'Transformation' is a persistent keyword at SLI. Over the past year, we have been ruminating on our own experience of the past years on impacting rural communities and asking ourselves some larger questions: What does 'transformation' mean and entail? Transformation of what, by whom and how? How is the word used in the context of 'rural' and 'development'? How does it correspond to Sri Aurobindo's 'Integral Yoga' in the context of individual and collective spiritual progress? How exactly do the several funded development projects across Asia, which have the word 'tranformation' in their title, define the term, its relevance and go about it? As we were getting busy planning to host a pan-Asia conference inviting these project holders to share lessons around this last question, SLI was invited to be part of the 'Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project' (TNRTP) by the Tamilnadu Government, Department of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj.
TNRTP is a six-year long pan-Tamil Nadu project covering all its 32 districts and funded by the World Bank. It approaches 'transformation' through the strengthening of the rural economy by focusing on innovative and sustainable enterprises. SLI has been approached to train, orient and offer continued support for all the staff recruited for this project both from the central office as well as from all the districts over the next six years. To get an idea about the scale of the project, SLI will be
* orienting and training 600 staff from all the districts of TN, and
* these will be in turn mentoring 3,25,000 members (from 6000 producer groups with an average of 50 members each + 1000 enterprise groups with an average of 25 members each) and 6,000 individual entrepreneurs.
The training itself has been designed to comprise three focus areas, along with the fourth one (on project implementation procedures and technicalities) to be undertaken by the officials from the Government.
Curriculum Design Workshop for TNRTP – 2nd January 2018
1. Reflection & Unlearning: At the heart of any transformation lie self-reflection, healing, unlearning old belief-systems, ways and processes, and new ways of embodied learning. This is especially critical for people entrenched in certain conditioned and mechanistic ways of thinking and operating within the Government system, who invariably take on and often forced to carry a very poor self-image of themselves as individuals and of the institution they are a part of. A significant shift from this to a positive self-image is extremely critical to open the space for the New.
2. Aspiring & Re-imagining: Any meaningful transformative process needs to be a subjective one at its core. It needs to be an inside-out process, where individuals are inspired from within to come together to create the New. It is only when individuals identify and connect to their personal transformative and creative aspirations and potentials, and in turn align them with the aspirations and the potentials of the collective effort, they will be and offer the best of themselves. From an inner source of inspiration and strength, they become better able to to listen to the call of, to re-imagine, and to enable the birth of the New.
Our engagement (training) has been designed to have a strong focus on all these.
3. Enterprise Immersion: Poverty eradication is not about creating lone-standing jobs and enterprises. It is enmeshed with cultural, ecological, social, political structures and processes, which then need to simultaneously be acknowledged, respected, studied, understood and worked with. SLI has identified about 35 green-enterprise ecosystems in Auroville and across Tamil Nadu and also a few in neighbouring states. The trainees will be sent for a whole week to immerse in these contexts to learn about the contextual eco-system approach to developing sustainable enterprises.
Long-lasting transformation is not something that can be brought about with the euphoria generated from a single exposure to new initiatives and a one-time training. The seeds sown at the first long engagement (orientation program) need to be continually nurtured. Special online applications are being developed to enable the trainees to stay in touch with SLI and with each other, share their insights and incremental successes as they walk along. We, from SLI, also hope to be able to use this platform to keep them updated about our learnings from across different regions of the state. Periodic reviews and repeat-programs will be organised for the trainees at SLI. Periodic visits to the villages to research and document the initiatives on the ground will be an important aspect of the work of our staff. We are also designing a mentorship program, where our resource persons, also practitioners on the field, will be available on a continued basis to mentor the trainees over the six years of the project. Building and strengthening relationships will be at the core of our work.
What better place to host this important work of rural transformative, than the enterprise centered ecosystem of Auroville, which believes in 'unending education' and abounds with sustainable initiatives and inspiring individuals! The project is expected to be kick-started in later part of April 2018 and a mock-training of the state government officials who overseeing the project will be done earlier. Over the next one year, if you see small groups of curious Tamil onlookers cycling and walking through farms, forests and enterprises of Auroville, they are most-likely to be TNRTP trainees at SLI. We look forward to the enthusiastic support and participation of many Auroville Units in helping sow the seeds and nurture them into young saplings all the way upto growing them into young trees capable of self-care, much like the early years of Auroville where the sole mission was to recreate the forest that we now live amidst. Our dream at SLI is take that inspiration forward and create another kind of self-seeing, self-regenerative forest of committed human resources, which this land and community can be proud of.
by Sangeetha Sriram
by Sangeetha Sriram