Unearthing community wisdom: Patience, perseverance, and partnerships

Sharing an excerpt from the book Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Chapter 7 was authored by Thousand Currents’ Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, Rajiv Khanna.

In this new volume of 30 essays, 22 authors (including Thousand Currents’ executive director Rajasvini Bhansali and board member Sasha Rabsey) explore how responsive grantmaking, focused on grassroots wisdom and close connections, can make a lasting impact in the Global South.

To learn more (including how to purchase), see: www.smartrisks.org

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From Chapter 7: Unearthing community wisdom: Patience, perseverance, and partnerships

By Rajiv Khanna

It had been almost 15 years. The people of Chhaperiya village in the Indian state of Rajasthan were still working out how to manage a village-owned common pastureland. It seemed the process of building community unity had much in common with the region’s terrain – undulating, rocky, harsh, and cumbersome.

There was a lot at stake for the 104 households in this semi-arid ecosystem. Agriculture and livestock rearing are the mainstays of the region. But, due to small, fragmented landholdings and drought, farming is highly vulnerable. The common arable pastureland in Chhaperiya was about 20% of the entire village’s land and had the potential of supplying fuel and fodder for the whole community.

And yet, it would take the villagers of Chhaperiya 15 years to work together.

The community members first approached our partner organization, Sahyog Sansthan, in the early 1990s to request a modest food-for-work program, in which able-bodied community members exchange labor in public works projects for food. Sahyog Sansthan is a local nonprofit in Rajasthan, India that has been working with communities on natural resources management, sustainable agriculture, and savings and loans programs for over three decades, in particular with indigenous people and women.

In 2001, Chhaperiya’s residents decided to approach Sahyog once again – this time for a drought mitigation and soil conservation program. This led them to common pastureland development, and in 2003, the community fenced the perimeter of the pastureland to prevent encroachment and illicit felling. The villagers also decided to share the maintenance costs and the fodder, but faced challenge after challenge – a legal case with one errant community member trying to line his own pockets, then figuring out how to keep watch on the land.

Again and again, Sahyog resisted the urge to respond to the community’s requests with their “solutions.” Rather they facilitated community dialogue, planning, and decision-making processes, and provided technical inputs on land regeneration and biodiversity conservation as requested.

Eventually, the scenario completely changed. By 2013, Chhaperiya was jointly managing 62 hectares (about 153 acres) of land, had regenerated 260 native species of trees to maintain biodiversity, was dividing earnings equally amongst all households, and successfully meeting their fuel and fodder needs.

Today, the village of Chhaperiya knows they have done it on their own, with Sahyog as a trusted friend and advisor.