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Youth Volunteers and MDGs towards sustainable development

Youth Volunteers – An exceptional segment in the society

Youth constitute the most creative and vibrant segment of the society. Youth have a major stake behind the development of natural, economic, and social resources of their communities’ concerned. Voluntary work can be done by any youth with right motivation. What youth needs is a clear understanding of the problem and commitment to the work as a volunteer. Above all they should win the trust of the people with whom they work. Youth volunteers can show a remarkable achievement in fulfilling a whole range of human needs in association with concerned parental institutions.

There are indeed several groups of youth volunteers are working around many development needs of the society. Such a small groups in order to make impact will have to maintain close contacts, exchange ideas, share experiences, build up a network, and lend support to each other. In short, youth volunteers will have to think globally, but act locally. It is obvious that a higher order of expression of volunteerism gets emerged as a movement which in turn attracts a wide range of people towards the same. The short term voluntary action also impacts certain number of youth to make a career choice with grassroots on long run to create sustainable development in the society. Youth volunteers are seen as seeds those who can propagate the motivation to wider section of the society to a greater extent.

DHAN Foundation – platform for youth to experience a life with grassroots

DHAN (Development of Humane Action Foundation) Foundation is doing significant initiatives for building youth force in many ways through its thematic development interventions. The institution creates platform for a wide range of youth for understanding and appreciating a work life with the grassroots. It also provides an opportunity for the individuals have social concern and has the interest to share their expertise to the grassroots based on the demand. As HRD (Human Resource Development) being one of the core purpose of the institution it works closely with young professionals and offers them an exposure to the development sector and sensitizing  them about their roles, rights and responsibilities behind ‘Giving back to the society’.

Youth action in existing programmes of DHAN Foundation:

  1. Over 50 percent of members covered through the thematic institutions of DHAN Collecitve namely Kalanjiam Foundation & Vayalagam Foundation are in youth category which covers around 2.5 lakhs of youth. In addition to that, around 10 percent youth are occupying leadership space at community level which covers around 25,000 youth.
  2. The theme on Working with Panchayats & ICT are providing direct thrust to building  and organizing youth for community development. The experiences from these themes are getting incorporated.
  3. The subsidiary institutions of DHAN Collective namely Tata-Dhan Academy, Dhan People Academy, LIFE (Livelihood Initiatives for Functional Education) centre & CHRD (Centre for Human Resource Development) are almost 100% working for youth. The primary purposes of these institutions are “grooming youth with social concern and build attitude, skill & knowledge of youth for development action with grassroots’.
  4. Presently 750 staff are working in DHAN Foundation. The average age of DHANites is around 30. Hence, DHAN as an institution itself is “youth” institution.

Volunteerism with youth – Perspectives, Principles and Practices in DHAN Foundation

Perspectives of DHAN Foundation in building youth volunteers towards sustainability

It is obvious that the purpose behind the promotion of youth volunteers are broader and has influence at state, national and global level depending upon the nature of voluntary action absorbed by the youth volunteer.  Exposure to volunteers towards varying socio, economic and cultural dimension is critical to integrate them into action at the grassroots levels. The most effective strategy for promoting volunteer with sustainable development is to make them perceive and act upon social needs and social dimensions in an integrated way. Meanwhile success at the volunteer level depends on vertical and horizontal expansion of their commitment to associate with the poor communities on long run or on short term basis.

DHAN’s principles in promoting volunteerism with youth

Volunteerism as a mechanism to build people to build people

The success of an activity depends upon its purpose and ways of doing. Volunteerism is seen as a mechanism to build people namely volunteers in order to build people at grassroots. Though access to the technologies by poor communities is in increasing trend there are development issues still unaddressed which have a great influence on the lifestyle of the poor families. Hence a group of human resources are to be built up in order to handle such development issues through a joint work process with the community. An enabling model of building the capacity of the grassroots to handle the development technologies independently paves way for sustainable development which is possible only through encouraging the professional to work directly with the poor communities in field. Build people to build people is an organic process wherein mutual sharing of knowledge and wisdom takes place for a collective growth.

Building youth with social concern and shared responsibility towards sustainable development

Youth being the energetic section of the society they need to be built up with social concern and shared responsibility towards sustainable development. There are thousands of youth with high social concern and they want to serve the society. But they are yet to be reached out by Development Institutions. The shared responsibility within the youth towards social development could be built up only through experiencing a life at the grassroots. Volunteerism doesn’t stop with executing an activity; it is beyond that. It has the stages such as exploring, experiencing and exercising a career with the grassroots. The higher order of social concern and shared responsibility of the youth volunteers makes impact in the lifestyle of the poor communities to a greater extent.

