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Case Study in Social Entrepreneurship: Grassroutes

Posted by Hemant Puthli on March 15, 2010

[Content sourced from Inir Pinheiro, the social entrepreneur behind Grassroutes, and edited by Hemant Puthli]

India’s remote villages are now attracting city dwellers who are eager to step away from the stress zones of their office cubes and the complexities of urban life, in search of clean air and a simpler, earthier way of life – if only for a few days.

The village of Purushwadi is 140 miles (220 km) away from Mumbai city, the hub of international business and the financial and entertainment capital of India – a hot, grimy, polluted, noisy and crowded metropolis of at least 20 million people living in the greater metropolitan area. But in a few short hours, inhabitants of the “Maximum City” can reach a different world, where they can swim in the crystal clear waters of a river, help farmers thresh wheat, chop wood with a long handled axe, and eat home–cooked meals with peasants in the dim light of their rustic homes. Purushwadi is perched high above mean sea level, in the jagged hills of Maharashtra. Life for the locals has hardly changed for several centuries. These simple farmers live in mud-brick houses with dried cow-dung floors and earn their income from the cultivation of rice, wheat, millet and pulses. There is no electricity or running water and the day revolves around hard work in the fields under the harsh rays of an unforgiving sun. As a tourism destination, this is not exactly a beach resort with plenty of five-star properties to choose from, each with a world-class spa to rejuvenate yourself. Villages like Purushwadi offer you rejuvenation of a different kind — deep hands-on contact with raw, authentic rural Indian life in its natural habitat. Tourists to Purushwadi say that their journey has been worth it, just for getting a refreshingly different perspective on life away from the daily routine of making money and climbing the career ladder.

About 70% of India’s population of 1.1 billion lives in the villages. As mega-cities like Mumbai expand, fuelled by the country’s economic boom, the gap between the urban rich and the rural poor widens as never before. It is not difficult to see how this could result in the making of a socio-economic time-bomb. Responsible rural tourism is one of the most effective ways in bridging this gap and bringing these disparate communities together. Responsible rural tourism involves, for example, bringing city slickers and urban youth groups from places like Mumbai to villages like Purushwadi for a weekend. These tourists are keen to experience the poetry of the earthy life in rural India, of being in touch with nature and of spending a couple of days with people who live by modest means through simple farming. Grassroutes is a responsible rural tourism movement that is building a network of village tourism destinations across India, wherein the tourism model is owned, managed and run by local village communities. Grassroutes has made it possible for people to get into such villages and realize the true beauty of rural India. Their idea is to get communities to connect. The revenue generated through tourists trips is used to supplement the income of the villagers – and more importantly, encouraging and enabling them to stay back and continue with their lifestyle instead of heading to the city to look for work. According to Grassroutes, the poor and marginalized do not need charity or sympathy — they need opportunities to provide for themselves. And Grassroutes’ mission is to provide them with precisely those opportunities, while also providing urban dwellers a chance to experience something unique and special.

Grassroutes’ vision entails the conservation and promotion of local lifestyles, knowledge systems, environments, economies and traditions by enabling and empowering local communities to access sustainable opportunities. Grassroutes recognizes that lack of access to opportunities is one of the greatest challenges facing rural India. And this in turn leads to exploitation of already over-stretched natural resources, migration to larger towns and cities, which in turn leads to congestion in those urban centres. At a more intangible level, this also results in erosion of local culture, traditions, lifestyles and sense of community. The Grassroutes model has three key aspects to it: (1) facilitating the development of the village as a tourism destination (2) marketing and product development of tourism in the village and (3) quality control and monitoring of tourism in the village.

Grassroutes selected responsible rural tourism as a means of creating sustainable opportunities keeping in mind the fact that tourism is one industry that represents the greatest multiplier effect in economic development. Tourism also provides a platform for interaction that facilitates cultural osmosis and exchange of thought and understanding. These factors, coupled with the fact that entry costs are relatively low, make responsible tourism a very attractive opportunity for social entrepreneurs looking to engage in sustainable development. Historically, tourism has also been the greatest exploiter of local communities and responsible rural tourism is a model that reverses that trend. Responsible rural tourism places the local community at the epicentre of the tourists’ journey while also giving a great experience to the tourist, thereby mitigating the down-side of tourism. The ultimate aspiration of Grassroutes is to create sustainable opportunities in rural India which would give local communities the impetus needed to maintain and celebrate their unique way of life, leading to conservation of local lifestyles, traditions, knowledge systems, biodiversities and local economies.

For more information please visit http://grassroutes.co.in or drop them a note in the comment box below.

[Disclosure: HPA is assisting Grassroutes through mentoring and advisory on strategy and general management issues]

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