Person of the Week: Ravi Behera

Dear Readers,

In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.

Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera is a Social Development professional with a Masters degree in Agriculture Extension Management from MANAGE, Hyderabad. He is based out of New Delhi and has been working in Development Co-operation from last two decades. Ravi has worked with various Donors like Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), ActionAid, DanChurchAid, GiZ, MoRD, Government of India, RedR India and UNICEF. Ravi has worked on Food and Nutritional Security issues, Natural Resources Management, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change issues.

The Following is our conversation with him

  1. Tell us something about yourself?

I am a Social Development professional with a Masters degree in Agriculture Extension Management from MANAGE, Hyderabad. Am currently based out of New Delhi working in Development Co-operation from last 19 years. Worked with NGOs, Donors, Government, Development Consulting firms, UNICEF and Sida. Areas of work include Food and Nutritional Security, Sustainable Natural Resources Management, Climate Change, Disaster Risk Reduction, Water and Sanitation, Energy and Environment.

  1. Why did you chose to work in social sector?

I believe Social Development sector needs professionals who can contribute towards the Country’s development. There is a big gap in translating the technological developments happening in Scientific Institutions and the ground applications. People who can play a role to bridge these two are important for development to occur on ground. Often Technocrats and Scientists limit themselves to Industries/Research Organizations or at times undertake Administrative job, which are more secure in terms of employment. However development sector provides a more satisfying experience due to its human component and is a good career option for people.

  1. Which of the projects you worked on had the most impact on you and why?

Leading the Right to Food Programme has had the biggest impact on myself. Innovative partnerships with Grassroot level NGOs and Civil Society actors has contributed towards my learning of the issues and a deeper understanding of Chronic Hunger, Food insecurity and the various issues relating to Malnutrition across India.

  1. Can you elaborate on the problem of hunger and malnutrition in our country and is there a way to alleviate it?

People Living with Hunger is a reality for over a third of the Country’s population. Worst impacted are the poor and vulnerable people including Women, Children, Elderly, People with Disability, Distress Migrants, People Living with HIV and AIDS etc. Tribals, Dalits, Minorities, especially Muslims and Other Backward Classes are amongst the poorest. The problem of Chronic hunger and Malnutrition is complex and widespread in India. One in every third Child in India is Malnourished.

The Systemic causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the Country include inability to access Food and State entitlements (Government schemes). Issues of Good Governance including leakages and weak Government Service delivery system, Social exclusion issues, Gender inequality, limited access to finance and institutional credit, lack of gainful employment opportunities for rural youth and farmers are among other reasons which contribute towards the grim situation. The looming Agrarian crisis, faulty Government Policies and priorities, limited social engagement from the Private sector, limited skills and quality human resources to deliver, Top-Down approach to Planning and Implementation by the Government, under utilization of funds, improper targeting (most vulnerable people remain excluded from the development schemes and programmes), lack of information on social development schemes, high rates of anaemia among young mothers (over 50 percent of Indian mothers are anaemic) and improper birth scheduling etc have further agrravated the present state of hunger and malnutrition in the country.

Malnutrition can be closely related to unbalanced and inadequate diets. Lack of improved water and sanitation facilities, improved health facilities, unhygienic living conditions, further aggravate the situation. It is crucial to work with Children under 5 Years to address issues of stunting, wasting and malnutrition. Otherwise there would be irreparable damage to the development of the brain of a child and physical abilities for the whole life time. Some of the best practices include – Feeding of Colostrum (Breast milk from the mother, immediately after birth), proper immunization, balanced and diversified diets, access to improved health facilities and services are examples of best practices, which have contributed towards better health of Children under 5. The Government do have specialized facilities to treat Malnourished Children in the Government hospitals, which are the lifeline for many Severely Acute Malnourished Children. These are called the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs). Malnourished Children are clinically treated and provided curative care and specialized nutrition in these Centres. The focus is on timely, adequate and appropriate feeding for children; and on improving the skills of mothers and caregivers on complete age appropriate caring and feeding practices.

