Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) - AKRSP(I) was established in Gujarat in 1983. While the organisation initially focused on working with rural communities around natural resource management, eventually they realised rural livelihoods should include more avenues than just natural resources. This is when AKRSP(I) took up agriculture and agri-aligned work to boost the livelihood of rural communities. Today, they are a strong team of 510 team members accompanied by paid volunteers reaching out to 34 districts in four Indian states. AKRSP (I) today includes efforts focusing on skill-based entrepreneurship for rural youth. Rang De has partnered with AKRSP(I) for the AKRSP(I) Rural Entrepreneurship Fund where you can invest in rural entrepreneurs from Gujarat - especially women and tribal entrepreneurs. In a Q&A session with Naveen Patidar, CEO of AKRSP (I) - we talked about the Rang De - AKRSP(I) partnership, the kind of work they are doing and the communities we seek to serve together. Here are some excerpts from that conversation -
Q. What efforts were taken by AKRSP (I) to generate livelihood and promote entrepreneurship in rural communities? There are broadly two areas we focus on to generate livelihoods -
Farm-based livelihoods :
These include agriculture, horticulture, livestock farming, poultry, dairy, rearing etc Non-farm-based livelihoods : a) Vocational training and Placement - For people to be skilled enough to be placed in standard industries as long-term employees. b) Micro-enterprises - This is where our partnership with Rang De comes into the picture, we are enabling youth to take up entrepreneurship and skill-based training to generate livelihood opportunities.
In all these livelihood generation efforts, we focus mainly on women as they are largely left out. We ensure that participation of women in the community is strongly encouraged. Our role is to enable communities with appropriate hand-holding, training, linkages and knowledge transfer. So that the communities own their contribution and are fully dedicated to their activities. In the longer run, this helps the community realise the end goal of becoming sustainable.
Q. What are the broad categories of communities that AKRSP (I) serves and how is the intervention tailored accordingly? AKRSP (I) broadly serves three main categories - 1. Youth 2. Women 3. Tribal Groups Because of multiple reasons, farming was no longer viable for sustenance for many in the community. What resulted was a scenario where agriculture solely could not provide enough employment for the workforce. That is where the youth and women started looking for alternative livelihoods. Women groups rarely participated in formal programs due to the complexity of these programs. We made our program crafted specifically according to their understanding and needs. Rural entrepreneurs require hand-holding more than information exchange, so we focus more on entrepreneurial visits, hands-on training and linking them with ecosystem services. Lastly, with tribal groups, we had to encourage them to participate in the entrepreneurship program because traditionally they were remote and obscure to mainstream opportunities. They were hesitant at first but gradually with our efforts we were able to handhold them into exploring alternative livelihood options. We have a bunch of tribal women now running a bakery among other interesting ventures. So we have been able to do some impactful work that way. Q. How does AKRSP (I) mitigate the risk while working with rural communities? The fear of failure can be addressed by working with a long-term perspective and understanding the community's pace of learning and engagement. We maintain a presence in the geography for 15-20 years to ensure proper community understanding and to minimize risk. If one enterprise fails, we provide alternative options and link them with government schemes or support them in agriculture or livestock.
Our experience shows that almost 85% of the livelihoods we support continue even after three years, making it one of the best survival rates in terms of micro-enterprises.
Q. Can you briefly describe the Rang De - AKRSP (I) partnership? AKRSP provides initial seed support to entrepreneurs in the form of grants, but we have found it won’t be enough in the longer run. More so, very limited entrepreneurs have access to bank credit due to a lack of collateral. Entrepreneurs would require soft loans ranging from ₹30-50k to grow beyond their current level. Rang De is partnering with AKRSP to provide these soft loans to entrepreneurs who have a track record of two to three years. This will help create an enterprising discipline among the entrepreneurs and make them less dependent on AKRSP for growth. Initially, the focus is on existing entrepreneurs, but in the future, we may also provide support to new entrepreneurs who require initial capital.
Rang De's involvement will fill the gap in the current model where AKRSP(I) has to turn away people due to the limited grant subsidy available.
Naveen shared more insights regarding the fund and its use case. Do check out the complete Q&A session here. If you want to invest in rural entrepreneurs in Gujarat backed by AKSRP (I) and boost rural entrepreneurship in India head to https://rangde.in/akrspi