Samaaj & Its Critical Role in Empowering its Young People

Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies
4 min readNov 23, 2022

A guest post by Jithin C Nedumala, Co-Founder & CEO, Make A Difference

On Aug 4th, Rohini Nilekani released a collection of essays, Samaaj-Sarkaar- Bazaar- A Citizen-first approach. The book brings forth the need for a dynamic balance between the three sectors, society, governance, and the markets in society. We couldn’t agree more that the quest for a good society begins with positioning ‘Samaaj’ as the foundational sector - not just to keep the state and markets accountable but also to provide the much-needed bandwidth required to solve the massive challenges we face globally.

Quote by Rohini Nilekani, Author — Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar — A citizen-first Approach

Today, 385 million children live in extreme poverty globally, and 30% of them live in India. Data suggest that children born into intergenerational poverty in India will be stuck in the vicious cycle for the next 7 generations. In today’s day and age, with the resources and technologies we possess, children stuck in 7 generations of poverty are not only unfair and unnecessary, but it is also immoral.

In 2005, Nelson Mandela gave his famous speech at the Make Poverty History rally in London’s Trafalgar Square and called on world leaders to make poverty history. He said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.”

Unfortunately, today, a decade and a half later, it feels like the Samaaj and the Bazaar have transferred the responsibility to Sarkaar to end extreme poverty. We all mostly agree on the role of the Sarkaar in poverty alleviation: ensuring there is a functioning system for health care, education, crisis support, maintaining law and order and building a robust infrastructure. There is some consensus on the role of the Bazaar too, the Job Creator and the Innovative Problem Solver.

But what is the real role of the Samaaj?

Is it only to hold the Sarkaar accountable by voting once in 5 years and hold the Bazaar accountable by voting with our wallets every day? Samaaj plays a much more central role in poverty alleviation because the strength and the quality of the relationships between the community, the family and the child have a fundamental impact on the time taken for a child to break out of poverty.

Search Institute, a highly respected research institution with 60+ years of experience in the intersection of youth development and equity, provides a detailed breakdown of the role of Samaaj in a child’s life through its External Developmental Assets Framework. It starts with providing a safe space where young people grow up amongst people who love, care for, appreciate and& accept them. Samaaj plays a critical role in empowering young people and ensuring they feel valued and respected. The necessary boundaries and expectations that are much needed for the child come from the Samaaj, which provides them with clear rules, consistent consequences for breaking the rules, and encouragement to do their best. Last but not least, young people need opportunities outside of school to learn and develop new skills with other youth and adults and creative spaces for constructive uses of their time. The Samaaj needs to take responsibility for this. A well-organised Samaaj can fulfill the needs of children even in instances where a highly functional Sarkaar cannot.

For a child to break out of poverty, it is not enough to provide a high-quality education or create well-paying jobs, it is also critical to build a caring, empowering community around the child. The solution to ending extreme poverty in our lifetime lies in building a Samaaj that takes ownership of its most vulnerable children.

A Samaaj that is deeply connected to the needs of its most vulnerable and is committed to resolving them through collective action. This is the ancient wisdom that is captured in Children’s Fire. When tribal leaders governing multiple regions come together to take decisions affecting the larger collective, they sit around the Children’s Fire to make a promise. A promise that no decision taken around the Children’s Fire will harm a child born 7 generations from today. It is a powerful idea that a society that takes decisions keeping the well-being of its most vulnerable children at the center of it will not only make good decisions for the child but also for the environment, women and all adults for generations to come.

Rohini’s Nilekani’s vision of positioning Samaaj as the foundational sector is an idea whose time has come, and the first step towards it is to strengthen our social fabric by connecting people to collectively work towards something larger than themselves and that “something that’s larger than themselves” in our humble opinion are the children.

*This is a guest blog, and views are personal. Make a Difference is a grantee of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies.