Gravis – Bringing Thar to Life – Dr Prakash Tyagi

CSR Times - As Gravis has its operations in one of the most difficult geographical zone in India, we would like to know how it started and a brief about the journey of organization and operational areas.

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Gravis was founded 31 years ago in 1983 in the state of Rajasthan. In those early days of 1980’s, there were no non-governmental organisations in the Thar desert, where we are right now. So Gravis was the pioneering non-governmental organisation booming in this area. And it was decided that we were going to work in a very integrated way and with a holistic approach towards the empowerment of the rural community. Gravis has spent a long time in understanding the community and making connections with people and realising their needs and expectations, and of course this organisation was started with no infrastructure, no facilities and with no support. So it was started in a very small way as many other organisations do. Gradually the organisation grew up and it is strongly based on the philosophy of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, who believed in rural development.

CSR Times - The concept of “Sarvodaya”, that is mentioned on the organization’s website.

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Yes exactly, so then we set up a small center in rural area and the work gradually expanded. The very strong focus of the organisation was mitigating drought, because it’s a very drought prone area and it led to water and food insecurity and consequently into basic lifestyle failure. So the food and water security solution for the core areas, with which the work began, and the idea about collecting people’s wisdom and knowledge and then make it scientifically more feasible and appropriate. Then designing and delivering solutions which can impact people in larger numbers. So that program which could be called drought litigation or economic empowerment and sometimes can also is referred to as livelihood support to the community. It became quite successful because of the solutions that we were co-designing with people. The solutions were cost effective, sustainable and were high in impact. So people started getting more water in their homes, and more crops in their farms. Their livestock raising capacity improved. That’s one part of our work.

Along with that, Gravis always believed that people have to be empowered and therefore the component of training and capacity building for communities were felt to be very important from the beginning. Currently Gravis in its operational area with more than 2800 communities based organisations. Which are often known as CBO’s and those CBO’s help us in identifying people’s needs, in designing their possible solutions, in monitoring of our programs and because of continuous capacity building, these organizations have become very strong. They have their own voice, they fully participate and they are much empowered organisations.

As Gravis grew further it identified other needs in the community and those were education and health. As you can imagine, in the underdeveloped part of India there are very few educational facilities and even fewer health care services. Of course this area is very challenging because of climate, and its geographical conditions. Even the transportation facilities are very poor. Hence it was very obvious and visible that the children are very far from the school and the patients are very far from health services. So we then brought in the components of education and health care within our work. In the context of education, we were confident that we were going to work on the educational program that will provide primary education. We did not want to launch ourselves into middle or high level education. As it wouldn’t do justice to our capacity. In health care we gradually expanded our focus from primary health care to secondary care and then to the basic level of tertiary care. So our medical program and health care program have outreached and are quite comprehensive.  Coming back to 2014, 31 years down the line, we are now a compact organisation which has 3 very strong programs. First program which is Drought Litigation - Economic Empowerment;  second is the Education Program through which we have set up more than 990 primary schools in the area and the third is the Health Care Program which is medical care but also health education, as well as outreach health care in the community, in remote villages. Everything is integrated and compliments each other.  We are currently operational in more than 1200 villages of this particular area and our population’s outreach is 1.2 million people. So this is in a nutshell about where we stand and how we grew up historically.

CSR Times - What evaluation methodologies you have adopted with respect to current social scenarios? What is your approach towards reporting and how the research being done in your organization?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Firstly, we believe a lot in terms of learning from our programs and then taking that learning into our account for our future work, as self-learning and critical learning is very important for us. We believe that we cannot improve unless we identify our weakness. So evaluation does play a very important role in our overall strategy and performance towards our approach. We focus a lot on internal evaluation which is an ongoing process and which we do through our team in participation with the rural community. This is an ongoing process and then there are internal evaluation meetings in which we share all our findings on quarterly and then again on annual basis too. Then eventually everything goes into the planning of next program. But apart from that there are number of external evaluations, which we either invite or are part of our planned programs. Sometimes external evaluators are invited by us and by our partnered organisations that could be the government or non-governmental donors. So every year, we go through a number of evaluation and most of these evaluations end up in evaluations reports, which of course help us in improving our programs. But there are numbers evaluations which also end up as publication study materials. Which not only help us understands our program but also understand the issues we are working on, in a larger context. There are numerous research scholars and visitors who come to us with their own evaluation questions. Most of the times if there is a good ideological match then we defiantly open our doors and allow them to study our work. This helps them, us and also helps the issues that we are working on.

CSR Times - So you publish all these reports on your website?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Not all, but there are publications which are published can be found on the website. The most recent ones are available. Not all from the past because not everything was recorded very well at the time unlike recent times. But again every evaluation report is not published because there is a general agreement between us and the stakeholders. So hence some of these reports are only used for organisational purpose.

