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Helping communities craft solutions 

India Programme / Partner story / Video

Photo credit: Gautam 

In the coastal district of South 24 Parganas, in the state of West Bengal, people are facing disruptions to normal life, as irregular weather patterns and extreme climate events like super-cyclones and tidal surges create unstable livelihoods and living conditions. This has led to increased migration and other knock-on effects such as increased domestic violence, trafficking of children and young adults, early marriage, and water and food crises.  

In response, local organisations are working to find solutions to help communities thrive. For example, women are learning to adopt resilient farming practices such as diversifying crops and building rainwater harvesting structures. They are also using Indigenous seeds, which are more tolerant to harsh climates and salinity, and are preserving them through a seed bank. As a result, one woman expressed that, “the cost of the production has really come down and we have been able to increase our productivity.”  

The main organisation behind these efforts in the Sundarbans region, Praxis, leads a group of seven organisations to help communities identify the most pressing challenges and find the best solutions for going forward. These are: National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Rupantaran Foundation, Development Research Communications & Service Centre, Prajaak, MUKTI, Baikunthapur Tarun Sangha, and Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society.  

“Participatory grant-making is a coming together on an equal footing of all parties concerned,” says Tom Thomas, CEO from the Institute for Participatory Practices. “It essentially turns the usual top-down model on its head, and looks at realities from a bottom-up perspective.” In addition, communities determine how useful both the processes and changes implemented are, rather than having people who are not part of the communities assessing them.  

Praxis supported the organisations to identify the most marginalised communities and then listen to the issues they face. This helps create buy-in among the communities, as people are more likely to get onboard and embrace the methods needed to implement the solutions that they come up with themselves. “So, the whole process is totally oriented by them,” says Nandita Jayraman from MUKTI. “This is how they envision their transformation … shifting of power and transferring the ownership to the communities.”  

These seven organisations are empowering over 106,650 people across 20 villages in the Sundarbans. The results have been far-reaching. The voices of local communities are being heard and included in decisions that affect their lives. They are able to access improved services and infrastructure to help them build resilience against social and environmental challenges. In all, 120 groups of adolescents, women, farmers and migrant workers have formed. They are tackling themes ranging from early marriage to trafficking, and from how gender discrimination affects their daily lives to sustainable agriculture.  

“The processes implemented by the communities are bringing a wave of transformation, which will hopefully be demonstrated through enhanced resilience, and the wellbeing of the communities in the future,” says Paromita Chowdhury, programme officer at Oak Foundation.  

If you would like to learn more about this method of grant-making and how it benefitted the communities of West Bengal, watch the video below.

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s India Programme, which works to support equitable opportunities for all, because everyone should have a fair chance at creating a life for themselves. You can read more about the programme and its strategy here. You can read more about Praxis by visiting its website here.