Blog by Dipesh Mohile
It was with a mixed bag of sentiments that I boarded the bus to Parli on 2nd August 2019. On one hand, I was excited to visit Parli after a gap of almost two and half years. On the other hand, I was feeling a bit guilty not to have visited it in last two years.
For the uninitiated ones; Global Parli is an initiative spearheaded by Mr. Mayank Gandhi to transform a cluster of 15 villages in Beed district through various interventions across verticals such as water conservation, modernizing education, improving farming yields, changing crop patterns and use of technology. The core idea is to alleviate poverty in these villages and to empower the farmers and villagers to stand on their own feet with their heads held high.
It was summer of 2015; when the entire Vidarbha / Marathwada regions of Maharashtra were reeling under severe drought. The situation was desperate, and it was in this crisis that first seeds for Global Parli were sown through an initiative to send water-tankers to the parched Beed district. However, visionary leader that Mayank Gandhi is; he realized soon enough that it is neither a scalable nor a permanent solution. Intense brain-storming sessions followed where many bright minds debated on various ways to bring about a more sustainable and measurable change to lives of these villagers. Global Parli was born. What I distinctly remember about those early trips to these villages is how shattered we were when we came face to face with abject poverty and lifeless eyes of the farmers/villagers that we came across. In some ways, this was very similar to what Shahrukh Khan’s character goes through in the movie Swades. As we returned home from our first trip, the haunting shehnai and A.R. Rahman’s title track from Swades echoed in our ears and our eyes welled up.
The scale was enormous; the challenges were even bigger.
The entire team came back charged up. Many of us had spent years outside India and had consciously decided to return to India. “Mohan Bhargav” in us had been awakened.
However, often, such initiatives do not survive beyond the initial euphoria because the problem proves to be overwhelming and even with noblest of intentions, one simply does not know where to begin! The team felt compelled to tackle all the issues simultaneously. The team also learnt soon enough that the thinking needs a fundamental shift. We realized we need to rid ourselves of the patronizing attitude towards the villagers. Some of the initial team members got busy with their lives (including me) and lost regular touch along the way while others dug their heels and refused to get bogged down by enormous scale of work that awaited them.
Mayank Gandhi built a phenomenally dedicated team around him. While we stopped playing active role, we watched the great experiment unfolding in front of our eyes in Parli. Soon enough, we realized that the team was successful in breaking the problem in smaller/manageable problems and started making steady progress.
But the scale of what they’ve achieved in last couple of years hit me when we visited Parli again after a gap of more than two years!!
The Global Parli team had doggedly persisted and has made a huge difference on the ground. The team has consistently shown the tenacity, patience and perseverance to keep chipping at problems until they are solved. Various water management/conservation projects are functional; many farmers have shown the courage to switch crops; schools have improved and gone digital; a few villages have gone hooch-free. What’s even more amazing is the emotional connect that completely urban team of Global Parli has built with rugged farmers of hinterland. Global Parli team adopted a very pragmatic approach of helping the villagers help themselves rather than taking a hands-off approach of a non-profit. The villagers led the efforts to transform their lives through “Shramdaan”, spending their own money and taking calculated risks with Global Parli team’s help.
The warm welcome we received just because we were with the Global Parli team was a testament to the goodwill built with laborious effort by the Global Parli team. Details of the all the works undertaken in these villages can be found on Global Parli website and I would encourage everyone to spend some time to understand the enormity of the effort that has gone into making these projects happen.
However, in my opinion, the biggest difference is the huge change in attitude of the villagers. Gone are the empty, soulless eyes of the villagers – Instead what we came across in this trip was an animated bunch of farmers. These farmers were not afraid to express their mind. They are willing to take their destiny in their own hands. They want to be self-sufficient and are looking at ways to improve their lives instead of being resigning to their fate.
I returned with a sense of pride that I had a tiny part to play in this exciting initiative’s early days. I also returned with a deep sense of regret that I did not do more over the years.
While I returned with a renewed urge to jump in, I also returned with a few questions – “What are the factor/s that have the potential to act as a multiplying agent to catapult these initiatives into next growth phase?”
We will explore some of the themes around potential of Social Enterprises and Entrepreneurs to act as an multiplying agent in these initiatives in subsequent blogs.