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Leveraging the Power of Collaboratives to Advance Change: Why We Invested in RCRC’s Research Initiative

22nd October 2021
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In 2020, a number of prominent livelihoods focussed Civil-Society Organisations (CSOs) across the country came together to form a National Coalition to enable a Rapid Rural Community or RCRC. Realising the devasting impact of the pandemic very early on, these organizations quickly understood that there was much to do together than they could otherwise do alone.

One of the first tasks the coalition took up was to devise surveys to identify the short, medium and long-term impact of the pandemic on aspects like job loss, income loss, reduced food intake, low nutrition, poor health and education outcomes in rural India. These surveys would also assess the efficacy of community institutions and government programs in addressing distress at scale. The coalition felt that this data would be critical in helping guide future interventions. 

The aspects of rural life surveyed were concerns regarding rural poor people that were reflected in the questions- cash, liquidity and indebtedness, hunger, migrants, access to entitlements; agriculture procurement, MSP, credit, etc.

Looking back a year later, RCRC’s surveys have enabled multiple high-impact interventions and organisational pivots. It has also helped member CSOs with advocacy with the government. Below are two illustrative examples of the impact of RCRC’s surveys:

  • PM Kisan Samman Yojana is a direct cash transfer of INR 6,000 to farmers in three equal instalments during the year. As per one of the surveys, the surveyed households reported eligible for the scheme was 42.5 % in May 2020 and 41.6 % in July 2020. Cash transfer is only provided to those farmers that have uploaded their khasra land records in the official portal. Acting on this data, many CSOs within the RCRC network started organizing special camps especially in areas that had low coverage according to the survey, to help farmers upload their khasra land records in the portal.
  • The third and last survey revealed that 75% of the households surveyed, experienced cash crunch and farmers did not have enough cash to invest in kharif crop. The pandemic had worsened credit access of the poor in villages. Survey data also informed that more than 80% of these farmers wanted to borrow for kharif crop plantation. Basis this data, an NBFC worked with 12 RCRC members in 10 states to provide small loans to these farmers. The interest free loans were provided to over 3,500 farmers – the majority (88%) of which were women.
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At Omidyar Network India, we have long believed in the power of collaboratives and that greater collaboration will particularly increase the impact of the non-profit sector. The pandemic saw the creation of many interesting partnerships, including many between non-profits, between governments and non-profits, and even among for-profits. However, there is a dire need for such collaborative efforts to sustain in non-crisis times as well.

Building on the success of these pilot surveys, we believe that RCRC’s research and insights division can become a strong shared infrastructure for the non-profit sector in India. Going forward, the research program will now be anchored by Prof. Ankur Sarin from IIM Ahmedabad, a reputed expert in this space, with the support of a stellar advisory panel, that is currently being put in place.

And hence, we are excited to seed RCRC’s research initiative and to support them in the next phase of its growth as it looks to grow this collaborative to over 100+ partners with a presence in over 20+ states.

We see three reasons why RCRC’s research initiative is a unique and much-needed one for the non-profit ecosystem in India-

  1. Attempt to address the data timeliness challenge: There is an opportunity to plug the timeliness gap through more frequent ‘action surveys.’ We define ‘action surveys’ as surveys that are not necessarily the most methodologically rigorous but can still be very useful to inform policy making on certain kinds of policy issues that require immediate response/action, usually from a government stakeholder or body. RCRC’s data can be analysed in real-time and the time taken between data collection and analysis can be considerably minimized to days or weeks instead of months or years. Action surveys can inform responses to crisis situations, like migrants returning home or people cutting down on food or running short of cash.

    This kind of data if leveraged and utilised effectively can be a game-changer for the entire policy ecosystem in India. RCRC will also attempt to present this data in a scientific manner and all data will be available open-source in a central warehousing platform- open to scrutiny and for use by academics, policymakers, and non-profits. Data will also be presented creatively through several different mediums like cartoons, audio-visual products, research papers, etc.
  2. Aiding monitoring & evaluation efforts of livelihood schemes: A critical function RCRC is best placed to perform is to aid the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) infrastructure of the government by providing a timely feedback of flagship livelihood schemes. For example, many members of RCRC coalition are actively engaged with key programs like MGNREGA or NRLM on the ground and are hence in the best position to give timely and accurate feedback to the government at different levels.
  3. Capacity-building of grassroots CSOs: Several CSOs within RCRC already have either strong field research capabilities like PRADAN and FES or participatory research capabilities like Unnati. Through this network, smaller organizations within RCRC will be able to learn from the larger organizations in the network. Small and medium sized grassroots CSOs do not usually invest in building capabilities in research and policy advocacy. The capacity building support offered to these organizations will further strengthen these capabilities, making them more effective and resilient.

Just a year after its inception, RCRC is now one of the largest bottoms-up coalitions in the country with a reach of 16 million people in 110 districts in the country

RCRC has shown that with limited resources and a frugal approach, it has the ability to convene and execute research initiatives across several states and leverage this data effectively with governments, both at the state and central level. By evolving into a one-of-a-kind nonprofit industry body or consortium, RCRC is attempting to create a larger voice for its members and a greater impact for its beneficiaries. At Omidyar Network India, we are hopeful that this investment will help demonstrate the power of collectives and collaboration while building a unique, participative, durable, and quick-response action research infrastructure.