Thursday, June 4, 2020

Beyond lighting: Rural electrification programs for enterprise development

Providing better electricity access to India’s vast population has long been a priority for the government and policy makers. Several government schemes such as Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutkaran Yojna (RGGVY), Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojna (DDUGJY) and Pradhan Mantri Har Ghar Sahaj Bijli (Saubhagya) Yojana have been implemented to support rural electricity infrastructure. According to a World Bank Report, India has led the developing world in addressing rural energy problems over the last decade .
By early 2019, 99 percent of India’s rural villages had been electrified, which showcases an outreach to more than 920 million people . However, the rapid pace of rural electrification has not yet led to 24 hours reliable electricity supply through the national grid .  Erratic and unreliable electricity supply in remote areas (on an average six hours per day) hampers the opportunity for people to adopt electricity in their day-to-day lives and engage in economic activities.

In recent years, private and grant supported rural electrification programs have provided access to electricity through renewable sources to complement the efforts of the government. This is done to ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 (as stated in Sustainable Development Goal #7). However, the emphasis of these programs has largely been on providing electricity needs of households in rural areas. This has met a crucial need among households for lighting and other appliances. 

Beyond basic household needs, however, electricity serves as an important driver for rural enterprise and business development, specifically the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

Access to reliable electricity is crucial for rural enterprises

The MSME sector contributes to regional development, employment generation, poverty reduction and overall economic growth. In India, this sector employs 110 million people and accounts for 28.77 percent of GDP.  The Government of India has implemented several programs such as the Scheme for Micro & Small Enterprise Cluster Development Programme (MSE-CDP), Financial support to MSMEs for certification, and A Scheme for Promotion of Innovation, Rural Industry & Entrepreneurship (ASPIRE). These programs are mainly aimed at providing financial and technical assistance and enhancing competitiveness of the MSME sector. Given the importance of MSME sector for the Indian economy, access to reliable electricity is as important as the provision of technical and financial support. 

Smart Power, a rural electrification initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to accelerate welfare in India by ensuring access to reliable electricity to rural customers. Renewable energy based mini-grids, set up under the Smart Power initiative provide electricity to households and micro-and-small enterprises in select villages of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. These mini-grids provide good quality and reliable electricity for six hours in a day to 24 hours based on customers’ need and demand, overcoming the uncertainty associated with national grid electricity. 

The assured supply has been able to garner confidence among many enterprise owners to get involved in productive economic activities. Approximately 90 percent have shifted to the mini-grid as their primary source of electricity .  More than half of the customers (especially enterprises) use the mini-grid as their only source of electricity. Moreover, larger rural enterprises such as grain mills, computer & printer centres, public institutions and others have started running their heavy power load appliance on electricity through the mini-grid instead of diesel generators.

Enterprise customers have not just started using a single source as compared to earlier where they hedged their electricity requirements across multiple sources, but our data also indicates that they prefer the mini-grid to all other sources.

In addition, decentralized power generation through mini-grid ensures higher customer responsiveness than other sources of electricity. More than 70 percent of the customers have reported high level of satisfaction for the schedule and hours of electricity supply, grievance redressal mechanisms, and quality of service provided by the mini-grid operators. 

Role of rural electrification for enterprise development

Crucially, access to quality and reliable electricity through the mini grid has aided in expansion of business operations of many entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Ram Prasad (name changed), a resident of Gumla district of Jharkhand, India, owned a tiny printing shop. Frequent voltage fluctuations and disruptions in national grid supply often made him turn customers away for a later time. And ‘later’ could mean a few hours, a few days or in fact, a few weeks. Not only did his earnings take a blow, but customers were also affected, especially during emergency situations. 

The last few years has seen him scaling from a small shop owner to a rural enterprise stalwart. Because of mini-grid electricity, he has expanded his microenterprise into large multi-utility customer service centre, offering printing, lamination, and other services.

“I have become a rural entrepreneur from a small shop owner. Earlier, I provided printing services to the customers. Now, I have also bought lamination machine and registered myself  as a Government of India authorised Unique Identification (AADHAR) enrolment point, adding other necessary devices such as biometric machine and internet modem”

Emerging issues and challenges in rural electrification sector

While cases like Ram Prasad’s business offer glimpses of success, there is much work yet to be done. 

First, high cost of the electricity is a point of concern for many mini-grid customers and especially for the enterprise owners. High per-unit cost of mini-grid electricity increases their operating costs. Although, the cost of operating on mini-grid electricity is cheaper than that of a diesel generator, it is less economical than operating on a government grid electricity. 

