Axis Bank Foundation is creating long-term sustainable impact by boosting rural livelihoods
24-year-old Sakina lives in a quaint village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. At a young age, she took up the responsibility of taking care of her large family by rearing livestock. She owned four goats, but they were not enough to take care of the financial needs of the entire family. To add to the ordeal, the goats would often contract diseases, require attention, and add to the financial pressures.
Sakina recalls how the goats were once on the verge of dying and she felt helpless for not being able to meet their medical needs. Through a self-help group (SHG) supported by the Axis Bank Foundation (ABF), she was introduced to a Pashu Sakhi who is a community resource person trained in preventive care and livestock management. The Pashu Sakhi helped Sakina build a clean goat shed, provided mineral blocks, vaccinated her herd, and also taught her better rearing practices. Gradually, the goats recovered and Sakina was able to get a higher price for her livestock.
“Doctor Didi (as Pashu Sakhis are locally called) ne Kaam sab acha kar diya,” says Sakina. Today, a debt-free Sakina is earning a decent income and is able to send her children to school. She has also been able to expand her herd due to better practices and a model goat shed. Inspired by the work of the Pashu Sakhis, Sakina also trained to be a para-veterinary to identify diseases in livestock, provide primary healthcare services, and guide other livestock farmers when needed the most.
Her story exemplifies how an individual, if provided with the right support, can create not only a life of their dreams but also help in uplifting the communities they live in.
From subsistence to surplus
A similar story of community development and sustainable livelihood empowerment is playing out 60 km from Indore in a tribal settlement called Sewanpani. The rocky terrain, red soil region suffered from severe water scarcity, making it a nightmare for the villagers whose only source of subsistence was farming. Many villagers migrated to nearby towns in search of jobs and livelihood options. Sewanpani was almost a forgotten village when ABF first began working in the area.
After assessing the challenges and issues of the region, the Foundation supported the introduction of a watershed development programme with an aim to reverse land degradation, provide access to water, reduce crop failure, and improve agricultural productivity. The intervention models in the village were designed based on the innate understanding of the local needs. To bring about holistic and sustainable development at the community level, the project adopted convergence models, often leveraging existing government programmes such as ICDS, MGNREGA, etc.
Since 2011, ABF has supported building capacities of the community, enabling access to institutional credit, collectivise community, and mentor village-level institutions. This allowed the community to contribute and move towards its economic and social development.
The journey to revive the region was long-drawn but after patiently working along with the community, the villagers are now reaping the benefits. The villagers no longer migrate for work and are able to produce a surplus leading to sufficient income.
“Enhancing livelihoods requires long-term commitments. We are harnessing the power of communities we work with by building their capacity and capabilities, ensuring long-lasting sustainable change. The livelihood of a household is evolving, therefore it is necessary that we work towards making the ecosystem in which they operate more resilient,” shared Dhruvi Shah, Executive Trustee and CEO, Axis Bank Foundation.
In 2013, the farmers diversified their portfolio to include poultry farming. Through various SHGs, women were able to access affordable loans to build infrastructure and purchase livestock. They were also supported by new technological methods, training, and assistance of para vets in their attempt. These initiatives culminated in the farmers being able to send their children to schools. The village has witnessed a decrease in the malnutrition rate and an increase in youth completing their graduation. As of 2020, Sewanpani is a water positive village.
Watershed development programmes are a precursor to optimising production, agriculture, horticulture, kitchen gardens, floriculture, livestock, and aquaculture. Through collectives, Axis Bank Foundation has created a linkage between credit and market, thus supporting the entire cycle of sustainable livelihood.
Enabler to sustainable livelihood
Over the years, multiple challenges have plagued the agrarian population such as depleting natural resources, shrinking landholdings, outdated cropping techniques, erratic weather patterns, and lack of access to capital. These challenges have severely impacted agricultural productivity and, in many cases, left farmers in extreme financial distress.
Set up in 2006, ABF has been working closely with grassroots NGOs and rural communities to combat these socio-economic and ecological challenges. As 65 percent of India’s population resides in rural areas, the work done by the Foundation’s Sustainable Livelihoods Programme contributes to making the bedrock of our nation economically strong and ecologically resilient. Under the programme, ABF focuses on creating stable livelihoods for rural communities and skill development for rural and peri-urban youth. To date, the Foundation has worked in 10,982 villages across 25 states. This impact has translated into positive change in nearly 9,20,338 households through its 30 active projects in 2020-21.
The Foundation’s vision is to create resilient people and communities with self-sufficient ecosystems that are managed by the very people they benefit. Every project is designed and implemented according to the varied requirements and aspirations of each community, and this is achieved by working with several entities, ranging from NGO partners, residents of the village, on-ground community workers and members of Collectives.
Encouraging future generations
As India’s youth population is one of the most vital assets of the nation’s economy, the Foundation strives to prepare them for employment through its skill development programmes. The Foundation partners with grassroot organisations to train youth and People with Disabilities (PwDs) from rural and peri-urban areas to improve their chances of employment and successfully enter the job market. Once the training is complete, the participants are encouraged to take up entrepreneurial activities or placed with employers who have been sensitised to adopt a more inclusive work culture.
So far, 300 training centres operate across the country and have trained 1,80,616 youth through several skill development programmes.
Ensuring ecological stability and economic security for rural communities is a strong element of Axis Bank’s ESG — Environment, Social and Governance — commitment as it journeys ahead in building a robust and sustainable business based on global ESG principles and protocols. The bank believes that business can influence the interconnectedness between people and environment, and is therefore committed to doing so responsibly.
To watch the extraordinary stories of lives impacted by Axis Bank Foundation