Does SolveSmallDentBig actually work?
Reap Benefit Youth Board Member Sidharth Santosh writes about he went from sceptic to believer in the power of #SolveSmallDentBig.
Reap Benefit’s ‘Solve small, dent big’ mantra is what drives its mission to build and strengthen the civic muscle of young citizens in India. Instead of racking our brains trying to find solutions to large-scale civic problems, this approach promotes solving problems that occur in our neighborhoods first. One would be surprised at the number of times these solutions work in different contexts, thus solving multiple small problems at once. A classic example of this would be the waterless urinal which was developed by Vibish Kashyap. This Solve Ninja overturned a 20 litre water can to create a urinal that did not need to be flushed after every use. What was developed as a cost-effective solution in his school, saves 70% of water used and has reached over 300 schools across Karnataka now. Solving a small problem has dented big!
I first heard of this concept when Kuldeep Dantewadia gave a TEDx talk at my high school. As a science student I was dismissive of the idea and continued to be so as an economics student at university too. I believed in solving problems at scale. We’d learnt of the climate crisis, poverty and social evils that plagued society. This ‘society’ meant the entire world and our solutions needed to address these global problems. Participating in events such as Model United Nations (MUN) further convinced me that my efforts had to be directed at solving problems I did not necessarily see around me. What went unseen were other problems in my neighborhood such as inefficient waste management, rapidly deteriorating roads, deadly air-quality — the list is endless. What was missing was a sense of ownership in communities to solve these problems. As a ‘global citizen’ I believed more in solving problems out of my reach than I did for those that were waiting to be explored all around me.
Towards the end of high school, after participating in the Reap Benefit Bootcamp and volunteering with different civic activism groups, I was exposed to problems that were within my reach. One of my first experiences was back in 2015 when I found out about two lakes in my neighbourhood that needed to be revived. Water conservation initiatives were the cry of many national initiatives but I had not heard of any action being taken in my locality. Once I learned about these initiatives around me, I began volunteering to raise funds by conducting lake walks for school children.
With the funds we had gathered, we conducted multiple tree plantation drives around these lakes. By engaging with the tech companies near us, we were successful in raising CSR funds to instal a decentralised water treatment system that treated drain water before letting it enter the lake. Fast forward five years since our action, and both the lakes are thriving. Waterbeds in the neighborhood have replenished, biodiversity is at an all-time high and our model of action has been replicated by the city corporation at five other lakes. This was a small problem which had dented big.
At another instance, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the city’s largest midnight marathon. By standing behind one dustbin each, ten of us volunteers responsibly sorted 2168 kgs of waste. Yet again we had solved a small problem around us which now saw dents across the city. Volunteering with other such waste management campaigns that promoted segregation at source, I got to know the local waste managers well. In spending time with them I found out about court cases they had fought to ensure their self-help group competes for direct contracts to collect and manage waste (as compared to being controlled by an exploitative middle-man). While there was much work to be done, the manner in which citizens had supported the women’s SHG had lessons which could be adopted in other cities across the nation. Along with a professor from my university, I set out to conduct research on this case study. We were soon published in an academic journal with great reach and had the opportunity to present this research at various conferences. The efforts were lauded by city corporation authorities and officers in the bureaucracy as well.
I was now fully convinced that solving small and denting big could take different forms from volunteering to conducting research.
Solve small dent big was no more a mantra confined to civic problem solving, it was an aphorism that could be used in any domain in life.
As a young policy practitioner, I continue to keep this ideology at the center of my work. Sometimes it translates in to using concepts of decentralization while in others it translates to learning lessons from one context-specific case study that can be used in other settings. This philosophy has convinced me that change starts with me and my surroundings and it has the capability to change the world at large too.
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