Yes, there have been many Innovative initiatives by the Government, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations to alleviate hunger and check malnutrition both at Programme and Policy level. For example, The Mitanin programme in Chattishgarh has been a successful programme where trained Mid Wifes have contributed towards reduction in Maternal Mortality and Child Mortality rates significantly. The Social Security Schemes and programmes do contribute towards addressing issues of chronic hunger and Malnutrition. For example, the Mid Day Meals scheme reaches out to about 160 million children in all Government and Government-aided schools. This has an impact on child nutrition and better retention of children in schools. MGNREGS has a great impact in providing gainful employment and wages to rural youth, which contributes towards food and livelihood security. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a lifeline for millions of poor people below the poverty line. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), Pension Schemes, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) have been supporting the poor, elderly, mother and children. These are Crutial Social Safety Net Schemes for the poor and marginalized people in India and have a great impact on reducing hunger and malnutrition.

  1. With so many govt. schemes and aid from foreign organizations, why at a broader level we don’t see that change?

Yes, we do have a plethora of Government Development Schemes right from the birth of a Child to the death of a Person. The Development Schemes have had varied degrees of success among targeted clientele. However, the challenges to sustain the programmes and to reach out to millions of poor people at a scale in the country are something the Government and development agencies are trying their best to address. Implementation gaps still remain a grim reality in reaching out to the poor and the vulnerable sections, with increased awareness and education holding keys to emancipation.

Social sector spending by the Government is still inadeqaute compared with Global standards and other Developing economies. The Service delivery system needs to be improved. Capacity and Skills of implementing partners, staff, communities/people and their associations need to be upgraded.

Transparent and accountable systems and processes need to be ensured. Leadership and Good Governance issues can go a long way in addressing the programme delivery mechanisms and systems strengthening.

Issues of Disaster Preparedness, Early Recovery, Response and Rehabilitation of At-risk communities become crucial. Else, the whole development gains over the years are nullified by natural calamities and other types of disasters. Quality Education still remains a key to address issues of sustainable development.

  1. You have worked in leading and auditing capacity with different NGOs, how do we bring more transparency in this sector in your opinion?

Right to Information (RTI) and Social Audit is a key tool to address issues of Transparency. Having Ombudsman and Institutionalization of Grievance Redressal Systems and Mechanisms at State and National levels are key interventions to address issues of Transparency and Accountability in NGOs and Government agencies undertaking development work.

  1. What are some of the things that you have learned from the communities you have served in your career?

Community participation is crucial at all stages of the programme cycle from Planning to Implementation and Reviews including the decision making process. Ownership of the programmes by reference Communities and their Associations is crucial to address issues of Sustainability.

  1. Can you name any three challenges in our society which you want to tackle most from your work and why?

The three Challenges in our Society include:

  1. Managing Population dynamics in an era of Climate Change and Environment pollution
  2. Agrarian Reforms
  3. Quality Education, Skills and Gainful Employment

India has the requisite Knowledge and Technology to address issues of Climate Change and Environment Pollution. Political will, Leadership and Right Priorities by the Government and Civil Society would be the key to address the development challenges in the future. Agrarian Reforms need to be rolled out in the Country on a priority basis to ensure Food and Nutrition Security on a Mission mode. India needs to capitalize on its Demographic assets/Demographic Divident. For this, ensuring Quality and Inclusive Education for all, Skill development in Youth and making them Employable to get better jobs would be crucial.

  1. What are some of your future plans?

My future plans include working with Development Sector Actors – Public, Private and Civil Society Organizations and the Media in the niche areas of Food and Nutrition Security, Environment and Climate Change.

  1. Your message for our readers?

Science does play a role in the development of People, Planet, Environment and Societies. Access to information Knowledge and Information is important. The Digital World has further opened up such avenues. Citizens, especially the Youth need to be more aware and contribute towards the development of the Nation through active engagement with the Government, Private Sector and the larger Civil Society.

4 Comments

  1. Appreciate your contribution to the society, it starts from self

  2. Impressive Interview! Really, Mr. Ravi is legend.

  3. Sarbani Chakrabarty says:

    Congratulations Ravi, good interaction, good views.

  4. Congratulations Ravi ji….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *