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news | December 08, 2016 | India | Development

Local entrepreneurs mobilise for improving access to social services in Northeast India

Mr. Bahadur in his Common Service Centre near Durga Mandir, Goalpara Town, Assam State.

In Northeast India, an area extremely remote and isolated from the central government, specific welfare programmes addressing health, housing, education, and other basic services are being implemented by the government. Yet, local communities are often unaware of the existence of these programmes or how to access them.

Co-constructing e-governance with local entrepreneurs

To tackle this issue, ACTED India has been working since 2014 to improve access and quality of public services for these underserved communities, through its 4-year project “lmproving access to information and delivery of public schemes in remote and backward districts of Northeast lndia”, funded by the European Commission. For this purpose, ACTED’s project involves close cooperation not only with local authorities and civil society, but also with actors from the private sector. As such, 35 micro-entrepreneurs were provided with small grants for setting up Common Service Centers (CSCs) across seven districts of Northeast India.

E-governance is the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for delivering government services to customers, businesses, and other government entities. Through e-governance, government services are made available to citizens in a convenient, efficient and transparent manner.

Internet cafés as resource centers for communities

Entrepreneurs selected via a grant competition used those grants for purchasing computers and other IT equipment. Thanks to these tools, the CSCs can provide a wide variety of services, such as IT courses, CD burning, scanning, printing, or digital imaging. Yet, CSCs are also much more than just Internet cafés. Through the project, they have become essential community resource points for information relating to the ten government schemes targeted under this project. Information on public services, entitlements, procedures and offices to go to for applying to the schemes, as well as access to e-grievance facilities, are made available by the CSCs. Additionally, they also provide help to potential beneficiaries of schemes for filling their application forms.

Ten government schemes, relating to health, education, water and sanitation, livelihoods, food security, housing and rural development, are specifically targeted under this project. These schemes include women and children-specific schemes, such as the Janani Sishu Suraksha Karyakram (JSSK) scheme that enables pregnant women to safely deliver their babies in government hospitals free of charge, and provides free healthcare for infants under 1-year-old. The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) scheme proposes free health check-ups in Anganwadi centres for pregnant women and nursing mothers, children below 6 and adolescent girls. Another example is the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme, improving nutritional status of children.

When helping people leads to flourishing businesses

Mr. Bahadur, who has been running a CSC under ACTED’s project since August 2015, testifies: “I have gained more respect and recognition as I am not only running a business but also helping people to know about government schemes and how to access them.” He counted that from August 2015 to October 2016, he has helped 234 people by raising their awareness on social services. After converting his shop into a CSC, his number of customers has increased, thereby also increasing his daily earnings, and ultimately ensuring the financial viability of his shop. Overall, after the 35 CSC owners received training on social schemes covered by the project, as well as on the Right to Information (RTI) Act, they have helped more than 5,000 people to access social services.

“I am very happy that now people are aware about my CSC and come for different information relating to the social schemes; it is building the knowledge and capacity of the community, and is also increasing my income up to 15 %”, said Mr. Bahadur.

* The name of the beneficiary has been changed.