Action Village India Parners’ Forum 2023

3rd – 6th October 2023

Host Organisations: RCDC and Equidiversity Foundation
Supported By: Action Village India
Venue: Ishopanthi Ashram, Puri, Odisha, India

My first experience of the AVI Partners’ Forum
by Kavita Pandey, Executive Director of Action Village India

My recent visit to the Partners’ Forum in Puri, Odisha, was my first immersive experience with our partner Civil Society Organisations in India. I think that if I had been asked to define ‘solidarity’ before participating in the forum, I would have struggled to provide an accurate depiction of the complexity behind the word. I strongly believe that ‘solidarity’ is not a word that can simply be defined, but rather must be experienced and reflected upon afterwards to fully understand its meaning and depth.

Looking back on my complete experience in the Partners’ Forum, I have now internalised that the foundation of ‘solidarity’ with another partner or community is made up of mutual respect and understanding between the two, along with an overarching unified theme of wanting to learn about the other, and from each other.

Action Village India Partner’s Forum 2023 was a platform for bringing together our partners with expertise in varied development interventions to deal with the complex social challenges in the rural landscape of India, and to foster mutual learning.

The objectives were:

1) ensuring and strengthening solidarity, trust, and mutual respect which are essential for successful partnerships,2) enabling partners to collaborate effectively, share resources, and knowledge exchange to overcome challenges,

3) addressing the upcoming generic challenges like Climate adaptation and developing resilience in the community, Advanced and Green Technologies, Gender Equality and Inclusion and Resource Generation to support the development programs in India.

4) Co-create a Model of Solidarity for Mutual Learning and Development Co-operation.

Although building trust and mutual respect with partners is not always easy. I felt Action Village India is unique in terms of its ideology and approach to Partnership and Solidarity. What I witnessed in the forum, can be achieved only by intentional and ongoing efforts, as well as a clear understanding of each partner’s roles, expectations, and values. This means recognising and valuing the different backgrounds, cultures, identities, and perspectives of each partner, as well as the communities they serve.

The Forum was also about ensuring that each partner has a voice, a choice, and a role in the partnership and that their needs, interests, and rights are respected and addressed. By respecting diversity and inclusion, AVI fostered a sense of belonging, empowerment, and equity amongst partners.

I will quote one of our partners’ heart warming words here to give the essence to our readers of what I have written above.

We appreciate AVI’s Trustees’, Chair of Trustees’ and Team’s simplicity, rich experience, down-to-earth and supportive nature and friendly attitudes which makes us proud of being an active member of AVI’s family. This makes AVI different from any other support organisations, giving us all the sense of ownership and mutual respect. We also learned a lot from other partners’ excellent work and initiatives. The field visit on climate change mitigation and resilience gave us clarity on the concept of climate adaptation and the way forward, these were our expectations from the Forum. A sense of strong solidarity developed to work for social causes together.’ Mr Satish Girja, CEO- Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra.

Participating Civil Society Organisations:
ASSEFA
CRUSADE
Ekta Parishad
Equidiversity Foundation
NBJK
RCDC

Participants: 31 (Male 15 Female 16) that reflects the commitment of the partner organisations to give equal opportunity to both genders.

I started the AVI presentation by playing a video message shared by Ivan Nutbrown and it was very well received by the entire AVI community/partners/team members at the forum.

The Partners’ Forum was well-organised, the group exercises were engaging, the discussions were insightful, every little need of the participants was taken care of, and the food was delicious. I was pleased to see the positivity and excitement among the team members to contribute towards the forums’ thematic areas. I believe that the insights shared and the connections made will be greatly helpful for all our partners and I am excited to see the positive impact that it will have on the process of learning and knowledge exchange along with the collective actions.

Most of the exercises or sessions were very interactive and participatory. Kailash and the team from RCDC, and Anindita and the team from EDF (host organisations) made major contributions to make it a huge success. L. Kumar from ASSEFA actively participated in the discussions and made valuable knowledge contributions. I liked the subtle humour he brought to the sessions.
Satish Girja, Rajeev, Chandan Kumar, and other team members of NBJK were more than willing to share their accumulated experience and knowledge which was very impactful. NBJK’s interventions and local resource generation model were hugely appreciated among the partners with a great potential for knowledge exchange.