Mutual appreciation and exchange of expertise for collective growth

Voluntary action with the institution paves way to share and learn the expertise mutually. The matching of expertise takes place during field based contributions with an objective to advance the expertise at mutual end at higher order. The skill set of the individuals are valued and field based assignments are designed with mutual consent aiming at improving the skill set next level. Intensive consultation process during the course of voluntary action shapes the expertise towards the purpose of the institution by yielding significant outcomes at field level. The contributions during the course of voluntary action in revisited then and there and design improvement is emphasized to encourage fullest application of expertise for a greater impact at individual and community level.

Development education for youth along with grassroots connectivity

Grassroots are the primary platform of wisdom. The success of any development action depends on the extent in which the field realities are taken into consideration. The institution facilitates the volunteers to get an exposure to the development education on the field realities, development issues and its dimensions across various contexts. The stay with the community is encouraged to understand and appreciate their lifestyle by experiencing it. The basic principle of the voluntary action is to sensitize the individuals towards the socio and economic dimensions of the poor families.

Practices behind youth volunteer promotion in DHAN Foundation

Facilitating field based contributions for thematic advancement

The volunteers whoever joins in the institution are given with field based assignments irrespective of the duration of their stay with the institution. The field based assignments within an existing thematic area helps them to understand and appreciate the theme in relation to poverty dimensions. It builds their clarity towards shaping their contributions to match expectations of the theme to get advanced to next level. Though the volume of the assignments are larger or smaller, though the duration of their stay is shorter or longer, their contributions for advancing the existing programme/theme of the institution to next level is very much valued.

Joint work with the stakeholders for knowledge building and dissemination

The volunteers, depending upon the nature of their assignments they do joint work with various stakeholders for knowledge building and knowledge dissemination. The joint work helps them to create a wider network to share their reflections time to time. It gives them an opportunity to get integrated with the working dimensions of various stakeholders in relation to poverty reduction. Intensity of the joint work makes the outcome more effective and sustainable one. It also paves way for refinement in the working dimensions of various stakeholders in order to strengthen their attention towards grassroots at higher order.

Impacting on ASK (Attitude, Skill and Knowledge) towards a life with the grassroots

ASK (Attitude, Skill and Knowledge) is the base for any type of work dimension wherein attitude plays a major role in matching the individuals with the expectations of the development sector. The social concern is one of the expressions of attitude as far as a voluntary action with the grassroots is concerned. Institution has the belief that once the attitude of the individuals gets sensitized, skill and knowledge updation takes place naturally. The experience of the institution says that the stay with the community makes a greater impact in the attitude of the youth volunteers which often encourage them to get committed to the society on long run.

Career support by integrating individual’s and institution’s demand

The youth, who are attached with academic institutions by self choice they take up voluntary action with the institution depending upon their academic demand. The demand of the individuals taken into consideration and appropriate assignments are designed by connecting them with an existing programme of the institution. The target of the assignment is designed in such a way to fulfill the requirements mutually. The association with the institution is a natural process which continues even after the activity as a follow up process.

DHAN’s way of localizing MDGs

Though the MDGs are broader and aimed at influencing national governments and donor countries, localizing these goals to suit to the varying socio, economic and cultural climates is critical to integrate them into action at the grassroots levels. The most effective strategy for making sustainable progress is to perceive and act upon all the goals in an integrated way.  However, each goal will need well-designed and replicable development themes with the scope for vertical and horizontal expansion for success at the field level. Pursuing each goal independently without acknowledging its inter-linkages with others will make them unsustainable interventions.