Second, there are only a few rural electrification programs aiming for convergence between reliable electricity supply and provision of technical, financial and market support for the rural enterprises. The Smart Power initiative promotes setting-up of new enterprises through its Micro-enterprise Development (MED) activities. The sustained growth of new enterprises is maintained by providing technical assistance and skill development to the entrepreneurs, and developing backward and forward market linkages, in addition to the supply of good quality and reliable electricity. 

Simply put, there needs to be a fresh momentum at the policy level that regularises the high cost of electricity through renewable or decentralised systems. Further, future electrification policies and programs can focus on cross-sectoral, inter-departmental & public-private partnerships to support enterprise development, beyond provision of electricity. These partnerships will ensure holistic support to the rural entrepreneurs, capitalise on the efficiency of the private sector (such as the energy service companies (ESCOs)) and target the scale and outreach of the public sector. Thereby, ensuring financial viability of the rural electrification programs in the long run as well as enhancing larger developmental outcomes from better access to reliable electricity. 

It is crucial to note that access to electricity cannot alone solve the fundamental problem of poverty, but it can certainly provide an important impetus for triggering development in rural areas. Because reliability of electricity supply is a significant parameter for development, it is critical to ensure an assured supply at an affordable cost.

Ramanshu Ganguly - Assistant Vice President-Research, Sambodhi
Ridhi Jain, Economist

[1] Power for All: Electricity Access Challenge in India
[2] Electrification report, GoI and Bloomberg estimates (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-01-24/living-in-the-dark-240-million-indians-have-no-electricity
[3] Mini-grids: Electricity for all, Centre for Science and Environment Report
[4] Annual Report 2017-18, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Data for 2015-16.
[5] Evidence gathered from Monitoring and Evaluation rounds conducted by Sambodhi for Smart Power program

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

COVID-19 will make Data Science a critical necessity for the development sector


The outbreak of COVID-19 has put the global community of evaluators at an interesting, almost paradoxical, juncture. While the need for data and insights is most critical at this point to respond to the public health crisis, collecting this data is going to be now, and henceforth, more challenging than ever.

The article ‘Rewiring How We Measure Impact in the Post-Covid-19 World’ co-authored by Veronica Olazabal, Michael Bamberger, and Peter York puts several of our concerns as evaluators into perspective. In addition to the challenges that COVID-19 will potentially create for evaluators, the article stresses how Data Science will be instrumental in how the development and impact sector responds to the need for evidence.

With social distancing norms dictating human interactions until the pandemic is effectively controlled, in-person data collection is going to be hindered as the article correctly establishes. Yet, the need for real-time analytics from data is going to be even more critical not just in the public health domain but across parameters in order to rebuild the damage COVID-19 is inflicting on the socio-economic fabric of countries universally. Granular, localized, and verified data will be required by decision-makers – public, private, or philanthropic – in order to carry forward fast and effective impact at scale.

Data Science for development and social impact has been steadily gaining buy-in from governments, philanthropies, and relevant organizations across the board for a while now. Data Science technologies offer several advantages. Diverse datasets and sources can be integrated, and sampling biases can also be removed as big data covers large populations. Data Science also allows us to study patterns in behavior over long periods of time as well as predict future trends, an aspect that private sector organizations have been successfully leveraging.

The current COVID-19 situation will push the sector to treat Data Science not solely as an optimization tool, but as a critical necessity for social justice and impact to be delivered. This holds particularly true in Global South contexts where damage caused by the pandemic can be exponentially catastrophic.

India will also have to channelize Data Science technologies in order to contain the outbreak and to recover from the damage COVID-19 is inflicting. Fortunately, discourse is already underway in both public and private domains on how big data and AI can be utilized. However, translating this on the ground will be challenging for India owing to multiple factors. Not only is the architecture to harness data on the ground weak, the culture for data usage and appreciation is still nascent.

With the contextual and behavioral complexities and diversity of the Indian population, relying on big data sources such as social media, IoT, mobile phone and geospatial data alone will be thoroughly insufficient. A large proportion of this big data is harnessed from the supply-side, i.e., from the point of sale. It may not reflect the actual behavior of users who are on the demand-side. Unless big data can be validated and backed up with socio-economic and demographic variables, it will be of limited use to policymakers and implementors. Further, despite digital penetration in India being relatively high and digital payments and media usage increasing in rural areas, the modes of tapping big data is still relatively small for majority of the population. For remote, marginalized populations, stray digital activity and behavior is incapable of reflecting any valid or true patterns of human, demand-side behavior.

