MUMBAI, 12 August 2014 - Maharashtra’s top policymakers, eminent civil society stakeholders and specialists from UNICEF and YASHADA came together at the Yashwantrao Chawan Pratisthan in Mumbai today to ponder the question: Can we think of a convergent approach to adolescent programming? The response was a resounding YES.
Maharashtra’s adolescent population stands at 2.13 crore, which means almost one in every five people in the state is an adolescent. This is a vulnerable demographic, perched on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, undergoing a host of biological, cognitive, social and emotional changes.
Over the years, lawmakers and successive governments have introduced and implemented a range of schemes to address this diverse demographic, which comprises rural and urban youth, boys and girls, tribal youth, backward castes, orphans, children with disabilities and those living with HIV among others.
But inter-linkages and convergence have been conspicuous by their absence. These are needed to ensure that existing schemes and innovations are executed in a more coherent way.
The conference in Mumbai was part of a larger, ongoing series of consultations and workshops that are geared towards a consensus-building process. The workshops and consultations are aimed at exploring avenues for convergence, plotting strategies for the effective and efficient usage of existing resources and charting a time-bound roadmap to address adolescents’ needs in a more comprehensive manner.
The consortium of experts included the Additional Chief Secretary, Planning Department and the Principal Secretary, Tribal Development, representatives from the Departments of Women and Child Development, of Social Justice, of Public Health, of School Education and Sports, of Rural Development, of Urban Development, of Water Supply and Sanitation, of Higher and Technical Education, and of Sports and Youth Affairs among others.
The conference itself was a culmination of two events: a workshop held at YASHADA, Pune a week earlier and a five-month long mapping exercise. The workshop in Pune was aimed at conducting an interactive sharing among the concerned departments and civil society initiatives on adolescents and programming opportunities in Maharashtra, mapping the existing policies, programmes and initiatives for adolescents’ development, identifying gaps and planning further interventions, building linkages between existing programmes and policies and evolving a state-level convergent agenda and strategy around adolescent programming. The outcomes of the Pune workshop were presented by YASHADA at the conference in Mumbai.
The mapping initiative – the brainchild of UNICEF and YASHADA, spanned almost half a year. It took a concerted view of the legal, policy and programming scenario in the state, looking at all government and non-government initiatives that address the 10 to 19 years age group. The mapping process consisted of an extensive review of literature, a series of brainstorming workshops with government and civil society representatives, and a synthesis of the information and insights gained. It also led to the formation of a consortium of gender experts.
Based on the outcomes of the mapping exercise, six broad avenues of convergence were presented to policymakers today, in order to translate the need for convergence into concrete and actionable strategies.
These are an Umbrella Tracking System (UTS) on adolescents to aid convergence in data and information management, an integrated adolescence Module in the Plan Schemes Monitoring System (MPSIMS) to aid convergence in plans and budgets and common Implementation Protocols for departments and agencies to facilitate convergence in programmes and interventions.
It also include an integrated training and capacity-building plan to allow greater convergence in administrative machineries, common quality standards and a common accreditation mechanism for service institutions to bring about convergence in laws and policies; and finally setting up kishor sabhas (adolescent assemblies) and linking these to more formal democratic fora like gram sabhas (village assemblies) to lead to convergence empowerment.
To take these proposals further, UNICEF and YASHADA suggested that a thematic task forces be constituted to work on all six strategies and convergence tools evolved by the task forces be reviewed, adopted and implemented in a logical, incremental and continuous manner so as to achieve a steady and progressive build-up of convergence reforms.
It was also suggested that the convergence forms in all multi-sector/coordination committees at the state level be reviewed continuously and a status report on convergence for adolescents be brought out annually.
There was a general consensus among the participants on these proposals. They also agreed that urban adolescents as a category require special attention; adolescents must be split into two age groups (10 to 14 years and 15 to 18 years) to allow for more focused need-specific interventions; and the voices of adolescents themselves must be heard in order to make programming a demand-driven process.
Others points of agreement included recognising substance abuse among adolescents as a concern, the need to provide skill-based learning to those outside the education system, and to leverage sports and technology as tools to engage adolescents in meaningful, constructive activities.
The policymakers present at the event welcomed the proposals and added that these convergence strategies should also be addressed to the newly-appointed State Innovation Council and the soon-to-be set up District Innovation Councils that will take up the cause of convergence. They also drew attention to the State Data Bank website, an updated one-stop shop for all data, to help with convergence on integrated data management.
What makes this consultation process unique is that this is the first time ever that civil society stakeholders, policy makers, subject experts and those who work at the grassroots level have been brought together, on the same page, on an ongoing basis, to share inputs, discuss strategies, evolve a consensus and reach a common understanding on the fact that pooling in collective resources is the need of the hour as adolescents are a high-priority demographic…the citizens of today and tomorrow.