Reliance Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Reliance industries Limited (RIL) works for the social transformation of India. Founded by Nita Ambani, Reliance Foundation works in areas like education, health, sports, arts, and rural development, among others.
The Bharat India Jodo initiative
The flagship program of Reliance Foundation’s rural transformation initiative is known as Bharat India Jodo (BIJ). The foundation spends more than half of its funds on this program. The program is focused on the development of farmers and strives to bridge the rural-urban divide. The name ‘BIJ’ is inspired by the Hindi word meaning seed.
Understanding the huge gap between rural and urban India, Nita Ambani launched the BIJ initiative in 2010. She asked her team to work in the regions where the poorest people reside, where no other organization has its reach. BIJ is dedicated to helping small and marginal farmers have a secure livelihood. At the heart of the program, lies community and institution building. Under the initiative, Reliance Foundation provides food, water, nutrition, and ecological security.
The BIJ program is ISO 9001:2015 certified. It has won a number of accolades. Under the NGO category, it has bagged the Rama Krishna Bajaj National Quality Award, Certificate of Merit 2015. Besides, the initiative has also been recognized by a leading international magazine, Leisa, for its sustainable agriculture and efficient water harvesting methods at a village in Madhya Pradesh.
Nita Ambani’s role
In 2010, 70 percent of agriculture in India was dependent on rainfall. The farmers earned their livelihoods through single crop farming per year. Therefore, Nita Ambani realized the need for irrigation and development. Her BIJ program offers resources to the farmers to increase the product to three crops per year. The initiative also helps them boost their productivity and attain a sustainable livelihood.
Nita Ambani envisions a rural India that is at par with the modern and urban India. With this purpose in view, she has directed her team to work for the development of the villagers. She kept the design of the program simple. The first step involves reaching out to the communities. The second step involves listening to their concerns and the final step involves responding to their varied needs and aspirations.
Nita Ambani herself visits different villages and interacts with the locals. She said that she would not rest until her efforts to eradicate poverty and marginality from India have a positive outcome. While working towards social transformation, there is one thing she strongly believes in. She feels that resources and technology alone are not enough for social upliftment. Along with these, passion, determination, commitment, and engagement are equally important.
Working of the BIJ program
BIJ works with 60,000 families and 3 lakh individuals residing in 540 villages in 33 districts across 12 states of India. The BIJ team targets the poorest villages. It chooses villages where 70 percent of the families have an income of less than INR 30,000 per year. BIJ then establishes independent Village Associations (VAs). The VAs strategize development plans depending on specific problems of the villagers. Reliance Foundation supports and helps in the execution of these plans. This further inspires the villagers to join in the social and economic development. BIJ assists them so that the villagers carve their destinies through capacity building.
BIJ imparts the importance of unity among farmers. It encourages decision making, collective ownership, and common welfare. It takes care of the nutritional needs of marginalized families. In this regard, BIJ promotes kitchen and background gardens called Reliance Nutrition Gardens (RGNs). Apart from this, BIJ also ensures complete food and water security, and an ecosystem for achieving sustainable development.
Story of Magan Bai
Magan Bai, a 58-year-old widow was a resident of Bhanpura village in Madhya Pradesh. The woman was struggling for her survival before she joined the VA set up under the BIJ program. Her husband was an alcoholic and so were her two sons. She owned a one-acre land. Out of this, she mortgaged 80 percent of the land to meet her daily needs. She cultivated the remaining land, depending completely on rain farming. Her total family income at that time was INR 24,000 annually.
Magan Bai saw a ray of light after becoming a part of the VA. She was able to release her land and push her annual income to INR 58,000. The VA along with Reliance Foundation carried out developmental activities on the land and made it fertile. Reliance Foundation completely supported Magan Bai. She has now transformed into an independent farmer and a confident decision-maker. Her land has flourished and it has earned her a reputable place in the family.
Like Magan Bai, the BIJ program has helped many other individuals to lead a sustainable life. Nita Ambani aims to take the programs to 100 districts across India and impact the lives of millions.