Two decades: The challenges ahead
H oney Bee Network has completed more than 20 years. That by itself matters a little. In the life of a civilizational society like India, 20 years is but a small speck. But, for many of us, it is a transition of a generation. Entrepreneurial and innovation based model for poverty alleviation and employment generation has not yet been mainstreamed. There are many roadblocks before it happens. Shodh yatra in Champaran where Gandhiji perfected the tool of Satyagraha and within six months of his intervention, got the exploitative structure demolished, at least partly, reminded us of the tasks still incomplete.
The mobilization of new partners in the Network who will bring fresh ideas, critique existing policies and processes and learn from the experience of the old collaborators is the foremost challenge. We have committed ourselves to share what we learn from the people through cross-pollination of ideas. Newsletters in different languages are just one means. Shodh yatra, Traditional Food Festival-SATVIK, meetings of the experimenting farmers, innovators’ networks in different states, exhibitions, network meetings, etc., are some of the other means. The proportion of knowledge shared from what has been documented is still very small. The success in scouting has to be matched with new successes in dissemination.
Many more individuals are coming forward to either invest money or other resources such as their technical skills in augmenting innovations and traditional knowledge than before. But, are we able to sustain their involvement? How do we keep such colleagues from all around the world engaged with the Network? Many times, I have been asked as to whether our ethical norms have constrained the diffusion of the Network. For instance, none of us involved with the Network can remunerate ourselves through consultancies or otherwise using the Network resources, be it knowledge, time or other kind of resources. In some of the countries, volunteers withdrew themselves when they learnt about these constraints. The Network needs to debate whether it is not better to grow slowly rather than compromise with the core values. Likewise, all the financial accounts in relation to the Network activities need to be shared with the society at large in the Network meeting every year. This again has been resisted by some.
Many new scientists, labs, technologists and designers are coming into the fold of the Network. Many of them have to be paid at least part of the expenses for their services given economic or institutional pressures on them. Similar compensation is not given to the Network collaborators. Majority of whom are completely voluntary and are paid only paid out expenses for scouting, documentation and dissemination. The designers and other technical collaborators may be offered support at a much higher order than has been offered to the old collaborators. This may cause tensions unless the Network recognizes the challenge of adding value without which benefits will never flow to the people who it has scouted so painstakingly. The motivations of those who have built the Network and brought it to the center stage of the global dialogue on peoples’ knowledge based development are obviously different from those who are coming into fold as professionals offering concessional services. The contribution of many professionals has been huge because of the foregone fees and other services charges. Same has been the case with many team members of the Network.
While people will join with different motivations and may continue to contribute different kinds of resources, like a brick in a wall, they all share the load of the roof, i.e. the responsibility of providing economically poor but knowledge rich people a sanctuary of support. Institutionalization of NIF as a part of Department of Science and Technology in the years to come will create its own dynamics. It is clear that NIF can hardly achieve anything without the active support of the other members of the Network of which it is an integral part. The entire database (more than 95 per cent) owes its existence due to tireless efforts of the Network members. With NIF’s budget almost frozen at the same level for a decade, perhaps a different approach was required to understand the role of commitment and creativity in dealing with people’s knowledge systems. This will certainly happen one day. Regardless of what government does, the Network will hopefully continue to dedicate itself towards the cause of empowering common people by building upon a resource in which poor people are rich, i.e., their knowledge, values and institutions.
The reciprocity towards those thousands of common people whose hospitality and kindness we drew upon during various shodh yatras in the last decade remains one of the most serious unfinished agenda. People shared their knowledge so unhesitatingly, and our record in adding value to their knowledge or sharing benefits with them is abysmally poor, to say the least. With the focus on inclusive development likely to be increased in years to come, will S and T institutions be reorganized to join this effort in a big way? We still have to engage with young technology students (see techpedia.sristi.org ) seriously. So much needs to be done, and I hope, new volunteers will join hands with the Honey Bee Network team to take this agenda forward.
I look forward to your suggestions about new ways to invigorate the Network and make it even more responsive to the rising aspirations of common people.
Anil K Gupta