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  • Writer's pictureImpactree Data Technologies

An Approach to DATA, MEASUREMENT and ANALYTICS (DMA) for Sustainable Development.

PURUSHWADI, a small village 190 km from Mumbai, was an undiscovered gem of nature. It had 109 families from the Koli tribe engaged in precarious agriculture that darkens their lives and who migrate in search of livelihoods. The area is, however, awash with the light -- of fireflies --during June-July every year. A brilliant natural spectacle that lights up livelihoods as well and is called the Firefly Festival. The festival brings in tourists and brings back the migrating population during this time to take advantage of the attention to Purushwadi.

This small village was discovered by an NGO called GRASSROUTES that explored eco-tourism for the local community around and beyond the Firefly Festival. They trained them to create homestay facilities, eating joints; to cleaning the surroundings and practice hygiene that tourists were used to and expect. When some German delegates had visited Purushwadi in 2006, the tribal families had locked the doors and windows of their houses, refusing to even step out.

The same people today are the guides, cooks and hosts who confidently interact with the urban tourists. Grassroutes also worked to create awareness about this village in cities from where tourists can come to Purushwadi. Even Grassroutes, though, needed a new lens that would help them explore the possibilities of livelihoods for sustainability – the lens of cultural embeddedness. Impactree is a social enterprise that specialises in use of Data, Measurement and Analysis (DMA) to promote sustainability as a Core Value (not just as an end-project goal). It worked with Grassroutes which viewed sustainability outcomes mainly in terms of increase in incomes and number of people getting employed. However, Impactree highlighted the heritage promoting options which were “disguised” because they were culturally embedded and not thought about consciously for almost a decade of operations.

These cultural options related to hospitable behavior's, maintaining cleanliness of their surroundings and restoration of local culture and arts. When heritage, ecology and local cultural practices were highlighted as the business and branding focus, 45% of the villagers were prompted to drop their jobs in cities and return to their village. Reverse migration and eco-tourism helped achieve the cultural-ecological connect, as the villagers started going back to using Chulhas, and reviving traditional art work and skills like pottery. These went on to become the organization’s USP for marketing and fund-raising. The cultural connect attracted the villagers and ensured the value for sustainability. The DMA work with Grassroutes was one case that revealed the design of DMA needed for understanding outcomes and further build-up towards what Impactree calls Core Value Sustainability (CVS).

Sustainability has been variously defined—results that last beyond the life of a project, impact on not just those formally supported by interventions but other direct stakeholders and positive effects on ecosystem that is evident years after an intervention has formally ceased. What guides Impactree’s work is the definition given by the Brundtland Commission in 1967, which coined the term sustainable development. Their report “Our Common Future” said Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Relevant for the present day, the principles of Core Value Sustainability enshrined in this definition include: judicious natural resource extraction so as not deplete its availability for future generations; appropriate and natural nutrition grounded in local culture; preventive, basic and mental health; holistic education and lifestyles focused on nurture of family and community to enable future generations to build their own capability and that of their ecosystem to ensure lasting benefits.

The basis of how all this will happen is what should concern us today as it did at the time Our Common Future was published. The how part will require not just a mind and action shift on the part of the individual but also all humans surrounding him/her and their interactions with the natural world. Also, and perhaps more important, will be how they interact with and within the state, society and market of which everyone is a part. What will drive them, what will influence them, what will enable them and what will challenge them as they grow. Nature is embedded as a principle in human actions in Indian culture and civilization and humans have duties towards preservation of the natural world, especially now with climate change as focus. Even if not always practiced, the starting point for CVS is available.

Data, Measurement and Analytics (DMA) have undergone changes to challenge how we monitor and evaluate around the above definition of CVS. Context and Costs are at the core of country level negotiations on climate change that take place at international forums. At the grassroots level, however, the actions have to be more community contextualized and citizen-led to attract the aspiring (as Impactree identified in the Grassroutes case). At this level, it is culture and traditions that guide daily practices of conservation for future generations that have a stronger influence on results than even financial costs. These have to be revealed and revived.

The work on outlining a framework of DMA based on cultural embeddedness is ongoing at Impactree and will be presented in the coming weeks.

Author - Vanita Viswanath, Social Entrepreneur and Founder, Udyogini.

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