CSR Times - Would like to circulate your reports publications which are free to be used on your website through CSR times through larger audience?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Yes, absolutely. The reports which are currently available on our website are free to download, they are in pdf format and everyone is welcome to download and use it for their own purpose. And all the publications which are coming up now, we try to upload them as quick as possible on the website. In fact if there is any other thing that people find it interesting about our work we are very open to circulate it to the interested party.

CSR Times - We have a new CSR rule now, that 2 % of profit is mandatory for the companies to spend towards society. There are challenges where companies are not able to find or understand, as to how and with whom they should collaborate and what methods they should adopt. Most of them are restructuring and creating new ways for social work. So what are your views regarding current Indian CSR reforms?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - CSR money is of course a great resource which is very critical for the growth of India in the coming times. Especially knowing that, international aid is going to decrease in India because of the international conditions and situations that we are already witnessing. CSR funding is a wonderful new opportunity which should be very helpful for the rural communities of India which remains to be very poor in spite of the fact that India’s image is changing globally. The reality is that we are from one of the poorest country in the world. The work still needs to be done. It’s far from finished.

There is a long journey for NGO’s in different parts of country still have to make to realise those needs. It’s a new program and really has come on ground yet. But will come hopefully soon. My message would be that there are number of good organisations which are working in different parts of the country. I will definitely be very proud of speaking positively about Gravis. Gravis is not the only organisation which is doing great work in country. In fact there are many organisations which are working in different pockets of the country and those organisations have very strong local visibility, there is absolutely no doubt about it. And if you come to Rajasthan it is obvious that you will hear a lot about Gravis. You will hear about organisations in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and in eastern part of the country so that recognition is there which is hard to miss. And there are many ways to hear those names. The government is aware of those organisations and even the communities are aware of those organisations. Those organisations are extremely competent of doing good work. Hence these organisations should be trusted. Effort should be made to reach out to those organisations because they might not be very capable of reaching out to you as a CSR donor.

There are many organisations which are lesser reached out, so I think sincere effort should be made by the larger businesses to identify these honest dedicated and capable organisations. And then have discussions and dialogues and focus on the needs which are the most required in a particular area, as the needs will be different across the country. And then have good programs planned. We have made very minimal effort to reach out the people but we will be interested in having discussions with the people who are focusing mainly on the Thar Desert which is one of the most challenging regions in the country in terms of development. And would like to design and deliver programs which are in the best interest of the community. So I hope that this dialogue starts and hope that this dialogue participation will be fruitful. And I also hope that platform like yours CSR Times play a very important role in bringing out corporates to good NGO’s and good NGO’s to the corporates.

CSR Times - Can you point out what are the areas of concern in Thar? And also what would be your recommendations to improve them, as you and your organization is very closely associated with people of Thar? Where do you want corporates to look into and work? Please point out those aspects which are not easily visible.

Dr Prakash Tyagi - One issue is that Thar Desert is a very disconnected area from the rest of the country. It is very remotely located within the state of Rajasthan. Jaipur is a different city; this city itself is a totally different reality in the state of Rajasthan. Not many people understand areas like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Bikaner very well, which are drought prone. So I think there is a great need of looking at this particular state which is in isolation.

The second issue is that the Thar Desert have extreme human resource crisis. There are not many professionally educated people who live here or work here in social sector. So there is a capacity gap in terms of writing grants and proposal, identifying donor conditions for the people. So it’s a double gap. So here the corporate should look at these needs and should also be willing to support the capacity building process so that the organisations and grow and develop better programs and implement them in a more fruitful way.

CSR Times - It’s true that Thar area has less population density but what is the reason we don’t have many professionals working in those areas?  Is it due to the climate, infrastructure or lack of modern lifestyle they look for?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Is a combination of all these things? And people are drained towards the metropolitan areas. So because of the poor infrastructure, poor facilities for life don’t attract educated professionals to be in these areas. People want to be in metro cities like Jaipur or Delhi. So then of course to reach out to people in these areas is a challenge. That’s the contributing factor exactly.

CSR Times - So in a nutshell we can say that Rajasthan does need more infrastructural development in rural areas so that the migration should stop. Only then things will start changing for better and be fruitful in real sense?

Dr Prakash Tyagi - Yes, absolutely.

To know more about Gravis – Vision www.gravis.org.in

About Dr Prakash Tyagi, Executive Director of GRAVIS

Dr. Prakash Tyagi is a trained physician and a public health professional. He has been actively involved with health and development programmes nationally and internationally, and he has served on multiple boards and committees.

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