Sampark – Experience Report 2012

Sampark 2012

2012

by Stephanie Villiger, Petra Gall and Natalie Zeidler

This report aims to give an overview of the very instructive and enjoyable internship we did in summer 2012 in Bangalore with the NGO Sampark. In the first part we are going to introduce Sampark and what they do, then the projects we did inside this organization. In a second part we are telling a little more about our personal experience, the organization of our trip and our recommendations to you.

Sampark – the organization

Sampark was founded in 1990 as an organization that worked for integrated rural development. In its primary years Sampark worked together with several voluntary agencies, NGOs and other rural groups, which supported poor and disadvantaged women. They helped these women by upgrading their skills through trainings, creating sales opportunities for them and supporting their marketing efforts. Through these activities Sampark’s network started to expand and their knowledge increased so that they were able to advance into doing research and analysis activities. Today, Sampark’s founder Smita Premchander and her team published several articles about rural management.

In 1998 Sampark started a micro-finance project in Koppal, a district in North Karnataka, which today builds it major area of work. The basic idea was to group poor, often illiterate women in the rural area together into self-help groups (SHGs). These SHGs would then meet once every week to save little amounts of money. Over time these SHGs could accumulate some capital, out of which they could grant the members loans. Since the women in these groups were very poor they did not have any other possibilities to get a loan for investments from any other affordable source. Additionally, local banks were ready to grant loans to the groups much more likely than to the individual members. Sampark introduced this idea to the women in the area and supported them to form such groups. After some time, when more and more groups were built, they encouraged them to build second level organizations, called cluster or cooperatives, to organize these SHGs better. Through the clusters Sampark then started to direct loans from external sources to the groups. Additionally, they organized a lot of trainings for the members about accountancy, self-organization and more general topics concerning health and education in order to develop the region holistically. Today, Sampark looks after 331 SHGs with a total of 5099 women in 38 villages. These micro-finance institutions are the main focus of Samparks work. They have two offices, one in Bangalore and one in Koppal. In Koppal, around 8 employees work closely together with the cooperatives, while the team in Bangalore is more focused on research, new inputs and strategic decisions. Next to the microfinance project Sampark also built up two crèches in Bangalore for the children of construction workers.

Our projects

The first few days in the office we were given the opportunity to read through several internal documents and get a feeling for Sampark’s working fields. Then we were then asked what kind of projects we are interested in. They suggested, that two of us could group together to work on one project. We decided that Petra and Stephanie would work together on an impact analysis while Natalie would research about the micro-credit organizations.

Petra and Stephanie’s project was to analyze the impact of SHG’s on the women’s life and living conditions. They conducted 35 interviews with local women, which was a very interesting experience. Afterwards they compared their results with some data from 2009, which had been collected by an Italian foundation. In the end, their report showed the results from the interviews and gave an impression of the development of the SHG-members life.

The aim of Natalie’s project was to closely track the development of the SHGs into cooperatives from 1998 until 2012 and to analyze which challenges emerging on every stage of the process. The information were gathered by reading a lot of internal documents and by conducting several interviews with the women involved in the cooperatives as well as with Sampark’s staff. The output of her work was a report including two case studies that had a historical part and an analytical part.

In order to gather our information, we travelled to Koppal twice. This journey takes one night by bus or by train. The first visit there was to get a short overview how things work in that office and to get to know the relevant people. The second time we went there we stayed for around ten days in which we collected all the data by conducting the mentioned interviews. In total we spent two weeks in Koppal and three weeks in Bangalore. We worked from Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm. In Bangalore every second Saturday is off but in Koppal this does not apply.

On the last day of our internship we then presented our results to the Sampark staff in Bangalore as well as to the president of Sampark.

Time frame and location

After receiving the details about Sampark from GTI, we discussed about the ideal dates to go and then asked Sampark for their consent. Although we were advised that six weeks is the minimum required length for an internship we asked Sampark directly if we could shorten our internship to five weeks. At that time, they agreed to it with no further remarks. Later on they mentioned that an internship shorter than two months is very short in their opinion. We think that through the shorter exposer we might have had to start more quickly and work a little bit more efficiently, but it was a good solution for us. In the end everybody seemed to be happy with the results and that’s what we wanted to achieve.

