Putting together Project RISHI’s Project Methodology

Implementing a Systematic Approach to Poverty Alleviating Projects in Rural India

Kamini Iyer and Uday Gulati in Vadamanappakkam, India

As a not-for-profit organization focused on addressing issues of poverty in rural India, it is crucial for Project RISHI to approach only those initiatives that make an impact. From when it was founded at UCLA in 2006 to it’s expansion to 6+ chapters in 2012, fellow leaders and I have continuously realized how crucial it is to take what we have learned and figure out what approach in India will maximize our impact. It is this mindset that has led to the formation of a Project RISHI’s 3-Step Project Methodology.

When Kamini, a fellow RISHI member at the UC Berkeley chapter, and I started outlining the methodology, we made a list of important considerations. We realized these considerations through evaluating our work with RISHI, through relevant courses in global poverty and social entrepreneurship and through consultation with professionals. These are factors that would have to be incorporated when approaching our projects and are as follows:

1. All Projects have to be sustainable.

Project RISHI should only make interventions that can continue in a self-reliant manner within our target communities. Financially, these projects should not be dependent on charity or aid to function in the long run. With so many global poverty interventions having already been implemented, there are plenty of existing models to work off of.

2. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.

Since our organization is primarily student-run, our core cannot guarantee the same new and innovative solutions that professionals devoting their careers to this field are coming up with. Instead, let us simply replicate or bring those already existing solutions that have proven to work into our target communities in India.

3. We need strong partners on the ground.

For the most part, our university chapters have to limit their annual or biannual outreach trips to just a few weeks abroad. Thus, a project has no chance of succeeding if the solution or intervention isn’t being carried out by partnering NGO’s or invested villagers with whom Project RISHI can build strong and reliable relationships with.

4. “Poverty can’t be alleviated through direct charity. Our solutions need to give people the tools to help themselves, to empower them.”

An initiative will only succeed and make a positive impact where the target population recognizes the situation as an issue and feels the need to address it. We will take an evidence-based approach to ensure that the solutions we pick are ones the villagers actually want to do or be a part of. Similarly, instead of us picking what unfortunate conditions we think we should address, we will approach those that villagers acknowledge is a problem and for which are eager to take steps to overcome.

5. Measure impact, not progress.

Measures of impact are crucial when evaluating any interventions. Instead of displaying to our audience how much work we have done, our goal is to provide evidence of how extensively people are being helped ex. how many people have increased incomes, are disease-free, etc. And to stress villager-buy-in, the target measures will be decided together between Project RISHI and our target communities.

6. Transparency, transparency, transparency.

For our donors, our project partners and even us: providing maximum transparency in regards to financial statements, goals and minutes will be necessary. It will help all those involved evaluate where things are moving forward and where they can be improved.

To incorporate these considerations into our Methodology, the student members working on these projects use Project Assessment Forms (PAFs) as a sort of to-do list / guideline when working on these projects. A blank example of the form is available here and the detailed rationale/ explanation of each step is provided here. As we continue to expand the organization, fellow Project RISHI leaders and I are eager to find a systematic approach that helps the rural poor overcome conditions of poverty and to then scale it; we hope that our new methodology will be a significant step towards that goal.

Author: Uday Gulati

Originally published at www.projectrishi.org.