Rwitwika Bhattacharya, a postgraduate from the Harvard Kennedy School, finished her contract at the World Bank in 2012. She then made a very important decision—to ditch corporate consultancy and start a public policy venture in India.
Thus, the Swaniti Initiative was born. It is a social enterprise that works with policymakers and elected representatives to deliver development solutions across the country.
Rwitwika grew up interacting with many MPs as her father was active in politics. She thus found it easy to reach out to them through Swaniti. The initiative began by working with MPs on problems like agriculture, education, livelihood, renewable energy, social welfare, water, health, and nutrition through its programme, SPARC. It stands for Supporting Parliamentarians on Analysis and Research in the Constituency Fellowship.
Now, it extends to State governments and the District Administrations.
But what exactly do they do?
Swaniti Initiative works with government systems to improve public services.
“If the very fundamentals of how much money is coming in, where it’s going, how much is being spent, and the output of these programmes isn’t closely tracked on the ground, at say the village level, then preventing corruption becomes impossible. Having worked with state and district administrations, this is something we have noticed,” says Rwitwika.
Government systems are usually weak and scattered, sometimes with not enough or inefficient workers. These offices do not accurately track how money for public schemes and programmes is utilised at the panchayat and district level as they may not have proper support systems.
Looking at the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, and the BOCW Welfare Cess Act, 1996, Swaniti saw that only 28 per cent of the corpus that promised social benefits to construction workers was utilised even 22 years after the passing of that law.
It is easier for larger initiatives like Swachh Bharat and Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao as the District Magistrate can keep track of the utilisation of money that comes in. Swaniti helps at the local level by intervening in different states and uses the following model to come up information through data collected or available:
1) What does the demography look like?
2) What are the major issues?
3) What are government agencies doing to address them?
They identify problems, analyse them, and identify possible steps as resolutions and take them to the district administration.
This serves as an example, showing how such data can be used to provide viable solutions.
One such thing they did was in the Pindar Valley, Uttarakhand, where they noticed 700 men (the ones who stayed back instead of leaving in search of employment opportunities) who were chronically unemployed. Swaniti identified around Rs 70 lakh lying unused in addition to finding another solution—building parks in the community for the women and children, thus creating employment for at least 7-8 months.
Sometimes, they even go directly to local communities. They track the money that comes into women SHGs (Self Help Groups). The women utilise these funds and create opportunities for themselves while adding to economic activity. Swaniti has prevented over Rs 100 crore in funds from being wasted at the district level.
But just collecting the data is not enough. They help the district administration plug gaps in the collection process by actually helping them out. Swaniti is more than a data or tech company.
“Unlike other organisations, we don’t drop in from Delhi, tell them what to do and fly out,” Rwitwika says. She adds, “For us, the magic combination is using information intelligently and having people on the ground who can assist with the implementation.”
After working at it for nearly three years, Swaniti has developed Jaano India—a one-stop shop for finding all data related to district constituency and their respective members of parliaments.
“Voters can see their MP, measure his/her performance, rate it, and check their background. They can also check out how much of a margin his/her party won by in the last election, and their performance in the previous elections,” says Rajat Gupta, an integral part of this project.
It even has a map of India in which you can visualise data points at the district level. The topics you can view come under health, literacy, sex ratio, land utilisation, the percentage of working women and the implementation of certain key government schemes. These have all been updated according to the latest figures from different government websites.
But that’s not all. Swaniti has come up with something to help the MPs out as well.
UPaAI (Unified Planning and Analysis Interface) is an app on both Android and iOS platforms, integrating the data on infrastructure and other development markers on each constituency.
This information can help them make better decisions on how to utilise MPLAD funds and coordinate with state and district authorities on various welfare programmes.
Rwitwika’s decision to come back to India and immerse herself in the betterment of the political situation is an uncommon choice. Not many people realise the significant difference they can make if they choose to become involved in politics. And it doesn’t have to be a direct involvement; organisations like Swaniti work tirelessly in the background to ensure that the economy and the society of the country are smoothly running.
The next time you complain about no good candidates to vote for, ask yourself what you are doing to change that. It is not all bad. Someone is doing something right. And that someone may as well be you. Power doesn’t always rob. Sometimes, it rewards.
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
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(Edited by Shruti Singhal)