Over the last two decades, India’s rapid financial growth and socio-economic progress has fueled global ambition for the country to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Accounting for 21 percent of the country’s population, India’s 243 million adolescents are seen by many as the ‘demographic dividend’ that will drive this ambition.
Despite this seemingly encouraging narrative, India ranks 131 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. It also holds one of the worst records in the developing world across health, safety and education parameters for its 120 million adolescent girls. Addressing the complex needs of India’s development agenda requires transformative action that is beyond the capacity of a single organisation or stakeholder, be it well-intentioned governments, determined non-profits, experienced philanthropists or multilateral organisations.
To meet the ambition of our SDGs, there is a crucial need for these diverse stakeholders to move beyond traditional silos and embrace the overarching “ecosystem” or “field” within which they want to problem-solve, identify synergistic partnerships, converge on common outcomes and support collaborative action to achieve impact at scale.
In the case of India’s adolescents (aged 10-19), specifically adolescent girls, there is a particularly compelling case for working through a large-scale collaborative model. Adolescent girls in India face many complex problems including limited access to education, early marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence -- all stemming from gender-biased norms that have systemically marginalised this very critical group. Yet, the ecosystem surrounding adolescent girls is fragmented, with limited recognition of adolescents as a distinct demographic group, poor convergence between ;;government efforts followed by inadequate on- ground implementation, and a dearth of coverage on their needs and potential, especially in local media.
There are no formal structures that work for the “whole adolescent”.
Instead, funding is often segregated by sector (health, education or employability), limiting non-profits’ ability to provide a comprehensive set of services an adolescent needs to thrive. There is also minimal incentive for organisations to work together and identify synergies in the support they provide adolescents. For a country seeking to leverage its demographic dividend, this is concerning. Now, more than ever, there is a critical need for diverse stakeholders to collaborate on the development of a strong and sustainable ecosystem for adolescents in India that not only supports their needs but also optimises their potential.
Experts are increasingly recognising the need for multi-stakeholder collaborations to solve India’s social challenges. But collaborative efforts also offer various advantages to stakeholders involved, as suggested below.
Source: Adapted from Peterson (2002) in Dasra (2018).
Today, India stands at the cusp of unprecedented opportunity and long-standing disadvantages. Which way we move will depend on how urgently and sustainably we can create systemic change in India’s development narrative. And this is only possible if the government, non-profits and funding partners invest in deliberate, structured and impact-focused collaboration, today.
As part of the Adolescents Collaborative team at Dasra, Mehek Punatar and Neha Lalwani lead funder relationships with multilateral organisations, foundations and philanthropists, and projects with the government.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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