Development Cooperation Handbook/Stories/Employment as a Right
Employment as a Right Project implemented by Mahila Swarojgar Samiti
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India, February 2011
Co-financed by the Dorabji Tata Trust, India
Many economists claim that the present economic crisis has been caused by distortions of the earlier economic growth. Although wealth was growing, the divide between the rich and the poor was also increasing; and soaring unemployment in the rural areas was forcing millions to migrate, breaking family ties on which were based the safety net of the family and the welfare of the village.
Balanced growth is not just a matter of equity. It is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development.
Although economic growth in India has been steady and continuous for the past two decades, living conditions amongst the poor have deteriorated further. In order to distribute the benefits of economic growth more equitably, in 2005, the Indian Government passed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and consequently launched an ambitious programme that would provide a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment every year, at the statutory minimum wage, to all adult members of all rural households that were willing to work in development schemes beneficial to their communities.
Our team visited a village near Varanasi, a town located in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Here, a local NGO, the Mahila Swarojgar Samiti (MSS), has been raising awareness among village women, organising self help groups, conducting leadership skills training and helping women access NREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme launched by the Indian government. Women in this village are largely illiterate. We interviewed some women in this village and asked them how their lives had changed after working in NREGA and with NGOs like the Mahila Swarojgar Samiti. Women told us that earlier they essentially managed their homes. In fact, they seldom stepped out of their homes to earn a living. Through the support of the NGO, women gradually started coming together as a collective and bringing their voices across to decision makers. They started participating in local decision making processes and became more self-confident. They started contributing financially to their households and began utilsing their savings in sending children to school and in accessing better health services.
The NREGA employment guarantee scheme has been surrounded by criticisms and controversies around mismanagement, poor effectiveness and its limited impact on the drivers of poverty. While it is easy to find people who say that "better programmes" could be designed, it is not as easy to find people who can actually design and enforce these programmes effectively. Whoever will implement such programmes in the future will have to learn lessons from this ambitious Indian scheme that sets the principle of employment as a right for all citizens. What is more unlikely to happen, though, is that the "have-s" actually welcome the responsibility to share opportunities with the "have-nots".
Most communication professionals serve the interest of their rich colleagues but since economic development requires equity as the driver of sustainability, we will have to bring back equitable and fair re-distribution of wealth and resources to the top of political agendas. And the sooner we do it, the better it would be.
Video clips 
See also 
On Wikipedia :
⇒ Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
⇒ महात्मा गांधी राष्ट्रीय ग्रामीण रोजगार गारंटी अधिनियम
⇒ Corporate social responsibility
⇒ Evolution of corporate social responsibility in India
⇒ European policy on Corporate Social Responsibility