You are recommended to bring your own laptop to write your report. In the offices there are several computers that we could often use, but you cannot rely on it. In the office in Koppal the laptops were very useful.

We arrived in the beginning of July in Bangalore and were picked up by a taxi Sampark had arranged for us. We lived in the house of another NGO called IYD (Institute of Youth and Development) in the city district Koramangala and shared a room together, since a single room would have been quite expensive for Indian conditions. This accommodation was not what we were promised beforehand but we felt pretty comfortable there. During our stay in Koppal we lived in the flat above the Sampark office, which was very comfortable and affordable and where we could cook for ourselves (although the shopping facilities were rather poor there).

Leisure time and travelling

Bangalore is a very convenient city to work in. Although we don’t recommend it as a sightseeing stopover in your journey (there is a very limited amount of sights), it’s a quite well developed city in which it’s easy to get around and go out after work. We often went to MG road after work for doing some shopping or have a drink in the “13th floor” bar. In Bangalore it’s possible to buy almost everything (all kinds of food, books, American brand clothes, souvenirs etc.) and its modern shopping malls are sometimes a good escape out of the busy Indian streets.

Koppal is located in the North of Karnataka and is very different from Bangalore. There is not a lot to do in the town and we were also recommended not to eat in the local restaurants, so we mostly stayed home after work and cooked for ourselves. We recommend you to bring good books or even some movies.

Around two hours away from Koppal by bus there is Hampi, a very relaxing and cool town, which is a popular tourist stop. Distributed around Hampi there are a lot of old temples that can easily be visited by foot, by bike or by rickshaw. We went to Hampi for a weekend when we were in Koppal for the first time and very warmly recommend you to do this too.

All of us travelled around India for around 20 days after the internship in August. As we started off in the South we continuously progressed up to the North from where we then flew home. We started in Kerala (Kochi) and continued to to Goa and Mumbai. From there we flew to Jaipur in Rajasthan went by train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Petra and Natalie flew back from Varanasi, the spiritual city on the Ganges, while Stephanie returned from Delhi.

It’s important to book night trains as long before as possible, since they are early booked. Night buses running on most routes of the trains are bookable on a shorter notice. Flights are pretty cheap and a good option to the trains and buses. For the train booking we recommend to go to a local travel agent, since the commissions are very cheap and it’s quite a hassle to book it online. The buses and flights can easily be booked over homepages like for example makemytrip.com.

Other recommendations

It’s uncommon in Indian NGOs to pay interns. Before we arrived in India Sampark sent us a list of cost which we are expected to pay, since all the cost we caused were bared by ourselves. This list included costs for our accommodation, food, and translation for the projects, travel cost to the office and to Koppal and a time cost of 8000Rs a month directed to Sampark. Make sure that you are ready to pay for everything you use or need there yourself! When we arrived in India, unfortunately some of the cost had increased and there were several new things introduced for which we were expected to pay to. This made us quite angry and we approached our coordinator Prameela, since we did not really feel that our work and input was valued. We were afraid that students like us are just another way of funding for the organization. The decision to talk with her and other people of Sampark about this turned out to be a very good one. Sampark is very used to have interns and unfortunately also made bad experiences where students just came, used their time but then didn’t deliver any value for them. They are working on a tight budget and cannot afford to spend too much of their budget on consulting students, therefore they make sure that your stay with them is paid by yourself. This does not mean that they do not value your work, but it means that they do not know what they get from you. If you are ok with that, you can have a very very good time at Sampark. The staff is very helpful and also interested in telling you about their lives. Especially in Koppal the staff took us in very warmly and helped us wherever they could. Chinnamma, the vice-president, is a very warm and welcoming woman that helped and consulted us a lot and also spent some time in Koppal with us.

All in all we had a very good time in India and can recommend working at Sampark to future interns. If you have any questions just write us an email, we are happy to assist you wherever we can. (nszeidler@gmail.com, petra.gall@student.unisg.ch, steffi.villiger@gmx.ch)