JAIPUR: Indian-American economist Abhijit Banerjee and his co-researcher and wife Esther Duflo have had a long and crucial association with Sewa Mandir, an NGO from Udaipur in Rajasthan that has been working for the welfare of tribals. It was thanks to their efforts and innovative ideas that the region benefitted.
The duo, in an interaction after their speech at the UN, said that they owe the prize to people whose lives they study and with whom they work. They made a special mention of Sewa Mandir, as one of the key organisations from where they learnt a lot. In their collaboration with Sewa Mandir, Banerjee and Duflo made some interventions which helped immunization rates to increase substantially in the region.
In their association with Sewa Mandir, an NGO of southern Rajasthan, the Nobel Prize- winning duo of Banerjee and Duflo worked in the tribal areas of Jhadol, Kherwada, Badgawn, Aakda and Gerwa.
The NGO and the economists had a long association between the years 1996 and 2009 but according to Ratan Paliwal, current director HR and admin, Sewa Mandir, “The immunization programme that the couple mentioned was conducted during 2002-03. It is on the basis of their study and experiments that the immunization programme was implemented at a far more extensive scale.
According to Sewa Mandir officials and Paliwal, immunization in tribal areas was barely around 6% but due to the interventions by Banerjee and Duflo, it jumped up to 10% in less than a year.
Paliwal further contends: “Besides a rise in immunization cover, their interventions also helped reduce infant mortality rates in our area. With their help, Sewa Mandir began to organise immunization camps in around 30 villages and that ensured that over 77 per cent children got at least one vaccine and the overall immunization rate jumped from 6% to 16.6%.”
Sewa Mandir officials said later inspired by Duflo and Banerjee, an incentive scheme was launched which led to a rise in immunization rate from 17 to 38%. “Using their advice, we started giving incentives to mobilize and motivate people. We started offering people one kilo of moong dal for the nutrition of a child and pregnant women. Their incentives helped to mobilize most of the community to adopt immunization on a huge scale,” said Paliwal.
The NGO later even collaborated with Banerjee and Duflo on an intervention for anaemia and iron fortification, which yielded a range of positive results.
As Banerjee and Duflo gain international limelight after their Nobel success, this modest NGO from Rajasthan is delighted to have played a key role in it.