For DHAN Foundation, the overarching goal of poverty reduction implies ultimately the elimination of hunger, poverty, and maternal and child malnutrition. For instance the Kalanjiam Reproductive and Child Health programme works for averting maternal and fetal malnutrition, which will otherwise lead to low birth weight that damages health and reduces cognitive ability. Similarly, given the fact that majority of poor people living in villages are dependent on farming, agricultural and rural development should get priority among the broad array of economic and social indicators that the MDGs emphasize. DHAN’s interpretation of the MDGs therefore accommodates contextual variations while promoting development. The ‘graduation approach’ in poverty reduction, demonstrated by the Kalanjiam Community Banking Programme can work well to address such disparities. The People Planning process and goal setting exercise by the Peoples’ Organizations can integrate these MDGs downscaled to their local situation. The MDGs can be used to set a powerful agenda for the Peoples’ Organizations at various levels to achieve faster, sustainable human and economic development.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: Poverty and hunger are two complex and fundamental challenges. Enabling poor to access sustainable livelihood opportunities help prevent hunger and poverty. Keeping Poverty Reduction as an overarching goal, DHAN believes firmly on the enabling approach, where the poor families are facilitated to organize their social capital in the form of self-governed nested institutions around microfinance, water, rainfed farming and ICT. They in turn conserve and develop the natural capital such as land and water bodies traditionally enjoyed and protected by them; gain access and control over financial capital through contextualized microfinance services and products; enhance human capital by building leadership and enterprising skills; create and strengthen physical capital in the form of income generating assets.

Goal 2: Ensuring primary education: Poverty prevents children from using opportunities to live healthy and get good quality education. DHAN believes that education can play a key role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion. It is crucial to invest in quality childcare and education. Recognizing the vital role of primary education, particularly for the girl children, the Kalanjiam federations promoted by DHAN take up education as a key civic development agenda. The special school and tuition centers being run by the federations show the ability of women in managing quality education services to their children.

  • Activity based learning is promoted by the remedial schools run by the Kalanjiam federations in Tirupati, Adilabad, Madurai,  heni and Dindigul districts
  • Twenty percent of loans availed by the Kalanjiam women for their children’s education.
  • The SHG federations have facilitated 28,766 families to avail 31 million as education scholarships for their children from the Life Insurance Corporation of India

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women: DHAN recognises gender inequality as a major development issue and is committed to addressing this issue in all its development interventions. DHAN imbibes ’empowerment’ within its mission, core values and development philosophy, which gets expressed in its approach of enabling individuals to expanded their choices and capabilities. Gender equality is a cross-cutting goal in all the development interventions of DHAN. The focus is on facilitating women to gain control over social and economic conditions and over democratic participation in their communities.  It believes that social change will evolve over a period of time and leading to economic empowerment. DHAN, hence, has adopted the gender-sensitive economic centric approach.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality & Goal 5: Improve maternal health: Women and children are more vulnerable due to poor nutrition, lack of sanitation, poor hygiene awareness, and lack of access to quality healthcare. The Kalanjiam Federations promoted by DHAN design and implement comprehensive reproductive and child health programme to bring positive changes in the health seeking behaviour of the members’ families to prevent or reduce anemia and malnutrition among mothers and adolescent girls. The Kalanjiam women are enabled to devise ‘Self Health Governance’ and encouraged to work with Government healthcare system to ensure quality healthcare for all the poor.

Goal 7: Environmental sustainability: Access by the poor to natural resources, including land, forests, water, fisheries and wildlife, is essential for sustainable poverty reduction. DHAN believes that building collective conscience and action among the communities is the key to conserve and manage natural and man-made resources. With this philosophy, DHAN is working on the centuries-old water harvesting system called ‘tanks’ by organizing the farmers to conserve and develop such time tested indigenous innovations. Similarly, the Coastal Conservation and Livelihoods Development Programme promote conservation focused traditional livelihoods around marine resources in addition to community-led disaster preparedness strategies.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development: Given the enormous global challenges, the Millennium Development Goals call for partnership with shared commitment involving all the actors include governments, donors, NGOs, civil societies and corporate to share knowledge, resources, expertise, explore joint ventures and develop solutions. The peoples’ organizations built by DHAN around microfinance, local governance, water and agriculture are becoming the centres of convergence for all the development interventions designed and implemented by these partners. DHAN facilitates convergence, where the community can define the problems, propose solutions, and make the changes happen, using methods with which they are familiar.

Three core spheres of youth in impacting MDGs

DHAN encourages and also operates with volunteers at three sphere namely at community level, institutional level and sectoral level. The volunteer belongs to each category has different work dimensions and varied design of contributions. However the institution takes utmost care in making entire spheres of volunteer as community centered and connected to the grassroots strongly. It is obvious that often the individuals belong to all .level works together in achieving the common goals. The entire volunteers are encouraged and also educated to integrate and work together to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with community participation to a greater extent across all their work dimensions.

