• Drishtee - Sustainable Communities

Samaj Shilpi

Samaj Shilpi (SS) – A Brief Introduction

1. When the lamp on the only single streetlight in the village goes out, you will…:

  • Buy a new lamp and replace it for them.
  • Ask the village panchayat to have the lamp replaced
  • Teach the affected villagers to submit the request to the panchayat

2. When villagers complain that there is no school within 20 kms, you will…:

  • Build a school for them with money from your own pocket
  • Contact an NGO or the Government and submit a request for a school in that area
  • Teach the villagers how to work together and submit the request

3. When your child has a school science project, you will…:

  • Buy a ready made project and give it to your child
  • Do the project yourself and save yourself some time
  • Explain what to do to your child, and guide him/her along the way


In each case, which option would you chose?

  • Which option will allow the villagers to get an access road built to their village two years from now, on their own?
  • Which option will make the system work better?
  • Which option will reduce corruption, apathy and inaction?

On each scenario above, the first option is doing charity, the second is doing service, the third is empowerment.

  • Would you like to empower villagers to solve their developmental issues?
  • Would like them to get their voice heard?
  • Would you like the system in India to work better? Be more accountable?
  • Can you pay over and over for “Option a” in each and every village in India?
  • What will happen to the villagers if you chose “Option b”, but then you are not around after 6 months or a year?

How does Drishtee Foundation (DF)’s Samaj Shilpi (SS) plan to achieve this vision?

    To begin with, let us understand what SS does not do-

  • SS does not build schools
  • SS does not build hospitals
  • SS does not build wells, roads or other kinds of infrastructure

Instead, SS does the work that makes all these changes possible by the villagers themselves.

  • SS works to educate and empower villagers to work for their own development – economic, infrastructure, educational and political (Panchayati Raj).
  • SS sponsors and trains volunteers called Samaj Shilpi’s to work closely with villagers, showing them how to solve their issues themselves. This vision is entitled as “Village Development through Volunteer Action”. The Shilpi’s act as catalysts for building and strengthening people’s participation in their own development.
  • Solving many developmental issues (such as getting a new school, a new road, check-dams, etc.) requires the village communities to work together. SS is creating a mass movement by educating villagers about how they can work cooperatively to solve their developmental needs.
  • This is an effective, low-cost approach that can be scaled to cover the large numbers of villages all across India.

Samaj Shilpi Program

This is an integrated approach and SS works parallely on all issues in the community. SS is provided a fellowship remuneration to sustain himself.

Shilpi’s are trained to do the following:

  • Ensure that people are able to access the various government schemes meant for rural development and sustain the results by building or strengthening local institutions of self-governance.
  • Take up leadership development, which is designed to catalyze people to take up their own action, particularly around their rights to have control over their livelihood resources (e.g. Like land, forest, water resources) should lead to more decentralized development processes and greater self-reliance.
  • Initiate campaigns that will assist communities with having more control over their livelihood resources.
  • Work intensively on leadership development. This involves community-based meetings; with an emphasis of shifting decision-making control to those that are usually voiceless (poor women, low caste groups,tribal members, etc.) by turning them into members who can exercise leadership. Group formation and building trust is the most important part of leadership development.
  • Advocacy and campaign issues in their respective regions and link these to national campaigns.


Areas of Shilpi training:

  • Orientation with the vision of SS.
  • Training workshop on leadership development.
  • Training workshop on leadership development with community leaders.
  • Workshop on PRA, Micro Planning and mobilizing resources.
  • Workshop on advocacy.
  • Workshop on training village youth in advocacy.
  • Workshop on networking focusing on Campaigns.
  • Skills training and Vocational guidance.

What do Shilpi’s practically work on?

  • Formation of Community Based Organizations / Civil society organizations
  • Strengthening Gram sabha participation, demanding from PRIs, obtaining copies of Panchayat budget and discuss the same, assisting and guiding PRIs. (PRI = People’s representative institutions – i.e. govt. bodies)
  • Enabling watershed, Water bodies, natural resource management, creation of farm ponds etc., by the people with Government assistance either directly or through other NGOs.
  • Working with schools on enrollment, retention and quality education aspects
  • Ensuring proper functioning of child care services through volunteer participation
  • Ensuring health care / eye care / mobilization and conducting of camps
  • Harnessing entitlements / loans to SHGs
  • Village infrastructure / additional school buildings
  • Resolving caste conflicts / local issues which are impediments for development agenda
  • Tree plantation, preservation and maintenance through people’s participation
  • Assisting/guiding villagers for taking up livelihood activities (small business/trades).
  • Running supplementary education centres through volunteers in the villages.
  • Developing a volunteer force to take up activities – Friends of the movement, Gram Mitra groups are formed. This is done as a strategy for ensuring participation and sustainable development action.
  • Distribution of hand bills, explaining the provisions of the RTI act 2005,
    need to have transparency to improve good governance, effectiveness in the functioning of the state have been explained to grass root level communities – Women Self Help Groups, Panchayat Raj Institutions, civil society organizations and school students have taken active part in this campaign.

Case studies:
Individual based social activism has several advantages and also has some disadvantages. Much depends on the Samaj Shilpi the key change agent who is selected from the same village or within the cluster. SS also enables mentoring through experienced NGOs who are part of SS network and who operate in the proximity to the area where a Samaj-
Shilpi is working; at times, if there are experienced and committed individuals are available for mentoring, their services is also utilized.

Software & Technology:

Drishtee Foundation has developed Soochna Aapke Dwar which is a database driven software. It is a web-based repository of all schemes, Government/ NGO/Private, with details of procedures and documentation requirements. It is multi-lingual, both in input and output.

Each Samaj Shilpi will have access to the schemes of his/her state, via a front-end application on a smartphone or a tablet.

Each Samaj Shilpi will enter the household survey data and the web-based system will identify the schemes that the Household is entitled to, together with the documentation needs of these schemes.

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