Manavodaya is an organisation that has been working with the poorest communities in Uttar Pradesh in India for 20 years. Its work takes place in villages, many of them remote, where it is not uncommon for villagers to be living on the equivalent of 20p per day – well below the poverty line. These people are the most marginalised and disenfranchised in their communities.
The Manavodaya approach is simple. A facilitator goes to the village and opens up a ‘human-level dialogue’ with villagers. There may be several meetings with villagers before any discussions about ‘change’ even begin. The key is that the facilitator’s role is a ‘quiet and humble one’. The villagers are the experts in the life that they are living – not the facilitator. There are no pre-conceived agendas, targets or solutions. The philosophy is as far away from the co-dependency of ‘solutions delivery’ as it is possible to be.
At first, villagers are, at least, agreed in the need for change. Through collective visioning, ways to deliver real change can emerge – very often from the smallest of beginnings.
The Manavodaya philosophy was explained in a lunchtime lecture at the RSA. Many members of the audience were there to explore whether lessons could be integrated into social programmes in the UK. Certainly the focus on user- or community-centric development struck a chord with many.
Yet elements of the philosophy have wider implications. The approach calls for quiet self and group reflection. It focuses on enabling others, not encouraging them to depend on us. It acknowledges the expertise of others. It urges us not to have pre-conceived ideas. Most of all, it recognises the importance of delivering change through our own behaviour and attitudes.
All in all, a humbling lesson.