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 Chhavi Rajawat, an articulate, computer-savvy woman, for a frontline model or at least a Bollywood actress. But she is sarpanch of Soda village, 60 kilometres from Jaipur, in backward Rajasthan and the changing face of growing dynamic rural India.

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 organisations 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.

PTI