Case Study

Dancing with the System: Samarthan’s Efforts to Strengthen Accountability in Rural India

November 2017 | By Brendan Halloran

India is the world’s largest democracy, but it is also a country with widespread chronic poverty and growing inequality. For more than a decade, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) has promised the possibility of dignified employment to the rural poor. Yet this bold program has run into the realities of powerful interests and weak oversight. With support from IBP, the civil society organization Samarthan has worked to strengthen implementation and accountability for MGNREGA in Madhya Pradesh. In doing so, Samarthan has made use of multiple tactics and tools, including contributing to hundreds of social audits. But the organization has also had to navigate a complex and fragile accountability ecosystem and find ways to strengthen it at the same time. Is Samarthan’s work only addressing the symptoms of the problems with MGNEGRA? Or is the organization helping to address the root causes of structural inequality? This case study speaks to these questions through brief exploration of Samarthan’s recent efforts.

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Authors

Brendan Halloran

Head of Strategy and Learning

Brendan Halloran is International Budget Partnership’s Head of Strategy and Learning. In this role, Brendan facilitates strategy and learning processes at IBP – both the internal production of learning insights and drawing on evidence and ideas from broader research and practice in the governance space. He’s particularly interested in complex change dynamics, and how to support organizations to both navigate and strengthen their accountability ecosystems.

Prior to joining IBP in 2016, Brendan lead the learning work of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, where he played a role in shaping and interpreting evidence about what works, as well as supporting collective learning spaces, such as the TALEARN network. Before that, Brendan spent five years living, researching and working in Guatemala, most recently as a Governance Advisor for USAID.  Brendan has a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and has published work in a variety of journals, think pieces, and blogs, including his own — Politics, Governance, and Development.

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South Asia