About Us

Palmyrah Workers Development Society (PWDS), a development organisation founded in 1977, offers support services to sustain community initiatives.

In over three decades of development efforts, reaching out to thousands of villages and impacting on communities with wider spheres of activities, PWDS programmes have transcended geographical barriers and traditional frontiers. Over the years, PWDS has been instrumental and inspirational in initiating many innovative interventions as expressions of its social commitment.

Currently, PWDS implements 66 field projects, has promoted eleven support organisations with mainstream linkages, and works in 30 districts in Tamil Nadu through network programmes with 44 NGOs as partners.

PWDS interventions aimed at empowering the community through:

  • Community organisations
  • Awareness generation
  • Capacity building
  • Mainstream linkages
  • Policy influencing

PWDS believes that promoting and strengthening community organisations is the first step in empowering the weaker sections of people and enabling them towards self-management and sustainability. From the initial years, PWDS has been enabling the community to organise themselves as village level local associations called mantrams. There are mantrams of palmyrah workers, women, and ‘grama mantrams’ in which both men and women are members. Another means of community organisation is through Self Help Groups (SHGs). SHG members are trained to manage the group, maintain accounts, and sensitised on social issues. The self-help group concept operates with a community-managed savings and credit scheme, an economic activity, around which the group functions. People own and manage the group and the economic activity. SHGs are federated at regional level to serve as an apex body of the people and also take up larger issues.

The social organisation process has been further strengthened and sustained by introducing various socio-economic programme interventions with the total participation of the community. These activities were identified from the needs that emerged in the mobilisation process. The major programme activities include a variety of educational and development activities such as childcare and education, skill training, community Health, shelter Development, product Development, community enterprise, access to marketing, micro finance, and agriculture.

The process enabled to establish mainstream linkages for scaling up and sustaining the impact. An approach called MEALS was followed to achieve this.

The MEALS Approach

MEALS, includes the following steps.

  • Motivating
  • Equipping
  • Accompanying
  • Linking
  • Sustaining

In this approach the community owns the activities, while PWDS extends the needed support services, a process, which emphasises community ownership and empowerment rather than community participation in projects. MEALS has an apparent simplicity but embodies a body of ideas in development theory.

The principle that humans live in an interdependent world and need to remain connected to wider society, although self-evident, underscores PWDS concept of mainstreaming. Behind the concept of mainstreaming itself is yet another powerful concept of self-help—a process that the Self-help Groups and Federations illustrate powerfully. This includes accepting self-help as a way for meeting community needs while at the same time clearly emphasising the state responsibility and its role.

The MEALS approach envisaged the NGO as a facilitator in motivating and mobilising the community from the outside and not as “one of the community”; equipping the community through skill transfer, accompanying the community by providing relevant back up, and eventually enabling them to link with mainstream resources and services and being instrumental for policy influences.

The development journey

NGOs cannot solve problems of the community or communities themselves through self-help. The responsibility of the state and mainstream services is the key. NGOs can only innovate, pilot and share. As facilitators, NGOs can mobilise the community and influence policies at the government level. It is pointless to talk of human rights and empowerment in abstract terms. They need to be placed in a living context and in the struggle for restoring livelihood options.

PWDS development philosophy combines rights with capacity, treating the latter as the route. Access to credit is the right but people must have the capacity to use it productively. In this process community mobilization and Capacity building are the empowerment processes and right is an outcome.

People are entitled to resources and support services. Such services to the poor, in most cases, are initiated with donor grants and through alternate channels. Therefore they become dependent on external funds and face an abrupt end when such supports cease. Even when a few services are available from mainstream institutions, often such services are a subsidiary activity with a charity or welfare approach lacking sustained economic goals. Since access to mainstream resources and services are denied to the poor, they access such services from non-regulated informal sector by paying more than the prevailing rates in mainstream sector. This means, contrary to the popular opinion, poor people live in a “high cost economy” of the informal sector.

The poor are to be considered not as beneficiaries of charities but rather as clients of mainstream services. In the same way, the services to the poor need to be seen not as a welfare and subsidiary activity but as a business opportunity that is invested and regulated by the state as essential mainstream services. The poor do not need subsidies but what they do need is sustained support services as in the formal sector. The approach is not charity but access to mainstream resources and services.

The popular belief is that social and economic sectors have conflicting interests and so essentially they will be and need to be polarised. The social and economic goals, understood over the years as inherently conflicting, are in fact integrally connected. Only such an approach, where the economic and social goals merge, can promote social responsibility in the economic sector and enhance efficiency of the social sector for sustained impact.

No doubt that ‘self-help’ is a proven approach in responding to the needs of the poor communities. But ‘Self-help’ has its strength and weakness, particularly when it comes to drawing the dividing line between community role and responsibility of the state.

When we want to send our children to school we do not start a new school, but send them to an existing school; when we need credit we do not start our bank but approach a bank, perhaps the bank known as the most reliable one; when we become sick we do not start a hospital but go to an existing hospital. Then why do we make poor people to start their own schools for their children, their banks for credit, and their health centers to access health care – all in the name of self-help and community participation.

Development interventions and empowerment processes should aim to improve social and economic position of the poor communities by strengthening them to have greater control over their economic activities, establishing linkages to access formal sector resources, and integrating with the mainstream economy for sustenance. The emphasis should be strengthening the community organisations, building the competitiveness of the community, and facilitating access to mainstream resources and services and influencing policies to make services work for the poor. Ultimately an attempt to avail rights.

Poor people have a right to access mainstream services and resources. The development interventions in the name of alternate approaches should not further marginalize the already marginalized communities. Building their capacity and making mainstream services work for them are essential for change.

PWDS has been journeying with people, as learning and changing organisation, responding to emerging challenges and community needs always keeping its core values intact.

Towards empowering through community organisation, awareness generation, capacity building, mainstream linkages, and policy influencing.

The journey continues…