What India needs in current circumstances is a means to validate analytical insights derived from Data Science technologies, and to optimize the already existing data that exists at the grassroots that is yet to be tapped for its complete potential.

Since in-person data collection will be hindered, remote methods such as telephonic and video calling technologies must be explored. Mobile and high-speed internet penetration in India will enable this to a large extent in India. Layering this with big data insights can overcome validity concerns and offer holistic, 360-degree insights on human behavior patterns which could also be used for forecasting activities.

We will also have to inspect our public systems for the data reserves that already exist. Several grassroots and local entities house rich primary, demand-side data that can be transformative. For example, frontline community health workers are well-trained in collecting medical and health data, several of who use technology-enabled devices to track records. Tapping into this to maximize the insights derived can prove immensely valuable.

Navigating contextual constraints with technology and by leveraging existing infrastructures is the answer to how evaluators in India will respond to the need for data in the post-COVID-19 era. Data Science will become indispensable to how the development sector advances, and innovation will help overcome some of the challenges it poses in the Indian context.

Swapnil Shekhar - Director and Co-founder, Sambodhi

Kaamila Patherya Program Manager, Sambodhi





Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Improving lives and economy: social and economic benefits of electricity from mini-grids on rural communities in India


A response to The Economist’s view on the impacts of rural electrification
By
Ramanshu Ganguly and Swapnil Shekhar

The global dialogue on electricity access identifies it as a critical driver for improving lives, especially for the poor in the developing nations.[1]

As this World Economic Forum article points out, electricity is an essential ingredient for ensuring a better life; critical in enabling access to cleaner and purified water; enhancing access to better medical care; ensuring study hours for children; improving connectivity through charging mobile phones, among others.[2]

An article published by The Economist on 7th February, however, differs from this standpoint. The article, drawing reference from a couple of research studies based in Africa, highlights the inability of rural electrification to create developmental outcomes such as poverty alleviation.

Indeed, electrification, on its own, cannot alleviate poverty. This holds for a range of public services such as clean water, better roads, internet connectivity, financial inclusion services, waste management and so on that governments often provide. The outcomes of such public goods are inherently difficult to measure precisely. Both because of the long time-span required for their effects to become visible and the diffused nature of their benefits. This is primarily why they are called public goods and why we expect governments to provide them. Because governments can afford the risk of investing in a good which might not deliver outcomes for an extended period and for which it is difficult to pinpoint who benefitted and how much exactly.

Further, public policy decisions are not based on a singular metric of poverty alleviation.

Equity or the idea that all citizens must have equal access to services and equal opportunities to utilize them for development is also an important goal. So is an improved quality of life. These goals might be achieved without concurrent improvements in income but viewing interventions in developing country contexts purely from the perspective of immediate poverty alleviation outcomes is a limited view on public policy.

What electricity access can do in the short term is to trigger a change towards a low poverty situation, improve the quality of lives and reduce distributional inequities. And, we have seen electricity access triggering such changes in rural communities in India.

Since 2015, Sambodhi has independently assessed social, economic and environmental benefits of electricity from decentralized renewable mini-grids, under various initiatives, especially the Smart Power Initiative.[3] These initiatives are owned and operated by nine energy service companies (ESCOs) across 120 plus villages in three most power-starved states in India. 

Concurrent measurement of the Smart Power Initiative’s impact over the last eight years showcases how electricity access has been able to positively impact the lives of the rural poor at the levels of households, businesses, and overall village level economy. The six-monthly concurrent impact measurement studies that are carried out across 2000 households and 600 local businesses have provided robust evidence on how electricity access has transformed the quality of rural lives.

Electrical appliances are one of the critical enablers of improved life quality. Fans, in a tropical country such as India, and televisions are indicators of an enhanced standard of living. The impact measurement rounds highlight that nearly 14 percent of households have been reported to have purchased fans, a necessary device to keep the scorching summer heat at bay. There has also been a 12 percent point increase in the number of households buying televisions. Televisions act as both entertainment and knowledge source for rural communities. With access issues of print media, televisions ensure that global information is brought to the rural doorsteps.

Kerosene consumption, across electricity users, have also reduced by 58 percentage points. A direct impact of this reduction is reflected with nearly 70 percent of mini-grid electrified households, citing marked reduction in ailments and injuries due to the use of kerosene lamps.

