Kudos to her! A different face of rural India. Indian Sarpanch dazzles at UN meet.
United Nations: There was a sense of disbelief among ministers and ambassadors from diverse nations when the chairperson of the 11th Info-Poverty World Conference held at the United Nations introduced the jeans-clad Chhavi Rajawat as head of a village in India.
For, from a distance one could easily mistake Rajawat, an articulate, computer-savvy woman, for a frontline model or at least a Bollywood actress. But she is Sarpanch of Soda village, 60km from Jaipur, in backward Rajasthan and the changing face of growing dynamic rural India.
The 30-year-old Rajawat, India's youngest and the only MBA to become a village head - the position mostly occupied by elders, quit her senior management position with Bharti-Tele Ventures of Airtel Group to serve her beloved villagers as sarpanch.
Rajawat participated in a panel discussion at the two-day meet at the UN on March 24 and 25 on how civil society can implement its actions and spoke on the role of civil society in fighting poverty and promoting development.
It is necessary to re-think through various strategies of action that includes new technologies like e-services in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in an era where resources have become limited, she told the delegates of the international conference.
"If India continues to make progress at the same pace as it has for the past 65 years since independence, it just won't be good enough. We'll be failing people who dream about having water, electricity, toilets, schools and jobs. I am convinced we can do it differently and do it faster. In the past year alone, I and the villagers in Soda have brought about a radical change in the village purely through our own efforts. We have had no outside support - no NGO help, no public, nor private sector help," she said.
On achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Rajawat said she sought full support from outside agencies and the corporate world. "I thank United Nations office for Partnerships (UNOP) which had deputed its senior adviser in India Mr Babu Lal Jain to visit Soda and extend all support in the opening of the first bank in the village. That made all the difference."
"In three years I will transform my village. I don't want money. I want people and organizations to adopt projects in my village as often projects fail owing to lack of a local connect and that is what I am here to provide by bridging that gap".
"I want the conference to help bring about faster change so that this generation can enjoy that kind of life that I - and you in this audience - take for granted," she said to thunderous cheers from the delegates.
After her session, Rajawat told Press Trust of India: "It (service to villagers) has been a journey to my roots. This was not pre-planned. I am paying my debt to the village where I grew up."
Prior to becoming Sarpanch of Soda which has a population of 10,000 people who are predominantly dependant on agriculture, Rajawat was looking after 'Kailrugji, The Hotel' - a family-run hospitality business in Jaipur.
Rajawat, who rides a horse named Magic, conducts village meetings dressed in jeans and T-shirt in a state where women cover their face with a veil as part of the tradition. "It should change. There is so much one can do to break the barriers," she says.
"My business management degree is helping me take care of the village administration and infuse a fresh blood. I am not thinking this as a career but sort of social work," she says. "... my focus is on bringing safe drinking water and increasing job opportunities in the village by involving NGOs," says Rajawat, who works seven days a week for the welfare of her village. "There is so much to be done."
Rajawat found to her dismay that the school system was bad beyond description. "Each school has only two or three teachers for a total of 400-500 students. I want to get a private college in the village and have identified 75 acres of land for construction. I am working with non-resident Rajasthanis and have urged them to come and start a college in my village."
Rajawat was also invited to the India Today Youth Summit 2010 and shared the platform with eminent persons such as Nandan Nilekani, Viswanathan Anand, Sachin Pilot, Sourav Ganguly, Katrina Kaif, Jaideep Sahni, Sanjeev Sanyal and Mukul Deora.
"I am just a village girl who has had an opportunity to study in some of the best institutions in the country and has only gone back home to work with and for her people. It's as simple as that. Don't run away from your roots because that is your foundation and the nation's foundation too. If you want to make a difference, you have got to start at the bottom. There is so much one can do," she says.