Seeking Sustainable Systems, Navigating Fragile Lifelines

3rd July 2020 | Tarun Cherukuri

Seeking Sustainable Systems, Navigating Fragile Lifelines

Dear friend of Indus Action,

I hope this note finds your heart filled with optimism. My heart is heavy with the emotional upheaval that I am required to process on a daily basis: loss of lives to pandemic, external and internal brutalities; loss of income for billions of people around the world; loss of direction and meaning to the purposes that held immense conviction inside me. If you are going through the same, please know that you are not alone. I am struggling to manage my emotions and keep driving myself towards the light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel seems really long right now! 

And, the infinite webinars we have all attended by now must have exhausted all the opportunities you saw in this crisis! But I still remain optimistic about one opportunity: social protection for all. This crisis has shown sharply the need to secure a safety net for each one of us and illuminated the urgency of the nine welfare tracks outlined by the World Bank for India. It was one thing for me to listen to migrants and understand their plight for securing employment for at least 100 days of doing a job with dignity; it is only when a similar conversation started off within Indus Action, it made me realize how fragile our individual lifelines and organizational runways are. 

As an entrepreneur, I have 10x respect now for the daily wage entrepreneurs who run our economies. We maintain our economic, political, and social systems of privilege on the backs of these fragile contracts. And, when these contracts are disrupted like in this pandemic, the social contract must step in to take care of our country’s most important and vulnerable entrepreneurs – farmers, construction workers, street vendors, frontline contract workers, domestic staff etc.

‘Learning State’, Localized decision making

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) 2.0 announced this week is a welcome relief and laudable in that regard. It is of top priority to provide food security and income security to every Indian. Having said that, we must quickly learn the lessons from PMKGY 1.0 to pivot schemes towards sustainable systems. At Indus Action, we learnt through our Rapid Response work that 40% of Jan Dhan account holders could not access their Rs 500 entitlement. And, the access rates on average vary from 60% for schemes like PM-Kisan, Ujjwala, ration to 20% for construction workers entitlements under BoCW (Building and other Construction Workers) Act. 

The variations across states are also wide, from 40% to 75% access rates. This variance cannot be addressed by individuals or good samaritans. We have learnt that this requires structural and systemic improvements in delivery systems. Kerala wasn’t built in a day. It was systematic investments in public goods and local decision-making capacity that has led to the evolution of a resilient society. All states can evolve their own pathways into this kind of resilience. But this requires serious investments in systems now, and not just schemes. 

As the World Bank paper on Schemes to Systems noted, we need to evolve a “Solutions State” and a “Learning State”. As we are learning in our campaigns* at Indus Action as well, this requires investment in gov-tech and civic-tech to improve the human-technology interface of welfare delivery. And, it requires the first-mile entrepreneur or state worker to be able to make local decisions and learn continuously by reflecting on this available information. Our mission’s focus will continue to be on making this first-mile interaction between state-citizens more impactful. I am still optimistic that we will bend this towards progress in our lifetimes!

Stay Safe.    


*Campaign: 100-day sprints to drive urgency within Government systems and internal ways of working. In these 100 days, actioners push themselves in a non-stop manner to increase the outcomes of the system manifolds.

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