lmproving access to information and delivery of public schemes
With only 3.8% of India’s total population, North-East India (NEI), ACTED’s strategic intervention area, is notoriously excluded from policy making and out of reach of mainstream service delivery. The geopolitics –being hemmed in between Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, remotely far away from India’s central government–, and the cultural context – as both language and religion differ from the rest of the country– enhance this phenomenon. ACTED responds to this challenge by co-constructing effective governance, improving access to public services and information on welfare. ACTED also contributes to disaster preparedness, as focal point of an interagency group for emergency response.
Increased effective governance in North-East India
After having identified the main gaps and challenges hampering adequate service delivery in 7 districts of NEI, with a focus on gender and minority-related specific needs, ACTED and its partners NEICORD (NEI Committee on Relief and Development) and PAC (Public Affairs Centre) conducted tailored trainings on access to information on so-called ‘schemes’, or government benefits, for 1,218 officials at different levels, with a focus on health, education, livelihoods, food security, women and child development, rural development and agriculture schemes. Training manuals will be transferred to the relevant government department for replication. In addition, 7 district-level and 1 regional-level fora were set up, comprising civil society organisations, local authorities and other relevant stakeholders, with the objective of ensuring inclusive participation and representation throughout the action. This innovative accountability mechanism led to 7 district development plans that will contribute towards a more informed and better serviced NEI.
Building on innovative technological solutions to reach the most remote groups
At village level, the key barrier to participation in governance, inclusion and livelihood improvement is the significant lack of awareness on welfare schemes amongst remote communities. ACTED has contracted a local entrepreneur to set up a database of remote populations’ mobile numbers and to regularly send them phone-based alerts on schemes. In 2015, 108,996 text messages have thus been sent to beneficiaries. This innovative and cost-saving means of granting access to information for remote communities is led in close coordination with the national Mobile Governance programme. ACTED and its local partners further accentuated their impact through an information campaign in 186 villages, uniquely led by local CSOs to increase buy-in. Fellowships were attributed to 21 journalists, who have so far written a total of 62 articles on schemes delivery, and a service provider handbook, the first of its kind in the area, was disseminated through 33 Common Service Centres.
Multi-sector and multi-stakeholders approach to embrace the needs of a diversified population
ACTED intends to continue promoting effective governance while building upon its disaster risk reduction (DRR) and economic development expertise in fragile NEI, with an emphasis on its “forgotten crisis”. Indeed, although battles for autonomy and subsequent violence on minorities are recurrent, institutional donors have rarefied, leading to one of the highest number of protracted internally displaced persons in the world (345,000 in Assam state alone according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre). ACTED also wishes to bring its DRR expertise to the government of Uttarakhand, a recently-created state in North India, whose lack of structure impedes adequate resilience to natural disasters.
Giving communities a voice through social accountability tools
ACTED partners with the Public Affairs Centre, a recognised think-tank which in the past decades has designed leading-edge tools allowing citizens and civil society organisations to proactively engage in governance. Among them, the Citizen Report Card (CRC) approach, collecting feedback from users of public services and presenting it to relevant stakeholders to enable actionable reforms and influence policy, provides quantitative monitoring of ACTED current project’s impact. Meanwhile, this process was complemented by an additional tool known as the Community Score Card (CSC), allowing users and service providers to reflect qualitatively on services offered, and design a clear road map for improvement.
The challenge and opportunities in North-East India
North-East is a strategic region for ACTED India: it is very different from the rest of the country, with little exposure in media and huge needs gaps. This exposes further vulnerable populations to natural or man-made disasters. Hence, ACTED continued promoting effective governance and inclusiveness of the most vulnerable communities through its programme in 2015. ACTED consolidated its DRR experience, as well as expanded activities in key domains such as improved livelihoods, social cohesion, or access to clean water. The challenge is to create synergies between different partners to address development issues in an environment deserted by traditional donors.