We need to acknowledge the role of electricity in making our day-to-day life convenient. In the context of the Smart Power initiative, women report that reliable electricity has made domestic chores easier to perform.  Women report having carved out an additional half to an hour of spare time which they prefer to spend on personal engagements such as stitching, knitting or even watching television.


Local business units powered by reliable electricity supply also play a role in making lives easier for rural women. Key among them being grain processing units and water purification units. Traditionally in India, grain processing and collection of water are arduous engagements for women. With mechanized grain processing units making their entry into the hinterland of the country, there has been a significant reduction in the drudgery undergone by women in getting paddy hulled hitherto. Similarly, water purification units ensure local availability of clean water, reducing the efforts, otherwise made by women to collect and purify. The enhanced access to mechanized services helps us appreciate the ability of electricity to improve rural quality of lives.

While electricity access has longer poverty impact trajectories, our data prove that it positively impacts local economic development in shorter runs-acting as an enabler to growth.

Evidence from SPRD points out expansion, diversification, and development of local businesses because of electricity access.

The impact measurement mandate of SPRD focuses strongly on understanding causality and estimating impact on village economy. The measurement is driven by two components a) Aggregating change in village-level economic productivity through repeated cross-sectional surveys of local businesses. b)  Using difference-in-difference (DID) to estimate the impact and appreciate its trajectory for a panel of 600 local businesses representing the village level business ecosystem.

The aggregated measure of village-level economic impact suggests an increase in overall economic output due to improved electricity. The per capita annual economic outputs have increased from USD 414 to USD 439 (USD 3 of which can be attributed to mini-grid programmes).

Our panel of local businesses helps us deconstruct the aggregated economic growth story. 
The DID estimates at the level of local businesses suggest increased daily operational hours (an additional hour and a half) for businesses with reliable electricity connection. Moreover, local businesses supplied with electricity from mini-grids experience an additional seven percent customer footfall.  Electricity access has also led to the mechanization of business operations. From 2015 to 2018, we have seen tailoring and carpentry units, the most commonly seen enterprises in rural India, switching to electricity run machines over manual ones. Thus, enhancing the efficiency of the businesses by a large margin. Many tailors, connected to the SPRD mini-grids, have highlighted a monthly increase in revenues of 35 percent or USD 30 (from USD 85 to USD 115). Carpenters have emphasized that their efficiency has tripled after the introduction of electricity run machines.

Local businesses have enjoyed an increase of around 42 percent in their monthly revenue from USD 137 to USD 195, over three years. About 64 percent of these businesses have been able to derive financial benefits just through improved and regular lighting. It is, however, seen that local businesses, which use electricity to run machines or for productive use, have experienced greater economic gains (52% increase from USD 145 to USD 220 per month) as compared to businesses that use light as the only point of electricity usage (36% increase from USD 132 to USD 180 per month).

We do acknowledge the article’s stand on lack of evidence on electricity access leading to significant economic transformations in the rural context. This is largely explained by the short-term nature of programmes for creating access, the small quantum of electricity provided in most programmes, and the fact that in many regions the target population uses multiple sources of electricity. We believe that with a shift towards evaluating impacts and standardization of outcome variables, future evidence on electricity and development will be more robust. However, our experience in this domain leads us to believe that poverty alleviation will require a larger and inter-generational time-frame. In the meanwhile, electricity access paves a pathway towards that change through smaller and more frequent direct impacts, and these are extremely valuable by themselves.



Ramanshu Ganguly is an Assistant Vice President-Research at Sambodhi. 

Swapnil Shekhar co-founded Sambodhi and is one of its director


[1] https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Access_to_electricity
[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/why-access-to-electricity-is-key-for-africa/
[3] The installations range from 27kW solar mini-grids to 70kW



Monday, December 31, 2018

Innovations, learnings and growth: 2018 at Sambodhi

This was a year of trying new things and many wonderful new firsts. As 2018 draws to a close, we think it would be a good time to reflect on the progress we have made so far. Especially the journey to some major milestones for Sambodhi.

As we begin the new year, we would like to celebrate our partners, our clients, and our community of employees. Here is a quick look at what all happened in 2018!

We launched our data collection platform TheSurveyPoint

At Sambodhi, we are deeply invested in improving data quality and speed of data collection. This year saw the culmination of our efforts with the launch of our own in-house data collection platform- TheSurveyPoint. This next generation user-friendly solution can be easily used to create surveys, collect data with near/real time efficiency as well as analyze the data to render beautiful visualizations and insights.