The participants from Ekta Parishad were Ramesh Sharma, Shraddha Kashyap and Bharti. The sessions by Ramesh on 1) Resources & Funding: FCRA, CSR, Fund Management and 2) Technological Change: AI, were informative, engaging, and thought-provoking. Although the learnings were mutual, we needed some very deep information that was shared by Ramesh. Bharti and Shradha appeared to be very strong women representation from Ekta Parishad.

There was all-women representation from CRUSADE in the forum-Dr.Haripriya, Rekha and Ruthmani. Their health program update was incredible. Very simple solutions to resolve the complex issues. I have also always believed in the same approach. Many partners have expressed their wish to visit the CRUSADE field to see their health interventions and learn from them.

My interactions with each member, I feel, was a great opportunity for me to meet them one-on-one and connect not only professionally but also personally. I aimed to meet the partner organisation’s team and make them very comfortable with me to eliminate the inhibitions that they might have in discussing any issues or challenges.

The diversity of the AVI community is incredible with huge potential for collective actions.

I also got the opportunity to meet the community members in the field. Although I have travelled and worked in several rural geographies across Indian states, this was my first experience visiting a village of fisherfolk who were adversely affected by a cyclone recently. Despite my many years of work at the grassroots in India, I admit that we cannot feel the pain they undergo and cannot relate to their struggle to survive each day.  I understood that what they went through because of cyclone Fani was life-changing, and while I could not relate to the multi-dimensional disadvantage they have been facing, beyond a point, I made sure to find out as much about their experiences as possible. While it is true that there are some experiences of survivors that I cannot relate to, it does not mean there was less possibility for a connection or understanding between us. Rather, I now firmly believe that ‘solidarity’ means finding strength by sharing different experiences among communities to establish one unified community.

I discussed the skill development and livelihood generation activities with them and how they feel these interventions are helping them bring change in their lives. Very interestingly, a number of women from the village community came up with some livelihood generation ideas that are locally more viable. We have been trying to support these communities through our partner RCDC.

Now some personal reflections from my visit to the fisherfolk community. I was nothing but awestruck to see their enthusiasm to welcome us. We could see the hard work and dedication of RCDC team members – Uma and Bishnu in arranging such well-planned field visits and the sincere welcome of all the teams by the community members could be deeply and strongly felt.

The community members had made extremely wonderful arrangements to celebrate our visit and welcome us. Despite minimal income, limited resources and a daily struggle for survival (they have regular income only four months a year and the rest is never secured) they arranged a grand welcome for us. They had made ‘rangolis’ in all the lanes of the village, which is a form of art and culture in India to celebrate something auspicious, the indigenous way of making bouquets to greet us, the drums, the local dessert they cooked, and all the love. It was so heart warming and encouraging.

The value of “the importance of human relationships and humanity” is so much a part of our work that it often goes unnoticed, yet it is the foundation upon which everything else is built. We are born into the world vulnerable, weak, and in need of physical and emotional nurturing and this warmth and love that I receive during my field visits in India is the source of all the strength, encouragement, and passion to do my best.

I believe that the insights shared and the connections made will be greatly helpful for all our partners and I am excited to see the positive impact that it will have on the process of learning and knowledge exchange along with the collective actions.

Thoughts on the AVI Partners’ Forum
by L. Kumar, ASSEFA

Action Village India (AVI) Partners forum meet was held at Puri, the famous city of Jaganath temple in Odisha, India.

It was a happy occasion, as the partners were able to meet each other in person after a long gap. In addition, all were happy to get to know the new Executive Director of AVI, Mrs. Kavita Pandey. It is the first time in the history of AVI, a lady with an Indian origin, was appointed to the key post.

