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The BAIF Saga - in Dr Manibhai Desai's words

Part 7: Spreading through associates ~ When you have built, disengage ~ The way ahead for BAIF

In Gujarat and Rajasthan we have a network of sister associate organisations such as Gujarat Research Institute for Socio Economic Reconstruction, Vadodara [GRISERV] and BAIF Institute of Rural Development [BIRD] in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The parent body releases finance for the projects and the associated organisations are obliged to maintain the system which is required by the Trust, because the accounts of the associated organisations also come to the parent body. This requires planning about manpower, decentralised implementation and recruiting local people. Our focus is on a family which is also very unique in our organisation. We don't go on a village basis or a village as a unit. Gandhiji was taking the village as a unit - Gramsundar. Building roads and hospitals, taking power supply, taking telephone line etc. are important but they do not mean development of rural families. These families which do not have the purchasing power cannot use these facilities. Even if we provide bus facilities or electricity supply, if the poor have no income, then they cannot take advantage of these facilities. This is where we have made a very drastic change in our approach to focus on the families.

If you establish a public health unit in a village corner and ask every woman or man to come for family planning they will never come.

Right from the beginning we have established a mobile door - to - door service. When I was fighting in the underground movement as volunteer, I studied the system of the British - they brought a colonial system from Britain. It was totally vertical. The main objective of a colonial system is to keep the people away. The Collector should not meet the people. He decides about the people in their absence. First, you do not even inform them what you have brought for them. On the contrary, if you really want a change in the life style of the people, you have to understand what they need or what is their priority. Here comes the challenging task of bottom to top approach with a novel delivery system of services. If you establish a public health unit in a village corner and ask every woman or man to come for family planning they will never come. The doctor or anyone who is sitting there is drawing salary from the Government. He has no work and the patient has no doctor. So I thought, "let us go to the people rather than calling people to us." It is a revolutionary concept in development. Unless you do this, you may not know what is their [your workers'] calibre or managerial potential. There are potential boys and girls in rural areas who can be shaped to take over community development.

During this silver jubilee year, we have come up with the brilliant idea of establishing a village level organisation, an autonomous body named as 'Manav Vikas Mandir'. We will not go to the village for management. One thousand families in one unit, one manageable unit can never be bureaucratic. In five or six years our staff will withdraw from active development activities and the local leadership can take over the responsibility of rural development through the Manav Vikas Mandir. We thus require a very big network.

The managerial ability of our senior staff at the state and district level offices very crucial. We have to build up the managerial ability at every level. It is not sufficient to only have a very ambitious scheme but there is also a need for able field officers at every level down to the community. It is a fantastic idea, a new challenge for the next 25 years and to build up the managerial capability of every person working in BAIF and of those who are associated with thousands of voluntary organisations throughout the country.

In the beginning I was alone. Then we were two, three, four, fifty, hundred and with our associate organisations we are now a strong team with more than 2000 staff and all the time stalwarts are joining. Personnel management, even recruitment and orientation is also very crucial. When you grow bigger a very sensitive type of personnel management policy has to be adopted. When there are knowledgeable, highly qualified people working, we have to understand their strengths and weaknesses and take the best out of everyone. We should allow them to develop their own ideas, as long as they do not go against the objectives of the organisation. These are very sensitive matters.

BAIF has a unique approach to initiate development in a holistic way. All multi-disciplinarians have to respect each other. We should also respect the people, the tribals who are more than half naked and have never been to school. Even the highly qualified scientist should go like a student and not as a teacher because the farmers have developed a robust common sense and they have a very matured wisdom. We have to learn from them. Wisdom is not taught in a school. They have developed it from experience. Let us respect them, sit down with them and try to inform them about the latest developments.

Without conflict you must use your common sense and take your programme ahead and this is another strategy of BAIF which has been helpful in expanding our programme. However, you should not take it for granted that your work is going in the right direction. Keep a constant link with the beneficiaries and the poor whenever they need your help. If they say that they don't want a cow then think about a buffalo or if they do not want buffaloes or cows but they want goats you should be competent to develop a programme for goats. In Uttar Pradesh when there was a meeting the APC asked me, "Manibhai, with this cow can you take up buffalo breeding also?" I said I can also cover donkeys. If people want donkeys we can start breeding donkeys. So this was the approach.

Before we complete 25 years, we need to plan for the future programme during the next 25 years.

Our focus is on the family for providing employment at their door and the employment has to be viable. It has to be remunerative and gainful and this is how the system is . But if the system does not have a flexible organisational setup and a network of organisations, then even if the idea is very good you may not be able to deliver that quality of service. Say, the vaccine has gone from Delhi to Bombay - Pune - Jejuri but if there is no system to store this vaccine in cold storage then such a vaccine goes to the child not as a vaccine but as distilled water. So the disease breaks out in spite of all the efforts and expenditure. So the entire exercise becomes futile.

Before we complete 25 years, we need to plan for the future programme during the next 25 years. Fortunately, we have a flexible model. Nothing is fixed and the nature of activity can change without any change in the character of the Foundation.

We should approach institutions like the Indian Institutes of Management to study organisational structure and strengthen or improve it in such a way that its dynamism is maintained. If you are bureaucratic and want everything to go from here to the field you will lose your efficiency but if you delegate responsibilities and decision making to the people you will build up their efficiency to the maximum. People become worried that if BAIF spreads, we will become bureaucratic. I said ,"No". We are not handling everything and whatever we are handling we must try to see that we hand over when we get a proper group of people. You cannot just assign a job to a person who is not capable. This needs a judgement ability. Critically judging the ability of persons is an important quality of the team leader. Thus the saga of BAIF will continue with a thumping success.

Twenty five years ago I was alone. But today my strength has increased 2000 fold. This is the process of institution building. Today we have many leaders at BAIF and I am confident that our dynamic team will help millions of our rural people to see better days in their lives. We are fighting the war of poverty and hunger which are spreading like wildfire in rural India. The enemy is not directly seen. Hence, it is a big challenge. Our people need to search for the hidden enemy and fight with the non-violent bullet which we have fortunately acquired from the Father of our Nation - Mahatma Gandhi, in the form of his philosophy, approach and blessings.

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