Contemporary initiatives undertaken for rural empowerment


Conventional rural developmental paradigms have primarily targeted the issue of rural empowerment through defined institutional structures and agencies created with such a “welfarist” mindset. However, though the rigor adopted to address the issue at stake deserves appreciation, we need to remember that institutional elitism inherently distances the schemes from the marginalized target group (Mansell, 2010). Instead of cultivating rural empowerment from within, the institutionally deployed schemes impose developmental parameters on the rural target group externally, without adequately considering the contextual specificities within which rural actors operate.

Denying the standardized institutional prescriptions, our alternative developmental paradigm shifts the focus to common mass, where each individual is considered to be an equal stakeholder and thereby indispensable to the developmental process. By transforming crowd to stakeholders, the proposed empowering ecosystem considers one and all to be potential contributors in the collective knowledge pool. It is by giving the rural community the provision to share their own indigenous knowledge assets, along with gaining new ones from outside, that the proposed empowering ecosystem targets rural development through cultivating individual and collective capacities of local members. Premising on cultivating strategies of self-sustenance and self-development among rural target group, our developmental framework identifies rural actors as potential agents bringing change, and thereby is in stark contrast to conventional developmental paradigms and their brand of institutionally driven rural empowerment.

The chapter is divided into four segments:

• The first part is dedicated to spelling out the promise and practice of “Rurbanization” mission. The mission premises on providing urban facilities to rural communities in order to enable these to overcome their marginalization. The initiative finds its place in the introductory section as one of the conventional developmental measures undertaken to achieve rural empowerment.

  • • Within the overall paradigm of rural empowerment, the second part traces the commitment of international agencies such as the United Nations in facilitating rural empowerment as an effective means to overcome marginalization of the rural sector. This section fleshes out the theoretical commitment of global institutions towards the motto of rural empowerment.
  • • The third part attempts to provide a practical glimpse of the schemes undertaken in developing nations with the motto of rural empowerment. Attempting to discuss how such schemes have targeted rural empowerment along diverse lines, this section explicitly brings out the exogenous nature of such schemes. Conceptualized primarily by developmental agents, the formulation of the schemes seldom involves the participation of local community.
  • • The fourth section expands on the exogenous nature of conventional rural empowerment models by individually pointing out the loopholes that most of the schemes suffer from. Departure from conventional exogenous rural empowerment models is only possible by attempting to cultivate strategies of self-sustenance and self-development among rural target group by facilitating effective collaboration within them. Only an alternative development framework enables rural stakeholders to enhance their networking capacities by connecting them both with members of their own group and across groups.

'Rurbanization': Promise and practice

The word “Rurban” (Rural + Urban) refers to a geographical territory, which by virtue of modernization acquires urban characteristics while retaining its indigenous roots and rural features. Sorokin and Zimmerman (1929) sociologically analyse the phenomenon following C.J. Galpin’s terminological invention (Harms, 1939), where he interpreted the rural—urban integration and resultant rural transformation, in alliance with Talcott Parsons, as owing to urban expansion or rural migration (Parsons, 1954). While the scholars pioneered an entirely new paradigm to conduct research studies, we need to remember that in the period they were writing there were limited possibilities to practically translate their theorization to achieve rural—urban integration along concrete lines.

The contemporary era and its connecting spirit, boosting inter- and intracommunitarian linkage, have made geographical isolation almost a myth. Provision of easy exchange derived from improved communication has given innovative dimensions to the way collaborations can realize economic, social, political and civic activities. The smooth exchange has developed a socio-economic infrastructure, which makes possible a two-way effective exchange between rural- urban communities and setup. The result of enhanced communication therefore bears the potential to mark a decisive shift from conventional “Rurban” missions premised on value-loaded conceptualizations of what constitutes “rural” and “urban” and an implementation mode focusing on one-way knowledge transfer from urban to rural communities.