ASSEFA, a Gandhian Organisation, was instrumental for the birth of AVI. Initially, it was named as, “Friends of ASSEFA”, but gradually the name was changed as “Action Village India” to give the clear meaning of what the organisation is doing.

Generally, AVI invites many participants from UK for the Partners forum meet. The objective is to make them understand better, the lives of the rural people of India and the works of AVI. It also help to make them build strong bondage with India on a long-term basis. However, the participants from UK were missing this time for various reasons. The meet was attended only by Mr. Andy, the chair of AVI.

The host, Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC), had organised this event in a nice and peaceful place, “Isopanthi Ashram”. Accommodations were arranged in a clean and comfortable rooms and the meeting was organised in a nice hall, where it had all facilities for meeting purposes. The Ashram had arranged local foods to give the participants the local flavor..

This time, the core theme selected for the forum meet is “Adaptation to climate change”, the present global pressing issue.

The meet was able to bring out key features of the theme at local, national and international levels. AVI has been supporting projects on this theme to one or two of its partners. The field visit to the fishermen communities in and around Chilika Lake had made the participants to understand the programs that local partner, RCDC, is implementing. The participants had also suggested some initiatives, based on the interaction with the local people for further improvement of the on-going intervention.

Considering the importance of the theme, it was felt that AVI should support all the interested partners to take up projects addressing climate related issues. The Partners are working in various agro-climatic conditions facing with different climate related issues.

Special thanks goes to all the volunteers who had effectively made translation in Bengali, English, Hindi, Oriya and Tamil languages to make this meet a success…

As far as AVI is concerned, we don’t feel like funding agency relationship. We consider AVI as one of the members of our community, working together to create better society in rural India.

Action Village India: A Real Supporter to Philanthropy in India
Views of Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra
by Satish Girija

Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK) has been associated with Action Village India (AVI) since its inception. We got a chance to meet one of its founders, Mr. Ivan Nutbrown, in the 1980s, and requested him for support for some of the initiatives – which are very much needed by the community, but which do not come into the agenda of any donor agency. He realised this and through AVI started supporting the program of Lok-Samiti (non-political peoples’ organisation raising issue like communal harmony, intercaste-interreligious marriage based on human-rights, ban on liquor in the interest of women and children, action against violence and exploitation based on gender and caste system in India, issues of farmers for justified price of the agriculture-products etc.), and then Girls Sponsorship Program for their secondary education – for which we could not get support from any other hundreds of donors supporting us.

Not only AVI supports such need-based initiatives in India, without any prejudice and imposing its own agenda, but also never acts like a donor with any superiority. We always found AVI as our family and like our friends in true sense – fully like the proverb: “A Friend in Need is Friend Indeed”.

The simplicity, passion, humanity, understanding the situation and ground reality, and raising funds for the identified issues by the NGOs for which there are no other supporters, are some of the best parts of AVI, which makes it different from any other supporter/donor-organisation of the world.

A Visit to The Centre for Rural systems and Development (CRUSADE) in four blocks of Tiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu
by Andy Rutherford, Action Village India Chair of Trustees

Through just under three very full days with community visits, 19 meetings, staying in the Director’s home, meeting the staff , including community level organisers, I came away inspired and very respectful of the CRUSADE team, their ways of working and what they have achieved and are achieving.

There is a gentleness and respect for the women, men and children in the communities that they are working in that is at the heart of their success. I was invited to meet groups of people living with disabilities, self-help groups and elderly women’s groups and, despite the challenging circumstances that people were living in, people shared what they were doing to improve their lives and livelihoods with dignity and confidence. There were clearly relationships of mutual trust between the community members and the CRUSADE community level organisers and up to the director, Jothi. These positive and empowering ways of working have been central into the significant ways in which CRUSADE has meaningfully contributed to making a difference in the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of often marginalised people.