Hardly 4 months old, and TheSurveyPoint has already been used to make 8 programs, collecting over 2,20,000 data points from 1400 stakeholders across different sectors.  We are really excited about our new platform that has been built to collect, manage and analyze large volumes of multivariate data, even without internet, from the remotest corners of the world. TheSurveyPoint has endured extensive testing and is now ready to take on data problems of all types and sizes.

Want to know more about TheSurveyPoint? Try the free demo here.


We welcomed a refreshed brand and a new online home

October was an important month for us as we pulled back the curtain on an evolved Sambodhi mission and a refreshed brand.

Our new look is inspired by our widening global presence, our evolving portfolio of services and the innovative ways in which we think and analyze. Often, when we interact with our clients, partners and other stakeholders, we hear from them how Sambodhi is catalyzing impact and driving transformations in ways big and small. These stories make us believe that Sambodhi is a part of something bigger than itself, and that’s what inspires us to innovate and improve. Our new brand reflects the optimism, clarity, and confidence that Sambodhi instills in our stakeholders, and that they, in turn, give back to us.

Did you see our new website? Check it out here


We refined our policies to make our work environment more secure

At Sambodhi, we have always been proactive about fostering a progressive culture that creates a positive work environment and motivates our people to form deeper connections with their work. As passionate as we are about this sentiment, we also believe that every great idea and every noble intention should backed up by consistent and flawless execution.

To that end, this year, we have not only strengthened our policies to ensure a safe and positive work environment, but we have also invested heavily in strengthening communication platforms and putting suitable response structures in places. We had partnered with specialized HR firm, who worked closely with our functional teams to assess and devise effective policies. Further, we had dedicated sessions that focused on helping our employees understand the nuances of the policies. The most interesting ones, however, were the exploratory sessions on gender sensitization, wherein people shared freely their experiences, expectations and more.  We believe that these efforts will make us more accountable and involved in sustaining the healthy work environment that has always been a matter of pride for this organizations.

Want to work with us? Read more about our team here

Our emerging footprint and encouraging growth

2018 was a milestone year for us at Sambodhi. There were great successes, some failures too, but most importantly there was growth. This year, we have grown as professionals, as a team and an organization in many ways. We have worked in newer geographies, we have solved problems in newer thematic areas and we have partnered with federal bodies on some exciting long-term assignments, on our mission of empowering organizations and individuals through evidence.

One of the earliest mandates of Sambodhi is our quest to disseminate knowledge. We always try to ensure that we share our learnings and lessons with others. While this continues to happen over daily conversations and weekly sessions, this year saw our growing participation in international conventions and summits to engage with our clients and partners, share about our progress, show off our achievements, take feedback, find ways to collaborate, and contribute towards mutual goals. We were also thrilled to have some of our work published in international peer reviewed journals like JSTOR and The Lancet, which helped us to foster a global dialogue on driving efficiencies with data.

You can learn more about our work here and see our publications here.


Our promise for the future

In 2019, while Sambodhi will reflect on its past and continue to reinforce its current expertise and practice in monitoring and evaluation, we will also take on a more critical role to meaningfully utilize and influence how newer technologies and data sciences impact lives. We will keep on progressively investing in contemporary measurement discourse in the Global South and we are hopeful that the innovations you see from us in 2019 will help bridge data science with development and measurement decisions.

We’re excited about what’s coming in 2019. And we’re grateful for your support along the way.

Want to know more about us? To get regular updates, click here











Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Data Driven Solutions for Complex Development Challenges


