Will Little Rahul Be Poor in 2030?


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“Bye sir!” Rahul was running ahead into the distance. It was hard for me to imagine how he could be running… The cracked soil was incredibly hot and extended all the way to what looked like a lake in the distance. It was not a lake…it was a mirage.

“He wants to be a doctor,” said his mother, who was walking next to me. “His sister does not know yet. She is only 2...”

When I came home from my visit to Gujarat, where we met Rahul Kalubhai Koli in Dhrangadhra in Surendranagar district, I could not stop thinking about him. He is 4 1/2, and he wants to be a doctor.

India Country Director Onno Ruhl, left, visits with a family in Gujarat.Rahul was born to a family of salt pan workers. Nine months of the year he lives with eight family members in a tent made out of flour sacks. The rest of the year the family moves around looking for casual labor opportunities. Even after the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) helped organize the salt pan workers in that desert, the family's per capita income is 32 rupees, or 60 cents a day. This despite the fact that well over half the salt used in India is produced in the same desert, much of it by families like Rahul’s.

To fetch water, the women in the family walk all the way to the closest village, through the desert, in the scorching sun. The only good thing is that the generator that runs the pumps for salt production also gives them a little power, so Rahul does have light to study. It is just that the diesel to run that generator evaporates 70% of the family revenues.

SEWA is working to organize opportunities for Rahul and others like him to go to school, so, yes, he does have a fighting chance to become a doctor. And if you see the boy in the picture, I think you will agree with me that he will have a good fight in him.

It will be a fight against very long odds. Most boys with the same odds will not become doctors. In fact, most of them will remain poor.

I do not want any of us to promise Rahul that he will be a doctor. Maybe he won’t even want that when he grows up. But I do want all of us working on development in India, government and partners, to promise Rahul that we will do what it takes to make sure he will not be poor when he turns 21 in 2030.

I believe the World Bank’s new goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 can be achieved by all of us working together. And I know that to reach the goal, we at the Bank will have to think very differently. We will also have to work differently, collaborating closely with many partners, including committed grassroots organizations like SEWA. When we do this thinking and partnering, let us have Rahul and his sister in mind. First step: Let’s see how we can improve their nutrition. Second step: Let’s make sure they get to school. Third step: a solar-powered system to replace the diesel generator. With many more steps to follow, Rahul and his sister should not be poor in 2030!

More than half the salt produced in India is made in salt pans like those pictured below.


All photographs courtesy Martje van der Heide


Onno Ruhl

Country Director, World Bank India

May 07, 2013

Very inspiring indeed, thanks!- but when setting up our goals for 2030, lets have Rahul in mind, but equally important, lets have his sister in mind so she is not married before she can complete her studies and she is not raped by higher cast members on her way to school. We may need other targets besides ending extreme poverty.

May 07, 2013

Thank you for this post. A good reminder for us all to keep our own Rahuls in mind above all else in the work we do.

May 07, 2013

A very touching article. Just to add one more point - we all should focus more on the actual impact rather than always focusing on deadlines, numbers and results to complete PCRs and mid-term reviews.

May 08, 2013

Quite interesting indeed. Another two necessary steps to help Rahul and his brethren reach out of poverty seem to be: (i) making sure that salt pan workers get a better share of salt market value (an agenda for IFC ?) and (ii) ensuring the social inclusion of their marginalized (stigmatized ?)community.

Anupam Joshi
May 22, 2013

Rahul is a reason for which we must succeed collectively for Rahul to find options other than salt making, should he choses not to follow what is father does. Development must focus on the larger landscape and convergence to move things from where they are stuck.

May 09, 2013

I'm not too worried about Rahul. He will, in due course and on his own, most certainly find his way to Morbi, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Sanand or even Ahmedabad. The question is: how can we help him get there sooner? make sure he picks up marketable skills, begins to look beyond his caste and find that there are things he can do beyond sticking to what his father and grandfathers have done.
While we are at it, we should make sure he brings his young sister along as well. Her life too will improve substantially. She too will go to college, find a job -- as a C++ programmer? start a business, employ other women.
I'm guessing that since his parents are on the post 1998 no pension plan, they'll like joining Rahul and his sister as well.
Let's welcome the Koli family to town.
As for us -- why not cut back on the salt? it's good for health.

May 09, 2013

Excellent, touching post with very nice photographs..... The commitment of the writer to the cause comes out very well....What would it take to achieve this is less clear though....

May 09, 2013

Excellent blog post that takes the focus to Rahul...... how changing the life and choices for those like him is what all our work is about.....the point about collaboration amongst all partners is well made....much easier said than done....In many sectors, Government likes to be the implementer when it can do a much better job as facilitator and regulator letting the very large no. of NGOs like SEWA do the job they do best....Why? How can we catalyze a process of change in thinking & approach and facilitate better collaboration ? What are the possible development model options that will work best to improve prospects for Rahul ? We do need to get into the nitty gritty of it all.....facilitate collaborative learning amongst all partners and create a more level playing field where all agencies have a voice and not just leave it to Government alone.....

Nira Anand
May 10, 2013

Heartbreaking because there are so many Rahuls that the task seems so daunting. But we can't give up hope so I guess "together we can."

Chironmoy Chatterjee
May 10, 2013

And Mr Modi is Boasting that he will change the face of India what is he doing here, Gujarat is the most prosperous state Rs 32/-