Their presentation to their 2023 AGM shared some of the impressive achievements of the last year as communities tried to move forward from a very stressful Covid period. Some highlights are:-

  • Formed 410 groups with around 6,000 members
  • Self –Help Groups’ cumulative savings and common fund is Rs. 11.2 (£1.12m)crore as at December 2022
  • External audit of groups accounts
  • 324 Self –Help Groups were approved Rs 14.20 crore (£1.42m) loans from banks/local government.
  • CRUSADE provided a Revolving Fund to 10 groups of Rs.21.85 lakh (£21,850) for Income Generation, housing and medical needs of members in Self –Help Groups.
  • Formed 203 special groups of People with Disability
  • 2,056 People with Disabilities were enrolled in special Self –Help Groups
  • 140 groups opened bank accounts
  • 1,711 People with Disabilities have ID cards
  • 1,287 People with Disabilities receive monthly maintenance allowance of Rs.1,500/2000 (£15/£20)from the State Government
  • 771 enrolled in MGNREGP ( the national employment scheme for public works)
  • 91 People with Disabilities received skills training
    217 were self-employed.
  • 317 People with Disabilities / parents received physiotherapy training
  • 232 received aids and appliances from CRUSADE and State Government
  • 96 received support to education of children of People with Disabilities
  • 137 members in 27 People with Disabilities’ groups received Rs.23.20 lakh (£23,200) loans from local government/banks
    CRUSADE provided financial assistance to 7 members in 5 groups Rs 1.3 lakh (£1,300) through Vallamai Federation.
  • 24 elderly women groups formed, with women receiving medical care, mental health / counseling and being enrolled in the Government pension scheme
  • There was a very much appreciated recreation one day tour for 50 elderly women to Mahabalipuram

The most important part of our support for CRUSADE is for their staff. As can been clearly seen in this summary of some of their work last year, the CRUSADE team are working with women and men in the four blocks to access life changing resources from their ID cards, to mobility and hearing aids to a range of supportive loans.

CRUSADE is truly taking forward their vision to “Initiate and nurture self-reliant people’s organisations and empower the poor and marginalised through local governance to achieve better.”

An Inspiring Partners’ Forum
by Andy Rutherford, Action Village India Chair of Trustees

I had the privilege of participating on behalf of Action Village India trustees in the 2023 Partners’ Forum. This brought together representatives of partners ASSEFA and CRUSADE from Tamil Nadu, Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK) from Jharkhand and Bihar, the nationwide movement – Ekta Parishad, co-host from West Bengal, EquiDiversity Foundation and co-host from Odisha, Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC). A representative from Lakshmi Ashram in Uttarakhand was not able to join at the last minute.

The gathering was full of exciting ‘history’. This was the first opportunity to come together, share and learn since the last face-to-face Partners’ Forum hosted by NBJK in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand in 2018. Since then Action Village India has committed to support two new partners, EquiDiversity Foundation and, Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC). So this was the first time all our current partners could meet each other! This was also the first time that our new Executive Director, Kavita Pandey, was able to meet partners since joining us in August 2023. There was so much energy and enthusiasm which infused all our activities and discussions.

The concept of partnership is much used and sometimes abused. I have had the privilege of a working life collaborating in solidarity with organisations and communities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. When I shared our latest annual report with all participants, I re-read the back page again where we describe ourselves.

At the heart of our work are our partnerships, and many of them have spanned decades.”  So true, our partnerships with ASSEFA and NBJK go back to our very beginnings.

We accompany our partners for the long term.  Solidarity with our partners and their communities is at the core of how we work.  This means that we have developed close relationships over the years, based on mutual respect, reciprocity and transparency.” So true, the mutual respect that pervaded the Partners’ Forum was uplifting and inspiring.

We are not governed by donor funding cycles and agendas but are led by our partners and the priorities they identify, and are committed to shared learning and collaboration.” So true, all partners at different times stressed that Action Village India was not a donor but a ‘true’ partner.

I put my hand on my heart and say that YES, Action Village India has ‘true’ long term partnerships based on mutual respect, reciprocity and transparency. This is something that, as supporters, trustees and staff, we can be confident and proud of.

It has inspired me to re-affirm my commitment to contributing to strengthening and deepening our solidarity and partnerships with organisations and communities across rural India working for a more just, equal, inclusive and environmentally sustainable rural India.

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