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Why Problem-Statement-Led Approaches are Better than Solution-Based Ones

Development interventions are critical in addressing various challenges faced by communities worldwide. However, achieving desired outcomes requires understanding the problem context rather than relying on preconceived solutions. In today's fast-paced society, it's easy to fall into the trap of seeking surface-level solutions and short-term fixes for the complex problems we face. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that these band-aid solutions can only scratch the surface of deep-rooted issues. To truly make a lasting impact, we must delve deeper, gaining a comprehensive and contextual understanding of the underlying causes, and developing tailored strategies to address them. By doing so, we can pave the way for significant and sustainable change.

Understanding the Need for Comprehensive Solutions

Superficial solutions are often quick fixes that provide temporary relief without addressing the root causes of societal problems. Although these solutions might appear effective on the surface, they fail to create long-lasting impacts. For instance, implementing a food drive to address hunger in a community might provide immediate relief, but it does not address the underlying issues of poverty, inequality, and access to resources.

Tackling Deep-rooted Issues

To address deep-rooted societal issues, it is crucial to take a multipronged approach that targets the underlying causes. This involves understanding the intricate web of factors that contribute to a problem and developing strategies that address each of these factors.

The Power of Comprehensive and Contextual Understanding

Comprehensive and contextual understanding is the key to uncovering the complexities of societal issues. By examining the historical, social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to a problem, we can develop interventions that are more robust and effective. Understanding the unique challenges faced by different communities allows us to tailor solutions that are relevant and sustainable.

The Health Energy Nexus: A Problem-Statement-Led Project

In 2021 when we first ventured into Meghalaya, one of the first problems that attracted our interest was that in the healthcare sector in the state.

Maternal mortality rates (MMR) for the year 2020-21 in Meghalaya were reported to be 197 per one lakh deliveries, significantly higher than states like Kerala, where the MMR was 43, in the State Health Policy 2021. Additionally, Meghalaya's institutional delivery rate was found to be alarmingly low at 51.4 per cent.

During our initial visits to these healthcare centres, we conducted thorough observations and engaged in meaningful conversations with numerous healthcare workers on the frontline. Through these interactions, we recognised the profound disparities in access to resources, advanced equipment, and essential skills among different facilities.

In our observations of various healthcare facilities and infrastructures, a common trend emerged – the adoption of standardized designs and policies. During a conversation with an Asha worker named Mawkdok in EKH, we inquired about the use of a charcoal heater. Given the extremely cold climate in the region, the need for a heater was understandable. However, what caught our attention was the specific use of charcoal heaters, which have been the subject of numerous scientific studies due to the potential health risks associated with the fumes they release.

What astonished us even more was the occasional use of these charcoal heaters as baby warmers. In the remote areas where they operate, frequent power cuts and heavy rainfall often limit the available options for health workers. As a result, these heaters seemed to be one of the few viable alternatives to keep newborns warm in challenging conditions.

Observations and conversations like this helped us identify a problem statement Rural communities lacked access to upgraded medical equipment at primary healthcare facilities. There is a lack of energy to power the system, and healthcare workers' skills need to be updated.’

This was the starting point for us and our partners (SELCO Foundation & Government of Meghalaya) to start thinking of ways to mitigate the problem leading to the co-designing of our flagship project in the domain of Healthcare ‘The Health Energy Nexus’

From Health to Climate

Clean cookstoves offer potential benefits such as improved efficiency and reduced emissions compared to traditional biomass stoves. They address various social issues, from health impacts like childhood pneumonia and lung cancer to environmental concerns like climate change and resource depletion. However, despite their advantages, and efforts to introduce and popularise it, clean cookstoves face low adoption rates in Northeast India due to the neglect of local needs and practices during design and implementation.

From our understanding, a traditional fireplace in Northeast India has cultural and economic significance, serving purposes like food preservation and cultural identity. Any intervention with clean cookstoves must consider these existing practices. The design should allow for accommodating traditional functions while enhancing efficiency and reducing emissions. The clean cookstove should be versatile, handling different fuels and utensils, and affordable, user-friendly, and durable in challenging weather conditions. By understanding and incorporating local values, a successful clean cookstove intervention can improve health outcomes and minimize the negative environmental impact in Northeast India.

Design Considerations for Clean Cookstoves:

In developing clean cookstoves for Northeast India, several factors must be considered to ensure their successful adoption and impact. Firstly, the stove must be designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions without compromising on cooking quality and speed. Secondly, it should be versatile enough to handle different types of fuels, utensils, and dishes that are commonly used in the region. Thirdly, the stove must be durable and able to withstand harsh weather conditions prevalent in Northeast India, such as strong winds and heavy rain. Fourthly, affordability is a key consideration, given the economic conditions of the users. Finally, the design should also preserve or enhance the existing functions and values associated with smoke, which hold cultural and social significance for the communities.

Both of these cases are presented based on observations garnered from the time spent with the communities and questions asked with a focus on smaller details. Designing a project that large a large-scale investment of time and resources, gathering a considerable amount of evidence and data-backed insights would be the suggested next step. However, one should not neglect the fact that a lot of the problem statements can be identified from the experiences of people and communities.

Making a Lasting Difference Together

Deep-rooted societal issues require collective effort and collaboration to be effectively addressed. It is crucial for individuals, organizations, and communities to come together, share knowledge, and work towards comprehensive solutions. By acknowledging the complexity of problems and employing contextual understanding, we can make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of all those affected.

The ‘Centre for Accelerated Development’ is an approach developed on these principles. In the last 5 years, we have refined our approach even further to create solutions and impact that are contextual and sustainable.

Let's remember that surface-level solutions and short-term fixes can only scratch the surface of deep-rooted issues. Together, we can tackle the underlying causes through comprehensive and contextual understanding, and tailored strategies. By doing so, we can create a ripple effect of positive change that impacts society as a whole.

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