Youth volunteers at community level

a) Youth volunteers as movement workers

The movement worker at community level expresses higher order of volunteerism by spending their day to day life with poor communities. They do joint work with the poor communities and works as a front line ambassadors in taking the technology to the last mile of the field. Their intensive association with the community builds synergy of the people institutions and helps the community to create identity for their institutions. There are around 2500 movement workers at field level who associates with around one million poor families as part of poverty reduction.

b) Youth leaders at community level

Youth leaders emerged from the community across various thematic interventions of the institution act as spark plug at in advancing the development technologies time to time. They are seen as role models for the entire community to facilitate a change process in the society. They play major role behind taking up a theme to next orbit of advancement till it get graduated as movement. More than 25000 youth leaders at community level acts as change agents in shaping the society.

5.2 Youth volunteers as full-fledged members of the institution

The professionals who found be the deviant and has high social concern are identified by the institution and given with an exposure to the development sector through certain voluntary activities as part of exploration. Such opportunity facilitates the individuals to derive inspiration from the community and develop their interest towards giving back to the society. They absorb the career with the grassroots as way of life and gets involved in transformation of development technologies to the community in association with various stakeholders of development process.

Youth volunteers from academy and other sources to the institution

The volunteers and interns who visit the institution from various parts of the world play a major role in knowledge building and dissemination of best practices. They get connected with the institutional team and arranged to undertake assignments with the grassroots. Besides their core assignments they get involved in various activities to make their duration of stay more meaningful.

Learning from DHAN’s experiences in integrating youth and MDGs

  • DHAN perceives youth not just as objects / service receivers. They are change agents. They are identified and encouraged to work with the grassroots with a philosophy of giving back to the society. Their vibrancy and social concern creates significant impact in the lives of the poor communities.
  • Building “informed Citizenship” among youth community encourages youth to get committed to the society for a sustainable development. They get emerged as seeds and have the potential to propagate to a greater extent and attract many more youth to the development sector. Youth are creating multiplier effect on development impact in an organized, nurturing environment. Youth working in development sector gets inspiration and spreads inspiration among their peer group.
  • Providing institutional space and structured mentoring processes enhances the  volunteership of youth towards development work. The institution provides them the space and flexibility in order to express their creativity.
  • The concept of “Build people to build people” is being seeded within the youth so as to involve them in enabling the poor communities to come out of poverty. At present the institution is working with around one million poor families across various contexts; of which, around 10 percent has come out of poverty.
  • More than Volunteering, making youth force to take-up development work as way of life needs more care and attention. The real success of volunteering ends with making the youth committed to the social cause for long time.

Theme on Youth and Development in DHAN Foundation

The theme on ‘Youth and development’ was launched in DHAN Foundation on October 02, 2010. The theme focuses on bringing youth in the development arena and shaping them as more vibrant and productive force of the society. Poverty reduction will spell better way when the right choice of career life and livelihood is made available to each youth in the early stages. It has direct relevance to DHAN’s mission of poverty reduction. Imparting life skills and functional education to youth in the early life stages will help them to be self-reliant and also it will provide space to focus their energy for common cause. Since youth is seen as the vibrant section of the society, the theme aims at building them with necessary health, education and employment opportunities to bring changes in their life.

Working for / with youth is need of the hour to regulate the energy and motivation of young souls in right direction for self & societal development. India is largest country in the world with highest number of youth population. As per 2001 census, 41 percent of total population belongs to youth category (13 to 35 years). And out of total youth 2/3rd are living in rural areas. For ensuring sustainable development and nation building the contribution of youth are inevitable. But the today’s youths are facing multiple challenges.

  • No or lack of guidance on career / life planning. This dilutes the energy of youth and builds dilemma on their future. Also it mis-directs the youth force in to negative and useless purposes.
  • Right kind of counseling in the adolescent ages on health and hygiene aspects are essential to build health seeking behavior among youth.
  • There exists a great gap among the opportunities available for urban youth and rural youth. Rural and tribal youth are more vulnerable in economic society, exclusion in mainstream systems is observed to rural youth community.
  • Addressing youth issues in right attitude will serve great impact to human kind.

The age group of the youth is getting defined in various terms by various institutions at global level. Similarly, different age groups of the youth have different set of requirements in relation to their life stage and lifestyle. The expectations from the youth are always at higher order for education and employment. The youth group declaration by various forums and the requirements of different age group are as follows,

Age group as youth

Declared by

15-24 years

United Nations General Assembly

15-24 years

World Bank

15-29 yearsC

ommonwealth Youth Programme

15-34 years

World Health Organisation

16-30 years

National Youth Policy (2012) of India.

The new theme on youth and Development aims at building the youth group with skill and value education in order to make them as a vibrant social capital in the society.

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