How Paani Foundation harnesses the power of communication for social transformation

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Paani Foundation was created in 2016, with the vision of making Maharashtra drought-free. From 2016 to 2019, Paani Foundation organized four Water Cup competitions, whose main objective was to make villages water secure through watershed development. In 2019, during the last Water Cup, more than 4,700 villages in 76 talukas had joined the movement for change.

By 2020, as thousands of villages became water sufficient, we felt the need to deepen our vision and work towards making every village ‘samruddha’ (prosperous). Thus, was born the Satyamev Jayate Samruddha Gaon Spardha (Satyamev Jayate Prosperous Village Competition) which was launched in 39 talukas of Maharashtra.

This competition provides a roadmap to the village for not only increasing water supply but also planning water usage. It encourages villages to fight climate change through ecological restoration - by nurturing and planting more trees, creating forests and grasslands, and improving soil health. It trains villagers to increase income through greater agricultural productivity and aims to empower them to set up small agri-businesses.

Critical for Paani Foundation has been its guiding principle, viz., villages can only become water secure and samruddha (prosperous), if they truly become the engines of their own growth and development. The villagers plan their own development beginning with watershed works and then graduate to all the activities necessary to make the village prosperous.

They have to execute these activities themselves, which means raising funds, offering sharmadaan, organizing machine work, implementing government schemes, etc. Thus, the relationship of Paani Foundation to the villagers is not based on commercial and monetary considerations, but it is that of a mentor and guide.

What Paani Foundation provides is (i) Training of villagers and (ii) Organizing of the competition. It also provides technical support to villages and helps them liaison with government officials and schemes. This guiding principle of Paani Foundation, bereft of commercial considerations, can only work in practice if it can bring about a sustained behavioural change in the villages and villagers. It is here that Information, Education and Communication (IEC) at scale becomes critical.

Training: The first pillar of IEC

One of the most important components of Paani Foundation’s methodology is its residential four-day training for villages. Villagers from about 8 to 10 villages attend a training together in a specially designed centre, set up in a village that has done outstanding watershed development.

The ambience of the centre is important because the host village and the villagers become a rich source of inspiration for the trainees, who are also villagers. From the moment the participants reach the centre, they are welcomed not just by the training team but more important by villagers, usually with dance and music, through colorful rangolis, many a time through washing their feet, as a symbol of respect and warm welcome. This gives the participants a glimpse of the next four days. It assures them that this training will be joyful and celebratory.

Any behavioral change can only take place if the participants undergo a profound personal experience within these four days. The entire training is designed to create this experience. Not only is the learning of watershed development experiential, but at a personal level, every participant is encouraged to call upon their inner power to change.

The training is conducted by a team of social and technical trainers who are not only carefully selected and rigorously trained, but most importantly, they realise that their work should be a labor of love. It should be looked at as a mission, and not just a job. Their relationship with the villagers should not only be respectful but also based on the belief that the villager is a repository of rich life experiences.

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