Creating a blueprint for collective transformative action

On the outside, Kapadwanj is like any other sleepy town in India. Located about two hours south of Ahmedabad, this town is like no other from the inside. It’s blessed with a vibrant community that is passionate in its belief in the spirit of collective transformation. The niiti team was invited by the Kapadwanj Kelawani Mandal, a leading NGO in the region to spend some time in the village cluster in which it operates, to help them brainstorm on how they can collectively chart their next course.

In the course of five days that we spent meeting with various stakeholders in the community, we realised that this region had the unique distinction of many NGOs collaborating with each other, the government and citizens at large for the larger collective good. Imagine the energy and excitement when representatives from more than 15 active NGOs, such as Don Bosco, Tribhuvandas Foundation, Sahayog Hospital, V S Gandhi Trust and the likes collected together for a visioning exercise that we facilitated where we brainstormed ideas for transformative action. Each organisation had a clear vision for their initiatives, yet understood that they needed to garner their collective enterprise if they have to step up the transformation narrative.

Traditionally in India, as in many parts of the world, distributive conflicts are linked to several collective actions. Mancur Olson, noted economist and social scientist argued in 1965 when he proposed his Collective Action Theory that any group of individuals attempting to provide public good has troubles to do so efficiently. In our own experience, we have often found organisations working at cross purposes in the same community, driven by the need for recognition and credit. Unless they are incentivised or motivated by personal socio-economic gain, we have not seen many instances of large groups of organisations working towards a shared objective.  Mancur Olson also theorises the tendency of the “exploitation of the great by the small” where in a collective, the smaller members may contribute less or not at all and “free-ride” benefits. And we have seen many a situation where this theory is proven true.

As we spent time in Kapadwanj this week, we found the Kapadwanj Vikas Vartul, a collective of nearly 20 NGOs threatening to challenge this theory. We hope to work with them in the coming months, on creating a blueprint for lasting transformative change led by collective action. We will have to build in systems that ensure operational efficiency in collective working and incentives for participants that serve both as motivation and glue. Perhaps we can create a new narrative for collective action where community groups and individual stakeholders can work together towards a common vision and come up with sustainable design solutions.

Let’s hope our collective endeavour emerges larger than the sum of individual parts.

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