An Ashoka Fellow, Biplab Paul, realized after experiencing states of flood and drought, that people in poor, underserved communities had little hope of upward mobility when they suffered from a lack of access to something as basic as water. In response to the drought in Gujarat, Paul designed an irrigation system that relies on rainwater harvesting and large underground water reservoirs. But the innovation didn’t stop at the technology – rather, The system is operated entirely by the women in the community, who also take loans through Paulâ€™s organization, Naireeta Services Private Limited, and sign five-year contracts to replay service and construction costs.
While Paul has now won numerous awards and received wide recognition for his rural development effort, acceptance didn’t come easily, as Ashoka reports:
Locals were initially skeptical of the new women-led system, but were eventually sold on its influence and authority. This has led to an important cultural shift in Gujarat.
â€œIn Indiaâ€™s patriarchal society, changing peopleâ€™s perception of womenâ€™s roles takes decades of time,â€ he [Paul] said. â€œBut one impact is very clear. The primary occupation for men is agriculture, and irrigation is essential for their livelihood. Now, to get a single drop of water for irrigation, men have to approach women members for their permission to gain access.
This automatically gives women the upper hand on a critical resource, which translates as a recognition of womenâ€™s role in society.â€
This approach, one where the solution to a particular challenge simultaneously tackles other large cultural and social challenges, can serve as a model for future approaches to some of the other grand social challenges we face in India. If issues of gender and social equality can be tied in with initiatives to bring proper water, sanitation, health and nutrition to the poor and marginalized, change can happen at a much faster pace, be more inclusive, and hence more sustainable.