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- Ratan Agarwal, Board Member & Vice-President
Social transformation challenges – be it health or water or education or livelihood or energy or something else – in a vast country like India which has nearly 670,000 villages adding up to it nearly 69% of the population – cannot be successful without local level meaningful execution capacity.
To achieve the desired speed of execution and results, we always look for an ideal scenario of full control of execution resources. However, developing that Grassroot execution capacity across the gargantuan scale of 670,000 communities would require the nearly impossible scale of funds, human capital, and time. And even if one can marshal that, success would still require necessary interactions and support of local government apparatus else constant surprises and friction are inevitable.
Rather than ignoring, this reality naturally points to an inherent need to develop ways to harness an equally vast network of government apparatus present across rural India – from villages to blocks to districts to states and federal levels. While very common sense on the surface, achieving this objective, in reality, is anything but common sense.
WHEELS’ leadership team of experienced civil services leaders and business entrepreneurs has demonstrated it can be done with the right framework along with enabling systems and people-level partnerships.
Our ‘Spring Water Rejuvenation’ initiative in Himachal Pradesh has developed a pioneering framework to achieve this in a systematic manner, laying a model that can be scaled across many other challenges and geographies. A brief about the water challenge in Himachal Pradesh (H.P.). With its Himalayan topography, H.P. state is blessed with rainfall aplenty. However, springs in the Himalayan region are drying up. According to a Niti Aayog report, more than 50% springs in the Himalayan region are completely dried up or have significantly reduced discharge during the lean season.
As WHEELS’ leadership team headed by our Water Council leaders, Ms. Gauri Kumar & Mr Yogesh Andlay, on the request from H.P.’s Jal Shakti department, analyzed the challenge, it became obvious it needed expertise & participation from several entities – IIT Roorke (for Spring behaviour modeling), Aquadam (for Spring hydrogeology), and PSI (for Project management and coordinating multiple champions) – a clear proof-point of how WHEELS can quickly leverage its inherent vast network of resources across its IIT alumni & partner-talent ecosystem. And further, it needed active and timely participation from nearly half-a-dozen H.P. government departments and secretaries which owned both the necessary funds, manpower and access. Anytime, one has that many public and private entities central to a new initiative, it would not be very comforting to say the least in terms of timelines & complexity. We all know that the sheer number of meetings and conference calls multiply exponentially as the number of participating entities / individuals grow. WHEELS’ team took that as a challenge to address and developed the Collaborative Governance framework – a concurrent governance & execution model with shared roles and ownership of the outcomes. While getting everyone onboard in principle was not that difficult, execution required necessary enabling ‘glue’. Hence the decision to develop from scratch a new system called Collaboration Portal.
This portal has a few critical features to help achieve collaborative governance & execution coherence:
Transparency of roles, responsibilities, resources & budget allocations
Full details on execution timelines, tracks, progress, metrics
Accountability and joint reviews and recognitions
Effective integration of new technologies and systems
Training & support
Key real-time data and analytics
Access, with requisite ease & controls & security, to all levels of participants (from the worker on the ground to the Chief Secretary, from the Govt to NGOs to R&D institutions to private enterprises)
Development of the Portal and associated framework was WHEELS’ direct investment, which on completion has been transferred to H.P. Govt leaders, who have then committed to scaling the initial pilot of 56 springs across 33 villages in 6 blocks from 4 districts to now 500 springs in phase 2, followed by the entire State of H.P. Further, spring rejuvenation costs merely Rs 1 lakh per spring. All this has been possible in just about a year – a near seemingly impossible timeline.
Of course, frameworks, systems, and models – all provided a necessary ‘glue’. But without well-thought-out and sustained people-level efforts in building trust and credibility, it would not have gone too far. This points out the necessity of involvement of the right type of leaders in a truly Collaborative Governance – leaders who bring and meshes deep experience of public service and governance on one side, and entrepreneurial creativity & rigor of private enterprise execution on the other. When combined, they can indeed produce transformational results.
We hope our Collaborative Governance framework would pave the way for that necessary and optimal harnessing of vast public resources to bring the timely transformation of rural India we urgently need.
For more information, please visit WHEELSGlobal.org.