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Disrupting poverty and stunting: An alternative development model in rural India

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Sustained long-term development interventions combined with disruptive technologies can make a real difference in solving entrenched multi-faceted poverty challenges. For over twenty years, I have been solving technology challenges within the World Bank Group. During this time, I have also seen the World Bank Group solve development challenges across the world. In my spare time, I have used all this knowledge to solve problems in my village. I have recently been asked to share my experiences in this blog and seven-minute presentation

This is a multigenerational development story that goes back to the 1930s in a small village in rural Bihar, India, called Dalippur.  With a population of approximately 9000 and per capita income of less than a dollar a day, Dalippur has been impecunious for decades, even for centuries. Seeing indigence in the village, my grandparents, resolved to create basic opportunities through which, denizens could empower themselves and live a dignified life. My grandfather founded the first boys’ middle and high school, where despite limited resources and other constraints, villagers were able to obtain and secure quality education.
My father, who, among many, had received his basic education from my grandparent’s school, decided to requite a small segment of benignity he attained from the village and school. In 1985, he mobilized Alberta and Canadian development aid to expand the educational institutions by founding the previously absent boys’ elementary school as well as girls’ elementary, middle, and high schools. Knowing from his experience what one can achieve when equal opportunities are provided for boys as well as girls, it was evident for him that the school ought to open its doors for girls as well.
We have also realized that provision of free education is not the mere necessity to empower villagers. Children in Dalippur often times suffered from chronic health conditions like stunting due to malnutrition.  My brother and wife, who are physicians by training, stepped in to create a feeding program; primary, nursing, and dental care; and a dairy to provide students a protein-enriched meal once a day for free as well as healthcare.
To further our initiatives and ameliorate the quality of education and healthcare in Dalippur, we partnered with civil society to expand our technical skills training  by deploying laptops that were donated by the Athabasca University. I resolved to leapfrog and install solar panels on the roof of the school as a source of energy.  Solar panels proved to be opportune to power all our computer equipment, render constant LED lighting, as well as cool and heat the school even on cloudy days. Utilization of solar panels has also led to an infinitesimal “technological revolution”, as we could deploy cellular broadband, power projectors, tablets, and use apps for video education in the school and community reading room. Our efforts were crowned with success, as we clearly witnessed increased enrollments as well as an improvement in academic achievements among students. We have created a zero-input ecosystem of green investments in local timber, orchard, and grains to provide a monthly operating budget of $1,500 to sustain the above activities. 
Seeing the positive implications of this development project on Dalippur, we are now focusing our efforts on creating a little oasis of 21st century in a locale that, in multiple ways, is still mired in 19th century. Further technological innovation will encompass establishing a College of Arts, a College of Science, and a College of Commerce, genetic improvements in our dairy, telemedicine, and private blockchain-based network that would allow households to transfer energy amongst one another.
As one can imagine, success oft-times have not come easy and we have had to navigate our way through multifarious challenges as the project has matured. However, the environment is undoubtedly favorable to be agile and experimental.  Perhaps our biggest lesson-learnt was the snowball effect of each step we took: an education project spiraled into agribusiness and ended up subsidizing healthcare to tackle hunger and stunting and other entrenched poverty challenges. We concentrated all our efforts on one location in lieu of the orthodox scattershot approach and realized the difference our synergistic and symbiotic approach can make. We hope others may find merit in our alternative development model and replicate it as well.


Alok K. Singh

Business IT Lead for the Global Practices, ITSCS

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