replicated in north bengal also.debajyoti WELL DONE and keep it up.regards to JOYDHAK

  3. Asish Sarkar permalink
    July 19, 2010 01:56

    Joydhak,

    This is really an outstanding effort on behalf of Joydhak…….particularly Debjoyti. I like the approach and strategies to help themselves. Personally, I am very happy for the local people who want to resolve their problems. Regards to Joydhak for their initiative and coordination. Please, convey my regards to the people of Devipur. Congratulations to all!!!

    Thank you.

    Asish Sarkar

  4. July 19, 2010 10:36

    Joudhak team:
    Excellent work and learnt once again that “small is beautiful”.

    I respect your effort of “no begging”. Market linakge efforts are excellent.

    After our last talk, I did some leg work in Gujarat and came to know that World Bank has sanctioned integrated coastal zone managment project in West Bengal and I am sure your area will be the most targetted zone. Will it be okay to share your learning with that effort?

  5. Indranil Barat permalink
    July 20, 2010 11:03

    Joydhak,

    Dhaker bol Sundorboneo dheu tulche dekhe bhalo lagche. Hope the self help effort will be able to keep these people out of aamra-ora politics of Bengal.

  6. D D Rishi permalink
    July 22, 2010 11:21

    The initiative of Joydhak team merits all the appreciation.
    2. There are thousands of young men and women throughout the country who would be willing to participate in such activities. If such persons from the same area where an activity is planned take a lead role, it will be easier to win the confidence of the local public and motivate them to participate. Secondly, there are hundreds of persons throughout the country who will be willing to contribute money or other resources for such activities. What all we need is a platform and the leadership. In my view, instead of limited local experiments, we can undertake a big national initiative which would act as a consolidating platform.When the initial momentum is strong enough, the activity wil continue on its own force.

  7. kalyanranjan permalink
    July 22, 2010 21:11

    congrats;
    all the best wishes for a real need-based focused attention;
    please mail me all the forthcoming issues regularly from now on;
    regards
    =k

  8. July 24, 2010 21:53

    Hi this is amazing site! it is very well put together and the information that you have shown here is also top notch and a powerful read for me. Please keep creating such super material to learn finance. Thanks alot..This the best article I have never seen before….I like this post.

  9. Nirmalya Ghoshal permalink
    July 25, 2010 22:15

    Dear Debu & Team Joydhak,

    Keep it up. I’ll be eager to know about the wax of the Indian honeybees being used for sculpting. This is something new for me. Other steps are time-tested. If everybody in the target group believe in the activities, some amount of prosperity is guaranteed even in a few years. Then one can only dream!

    • July 26, 2010 10:11

      NIrmalya,
      My job is only relating to that one line–making the people believe in the activities, or to be more precise, to have faith on themselves. As you have rightly pointed out, the theory is time-tested. What I am trying is to develop an objective model of implementation with pre-defined steps and requirements that can be applied as a system to any location with some minor local adjustments. Lets try and see.

  10. Nirmallya chatterjee permalink
    July 26, 2010 13:58

    Best wishes for the joydhak team,
    I am a MSc nurse in public health if any need for my service towards the development of the asram I will be glad .
    Thanking you.
    Nirmallya.

    • July 26, 2010 20:17

      Thanks for the offer. Every gesture and effort counts. You can contact Makhan Maharaj, head of the Ashram at the following number: 09143055896.
      Regards,
      DJB

  11. August 6, 2010 14:11

    Congratulations to Joydhak team for your outstanding work.
    Wishing you every success,

    Sibani

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