The world that we live in today is far from ideal; but does not stop motivated individuals from working towards mitigating societal, economic and environmental challenges. Across the world, various stakeholders such as government organizations, humanitarian organizations, corporates and investors are working towards designing and implementing interventions in the social sector to bring about positive impact. However, riddled with strategic and operational challenges, these stakeholders often require the assistance of adept development consultancies. A trusted ally for the development sector is Sambodhi Research a global development consulting organization.
Founded in 2005, the firm holds expertise in monitoring, evaluation & learning (MLE), data analytics, capacity building, technical assistance, “Through our services, we produce high quality, statistically significant and robust evidence to enable informed decision making in the policy and implementation realm for interventions,” explains Sudhanshu Malhotra, Vice President Business Development, Sambodhi Research. Headquartered in Noida, the firm’s services have so far aided interventions in sectors such as energy access, environment and climate change, agriculture, livelihood, public health & nutrition, wash, skill development, education, financial inclusion and governance.
Countering Operational ChallengesThe social development sector often treats measurement and learning as after thoughts. This causes various operational challenges such as inadequate budgeting for measurement and monitoring, unrealistic expectations from the programme outcome/impact and unrealistic expectations from research activities. Sambodhi counters  these challenges by engaging early on with stakeholders at the programme design stage and thus creating visibility and awareness on potential MLE and research. Working in the niche area, Sambodhi’s MLE support services include impact evaluations, process evaluations, concurrent monitoring, process monitoring and embedded long term MLE .
Using statistically sound experimental and quasi experimental methods, innovative techniques in data analytics and collecting data itself to ensure quality, the company also carries out large scale multi surveys in both urban and rural settings. To cater to need of handling composite data that is rapidly transitioning from numerical to complex-textual and audio-visual. Sambodhi is also heavily invested in mastering and applying evaluative methods based on qualitative inquiry The company also holds expertise in research and data analysis which includes data analytics support by applying big data as well as lean data principles to the development context. With its data services extending from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive analytics, Sambodhi has built strong proficiency in rendering research support for cross sectional studies and assessments. Formative research and other activities falling under the gamut of social research. “We see ourselves as research service provider bridging the gap between traditional and main stream consulting, and this positions us very uniquely in the development consulting space,” adds Sudhanshu.
Building Capacities in Social SectorThe social development sector is constantly evolving. Equipped with the right expertise, Sambodhi also works towards supporting and updating the capacities of its developmental partners through its capacity building and training services. The company’s trainings focus on areas such as research design, data analytics. MLE techniques, results based frameworks, statistical software and proposal writing, amongst others. The firm undertakes class room and customized training in the field of MLE and has so far trained over 8000 senior mid career professionals.
Over the years, Sambodhi has succeeded in harbouring trust in the social development sector and has worked with prestigious clients such as the Government of India, various State Governments, the World Bank Group, various UN Organizations, Academia such as Duke University and LSHTM, and foundations such as the the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, amongst others. Although headquartered in India, the company has offices in Cambodia and Tanzania. “Apart from South Asia, we are actively pursuing international growth in the Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia regions,” adds Sudhanshu. Engaged in work which has an impact on the lives of the poor and the marginalized, Sambodhi certainly has its heart in the right place.

Gender and Global Health


Former President of USA George HW Bush once remarked,” Let me tell you, this gender thing is history.” At that time, this caused instantaneous outrage not just in political but non political circles as well. However, it soon died down. I believe Bush was excused (or at least wasn’t taken to the cleaners, literally) because he is a Republican. But when Larry Summers, then as President of Harvard University, and an advisor to many Democrat presidents mentioned the unmentionables regarding gender, this caused serious angst amongst people, leading to his resignation. It is a different debate altogether whether to consider a Democrat a more rational person than a Republican. But when Summers’s faux pas led to that uproar, it surely didn’t come as a surprise that Harvard chose a woman, Drew Faust to replace him. The point I wish to make here is times have changed—just being politically correct is no longer acceptable. How are things like gender juxtaposed in the true sense of the word in modern discourse is what really matters, especially when it comes to discussing global health issues.
According to the WHO, definition of gender is: “socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”. However, while gender mainstreaming is well documented in programmatic interventions on health universally, the picture on the ground reveals a different story. During my stay so far in India, I have observed that often there a blurred vision when it comes to discussing gender which is often confused with only women’s health issues. For instance, I have observed in field visits that most men perceive MNCH issues solely the prerogative of women. One such program Sambodhi recently evaluated for BBC Media Action tackled this problem head on. Called the Chaar Gaanth program, the program initiated rural men to take active role in preparing for child birth. This is a novel program and its reach is limited. I believe in order to meet the MDGs, and to actually reduce gender inequities a lot needs to change, not just people’s perception on gender.
Sambodhi helps evaluate many maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) programs for many bilateral and multilateral agencies. In most cases, however I have noticed the programs have been designed such that the health of women is complementary to, but not synonymous with, the promotion of gender equity in health. Further, I have noticed that global health policies and programs focused on prevention of and care for the health needs of men are notably few in number. To overcome entrenched ideas within global health is imperative and even more important to convince donors and governments to ensure that programs address the health needs of both women and men. Galvanizing gender into global health necessitates these thoughts and actions are more political to influence interactions among the prevailing ideas, relevant interests, and institutions which determine health policies.