The European Parliament decided in 2010 to formally utilize the fruits of improved communication to trigger effective rural-urban cooperation in the continent (Urban-Rural Linkages, 2010). The following can be cited as the objectives of the European Rurban (Partnership for sustainable urban—rural development) Mission:

  • • Analysing territorial partnership practices between urban and rural areas.
  • • Achieving better cooperation between involved actors in rural—urban collaborations.
  • • Promoting territorial multi-level governance.
  • • Assessing tangible socio-economic gains resultant of effective rural—urban collaborations.
  • • Identifying the potential role of rural—urban collaborations in improving regional competitiveness and governance, thereby addressing the issue of rural empowerment.

Such nuanced public attempts to enhance rural—urban integration have not only been undertaken in developed parts of the world; developing nations such as India have also taken similar initiatives to foster rural—urban collaborations. The National Rurban Mission (NRuM), undertaken by the government of India in 2016, was launched with the aim to provide economic, social and physical infrastructural facilities to rural population in an attempt to uplift them and mitigate the marginalization of the country’s rural sector (National Rurban Mission, 2016). The vision of NRuM focused on developing a cluster of villages that preserve and nurture the essence of rural community life, with emphasis on equity and inclusiveness, without compromising the facilities perceived to be essentially urban in nature. The cluster of “Rurban villages” as envisioned in the scheme is expected to stimulate local economic development, boost basic services and create well-planned clusters out of effective rural-urban integration. NRuM has been undertaken to trigger the following outcomes:

  • • Bridging rural—urban divide.
  • • Stimulating local economic development through employment generation and revenue creation.
  • • Triggering local and regional development.
  • • Attracting financial investments to boost the rural sector.

The above-mentioned initiatives, coupled with similar others undertaken across the globe, primarily rely on defined institutions and agencies to execute effective rural—urban integration. Dependence on institutions and agencies to usher in rural development essentially means these formal infrastructures are viewed as indispensable to the developmental framework, thereby shifting the focus from the marginalized target group for whom the policies have been framed. Moreover, the physical and informational distance urban-based policymakers share from rural stakeholders further contributes to the formulation of non-contextual policies, without keeping in mind the specific nature of rural need. Although rural development is a crucial aspect, which needs to be immediately addressed, agency/institution-based standardized developmental measures have fallen far short in addressing the issues persistent in specific rural contexts in which the actors operate.

The linear dissemination of information and resources from urban to rural communities adhered to by agency-based developmental models essentially views the rural segment as inferior, thereby denying the communities the scope to exchange their indigenous assets. There is an immense need to create an alternative and dynamic developmental paradigm, which will modify its course in accordance with the specific cultural contexts in which the framework is applied. This will shift the focus from standardized institutional practices to the rural community, who will thereby become determinants of their own course of socio-economic empowerment. Cultivating agency, social capital and enhancing the opportunity structure of rural target group will make the community active initiators of transformation, instead of being passive recipients of externally imposed changes. This will throw open the door to effective rural—urban symbiosis, characterized by two-way exchange between the two territorial sects. Developing the strategies of self-sustenance and self-development of the rural target group will thereby attempt to bring rural empowerment from within, following a reverse trajectory to that favoured by the normative institution-induced developmental models (Basak et ah, 2016).

United Nations' initiatives towards rural empowerment

Sporadic attempts over a long period have been undertaken across the world to empower the rural sector. However, collaborative efforts on a global level to address the issue of region-wise development can be traced to the unanimous effort undertaken by the United Nations and its 191 member states in 2000. The subsequent formulation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was done with an international commitment to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women (Millennium Development Goals, 2000).

Apart from the formulated MDGs undertaken to address discrepancies in the above-mentioned sectors, other selected indicators of development, not related to specific targets, were also incorporated. These additional indicators included population, fertility rate, life expectancy at birth, adult literacy rate and gross national income per capita. These relevant indicators were decided to be calculated at sub-national levels: by rural and urban area (region-wise), by socio-economic group, and by age and gender. The explanation of the MDGs makes it clear how the UN formulated developmental goals targeted at rural development primarily along a poverty eradication axis. While it is true that the primary attribute of global poverty is rural in nature, we must not forget that there are other, equally crucial, aspects apart from poverty which need attention for sustainable growth of the rural sector. Moreover, the MDGs had been formulated with a few stakeholders, without adequately involving developing countries. The standardized MDGs, not adapted to specific national needs, thus fell far short in specifying accountable parties, and thereby ended up reinforcing vertical interventions (Fehling et al., 2013).

