Grassroots Leadership-Bajaj Rural Development Lab - Carnegie Mellon University

Grassroots Leadership

The Bajaj Foundation empowers rural people to improve their own lives. Their work is collaborative and community-driven. Local beneficiaries are not passive recipients of support but active collaborators in designing, implementing, and monitoring every project.

What does a village know?

Every partnership between the Bajaj Foundation and a particular village begins with a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). The PRA aims to help villagers recognize what they already know, while creating a foundation of understanding upon which future collaborations can be constructed.

PRA exercises are diverse and participant-driven:

  • Elders construct the history of the village
  • Farmers analyze the costs and benefits of different crops
  • Young people draw maps of the village and its resources and challenges
  • Women list the many different kinds of work they do every day in the fields and at home

Through such exercises, villagers come to recognize what they already know. They can then turn that knowledge into a plan for future improvements.

Learning from the eldersVillage Volunteers

After completing a PRA, the Bajaj Foundation establishes an ongoing relationship with the village. Each community identifies "Village Volunteers," young men and women who serve as liaisons between the village and the foundation. The village volunteers voice community needs and help in consensus building, and in turn receive regular training and small stipends from the Bajaj Foundation.

Owning the Dream

Before beginning a project, Bajaj staff meet with the village volunteer and the village members most likely to benefit from the project. Rather than cover the full cost of the project, the Bajaj Foundation asks the local beneficiaries to pay a small fraction of the cost, either in rupees or by donating their labor. Cost-sharing helps provide a sense of ownership to the beneficiaries, further empowering them to take leadership of the planning process, construction, and maintenance of the project.