How Social Ventures are Lighting up Remotest Corners of India

Areas which are cordoned off from access to proper roads and electricity are the market for these start-ups

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In a country as diverse as India, where the topography and language change quite often, social ventures working on the ground face many challenges.

Social impact start-ups working with and for the people in the remotest corners of India, tackle crippling difficulties like fighting people’s inhibitions and superstitions to win their acceptance before actually helping them out. Besides, funds crunch is a perennial problem plaguing them.

How They Do it

Social ventures mainly operate in areas, which are still deprived of the basic civic necessities like access to proper roads, electricity, healthcare facilities. Over the years they have been relentlessly working out ways to reach out to more such remote areas.

“Our entire approach is to identify far-off, underserved areas – initially by reaching out to known individuals and organizations with prior knowledge and working experience of such areas, and progressively moving on to spread information through word of mouth,” said Arun Nagpal, Co-founder of Mrida Group.

Mrida has been involved in various projects across the country and has been actively exploring two remote locations – Manipur and Ladakh. The places had been identified through associates and like-minded individuals/organizations already working in these areas.

For the people, by the people

As Nagpal mentioned, working in such areas cannot be done without the help of locals. While some work pan India, there are also geography specific start-ups like Vat Vrikshya, which provides sustainable livelihood opportunities in the tribal areas of Odisha.

Founder of Vat Vrikshya, Vikash Das said, “There are 65 different communities of tribal people in Odisha, which means there are so many different cultures that we need to think about. Initially, it was very tough for us to communicate with them. We stayed with them. We involved them in the process of finding the solution. So, they told us how their problems could be resolved. It is necessary to look at the problems through their lenses.”

Das also has local representatives from tribal areas, who further help them in solving issues and also reaching out to the people.

Never ending challenges

Considering the fact that we are talking about remote areas that have no roads and communication with the outside world, the challenges that follow these ventures are many.

From wading rivers to reach a certain area or facing difficulties due to natural disasters like floods, Das has been through them all. For him, the on-going naxalite tension in Odisha is another added worry.

“Initially, when we reached one tribal area, they didn’t let the women there talk to strangers. Our team tried their best, but they believed that they shouldn’t interact with outsiders (even though we are from Odisha). So, we had to explain we aren’t here to exploit them but to help them out. They were gradually convinced about our intentions to create a sustainable livelihood for them,” he said.

Gaining the trust of the community is one of the most important aspects for any social venture.

Nagpal, from Mrida, too faced similar difficulties, where the distrust of the community delays the good work they want to start in the area. “Real work can begin only after the community is able to really understand that there are no ulterior motives involved and the intentions are genuine. Community engagement is absolutely critical for the success of any initiative in the first place, and for its sustainability thereafter,” he said.

It becomes difficult for these organizations to replicate a tried and tested model because of diverse geography, language and culture.  

 “Each village, each community, each issue has its own unique characteristics, and its own path to a solution. In such a scenario, scaling up initiatives to a level that can create deep, long-lasting, and sustainable impact is not easy, to say the least,” said Nagpal.

Educating people becomes an important task then. Continuously creating awareness in these areas becomes a priority, so that they are open to changes.

Advanced technology is being increasingly adopted to make things easier. “Technology is being used to predict weather patterns, which in turn, can have a significant impact on remote farming communities for instance. From another perspective, farming communities can reach out remotely to experts, and vice versa, to address technical issues being faced in the field without the need to be physically present – this significantly enhances the scope of work,” said Nagpal.