Gibbs (2015) traces the failure of the MDGs to the inability of the measures to bring the entire world under its developmental purview. The fact that the success of the goals was not experienced equally across the glohe becomes explicit if we take into consideration the Asian and African scenarios. Southeast Asia could only exceed the goal of poverty reduction by 16%, south Asia by 12.5% and northern Africa by 1.2%; Sub-Saharan Africa, witnessing the worst consequences, was 12.5% away from the goal of extreme poverty reduction (Gibbs, 2015). The disappointing results highlight that while the MDGs made considerable progress along the above-stated axes in developed parts of the world, the exclusion of the developing regions prevented the measures offering hope to the majority of the global marginalized. Gender inequality was a primary focus of the MDGs. However, the noble intention of mitigating the same could not practically translate to enhanced gender equality because the measures primarily relied on securing formal representational seats for women to address the inequality issue. Formal legal measures are not sufficient to bring a more just gendered distribution where gender inequality persists in spite of added representation of women in formal civic, educational, economic and other related spheres. While the MDGs’ aim to address gender inequality primarily focused on formal education, the measures also remained mostly redundant in enhancing the global literacy rate. In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30% in 1999 to 36% in 2012 (Gibbs, 2015). Primarily to address these loopholes, the United Nations attempted in 2015 to reformulate MDGs to more holistic Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With a revisionary approach, the SDGs have a target of simultaneously addressing poverty reduction, inequality, sustainability and economic growth with job creation (Clarke, 2015). The SDGs include in total 17 targeted goals, and have emerged as a bold commitment to provide sustainable solutions to the most pressing challenges faced by the world today (United Nations, 2018).

In order to have a deeper penetration of undertaken measures in the remotest sectors of the world, the SDGs attempted to use the inclusive potential of contemporary digital technologies and encouraged public—private partnerships to facilitate development of marginalized sectors. Deploying technology for the purpose of social development has been incorporated as a primary resolution in the Rio+20 Agenda (Dehgan, 2012), which attempted to expand on the UN Millennium Development Goals. The new Sustainable Development Goals attempted to include a mechanism for international scientific cooperation and coordinated research to address the major sustainable developmental challenges (United Nations, 2018). In order to effectively functionalize the undertaken measures, the implementing agencies were directed to follow close interconnections and synergies between goals, trade-offs, indicators and target. Rooted in human rights, the framework of the SDGs provides opportunities for civil society engagement by encouraging local action and partnership. The reformulated developmental model therefore encourages community participation, which is expected to increase stakeholders’ involvement in their own decisionmaking process, thereby paving the path for a more democratic and responsive governance. But although the undertaken SDGs are embedded in a symbiotic provision, enabling close interconnection between policy formulators and stakeholders, the primary reliance of the model on formal institutions to carry out the implementation restricts to a great extent the measures’ ability to foster effective dialogue.

Rural empowerment, under the aegis of the SDGs, has witnessed innovative turns. The reformulated developmental framework has been an evolutionary step in integrating the world along redefined terms, by democratizing the use of science and technology in enhancing global connections. The resultant interconnection not only attempts to address the issues faced due to territorial isolation, it also cultivates collective concerns pertaining to severe social maladies such as poverty, inequality, sustainability, consumption and discrimination. Although the SDGs are also reliant on institutional execution, the revised vision of the developmental framework contains the formal provision for inclusive development, where inter-connection between policy formulators and rural stakeholders throws open the space for dialogue. In the following section we will discuss different rural empowerment schemes undertaken in developing countries, following both physical and digital lines. An in-depth analysis of the measures undertaken, in the context of the territorial specificities in which they have been adopted, will shed light on how far the initiatives have been successful in making the rural target group true stakeholders in determining their own course of socio-economic development.

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