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Emerging rural enterprises

Ashwini Y S, April 19, 2016 1:01 IST

Inclusive development

Ongoing construction work in the village.

Social projects are now aiming towards getting into villages at the micro level. Ashwini Y S tracks the trajectory of two such ventures that are focusing on Karnataka

While one social initiative is working towards sustainable development of a nondescript village in a district in North Karnataka, another initiative is aiming to reach out to sportspersons in rural areas of the State. Interestingly, both these initiatives have a Singaporean link. While one idea was incubated in the island nation, the other germinated in Bengaluru. Both these social projects are however getting a boost from organisations in Singapore, which are aggressively promoting and supporting social entrepreneurship.

Abhijeet Bhatt, a student at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru (IIMB), is the founder of MySportsCard, a venture, which he hopes would serve as a launchpad for sportspersons and sporting enthusiasts, especially from rural areas. Abhijeet incubated MySportsCard at IIMB as a student-run venture.

His was among the 16 teams shortlisted at the international workshop — Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE), 2016, in Singapore. The YSE programme is an initiative of the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), a not-for-profit organisation, which will provide a seed fund to the winner to start his/her project, at the end of the programme in October.

Prasoon Kumar is the founder of billionBricks, a Singapore based non-profit enterprise, which aims to improve the quality of life of the homeless by providing access to shelter. The enterprise was born at the ‘Hub’, Singapore, and still operates from the premises. The ‘Hub’ is a community of entrepreneurs, creatives and techies. It is a co-working space offering mentorship, incubation, workshops, events, networking and corporate innovation labs.

Having worked on several projects in cities in developing countries, including Mumbai, Prasoon has now embarked upon a project in a village called Konchur in Chittapur taluk, Kalaburagi district. In association with another organisation Architecture Brio, Prasoon is not just looking at homelessness in Konchur, he also aims to address migration. The companies have tied up with the State and Central governments to implement this project, which is titled — ‘Konchur — Sustainable Model Village Development.’

The towns of Wadi and Kalaburagi receive many business tourists with the cement and limestone industries in the region, which, according to billionBricks, allows for integrating village tourism with the business visits. Konchur is located six km from Wadi Railway Station. The villages in the region, including Konchur, have a distinct vernacular style of construction with limestone blocks, where the architecture itself serves as an attraction. Team billionBricks felt that Konchur can be a place of interest not only for tourists, but also for students of architecture and social sciences from Kalaburagi and neighbouring cities.

The district has many heritage structures which attracts visitors from surrounding cities and states. It is also one of the Sufi cities, home to the Bande Nawaz Dargah, and Ladle Mashak, apart from other attractions like the Buddha Vihara, Sharana Basaveshwara Temple, Kalaburgi Fort, and tomb monuments. “In the present-day scenario, a large number of people are migrating from the village to the nearby cities in search of work, livelihood and a better quality of life. But if this scenario is reversed in the coming years, and we could make the village a self-sustained place, it can attract the city dwellers to come and invest in the village and promote it as a tourist-friendly place,” says Prasoon.

Creating better infrastructure

The idea is to transform Konchur into a village which provides a better, caring and empowering life through improved livelihood opportunities, upgraded infrastructure and skill development. In phases, the organisation hopes to upgrade infrastructure to good standards by providing basic amenities for all, developing adequate sewage treatment systems, ensuring equitable and adequate water supply for all, and improving educational infrastructure.

Making the village greener, creating public spaces for recreation and community interactions, development of new economic activities by promoting local entrepreneurship, developing and creating infrastructure for dairy farming, tourism and other economically promising sectors, are also in the offing.

Around 500 families or 2,500 people are said to benefit from this project. If it succeeds, the model village concept will be replicated in other villages in the Chittapur taluk. “billionBricks believes a strong vision, clear planning strategy and stakeholder resourcefulness can help transform rural areas for the better. We want to turn Konchur into a model village by initiating strategic interventions and investments that are self-scalable by the community,” says Prasoon. According to him, the community participation programme started in June 2015. Under phase one of the project, sanitation programme, including construction of a water harvesting system and 150 toilets has begun. The target is to complete this phase by July 2016.

Under phase two (18 months to 60 months), the team will explore new employment opportunities, restore existing wells and improve water distribution, improve educational facilities, improve streetscape, and build a dairy farm. The current phase of the sanitation programme (150 toilets) is funded by the community, and the Swachh Bharat Mission scheme of the Government of India.

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