Residents of poor communities have limited access to basic resources and opportunities and little influence over the external forces that shape their lives. In an effort to change this reality, Gram Vikas encourages communities to unite and form their own self-governing people’s institutions. While these micro-level institutions increase community access to basic health services and sanitation, they also are also hubs for promoting community self-reliance through local level lobbying and advocacy. Gram Vikas’ first task is to motivate each and every family in a village to unite and establish a village general body to hold community discussions about the benefits and concerns of implementing the MANTRA program, with the aim of eventually reaching a positive consensus.
Traditionally, women are excluded from the village decision-making process. A key to building women’s capacity is to ensure they have a voice and participate in community decision-making. Gram Vikas facilitates the establishment of small Self Help Groups within communities so women can increase their savings and gain access to credit. Mature self-help groups can leverage loans from banks for income-generating activities such as livestock rearing (poultry, goats and bullocks) and processing minor forest produce (making leaf plates, binding brooms, processing tamarind, etc). Some groups have taken up trading in cashew, tamarind, paddy, etc, to ensure better returns and earn an equitable profit in the process. Gram Vikas provides Self Help Groups with practical field-level accompaniment and training to support these activities. Additionally, self-help groups bring women together to discuss issues of common concern and provide them with the confidence to publicly speak out, enabling village women to voice opinions in community meetings and actively participate in the local development process. Women typically play a significant role in building community support for the MANTRA program and are essential in enforcing the proper monitoring of government services such as education, immunization, childcare programs and village sanitation.