Anyone working or studying in the field of international development is most likely familiar with ‘rural development’.
While the term itself does not have a universal definition, broadly it refers to the development of rural areas in order to improve the quality of life and well being of those residing in these areas.
Rural development is crucial to and intertwined with poverty reduction strategies and is therefore an important field within development.
It is estimated that around three quarters of the world’s poor, living on less than one dollar a day, live and work in rural areas. Research also suggests that people in rural areas are twice as likely as those in urban areas to be poor. In India itself, the 2011 Census of India found that nearly 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas. For those interested in or working in development, such numbers automatically suggest the importance of focusing efforts to make improvements in the quality of life of those in rural areas.
Given its multi-disciplinary nature, rural development professionals encompass a wide range of different backgrounds and sectors such as education, food security, agri-business, healthcare, ICT, skill upgradation etc. with the goal of working towards social and economic improvements.
Due to the fact that the majority of rural folk engage in farming and that agriculture is one of the primary sources of income, a large number of rural development initiatives are based on agricultural activities. However, rural development initiatives also include a wide range of projects and different approaches through government initiatives, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and social enterprises. There are also a number of private sector companies engaging in rural development activities as a part of their CSR initiative.
With the very broad range of activities that fall under rural development, it would be beneficial for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field to narrow down your interests even further and decide how you would like to contribute to the sector.
While experience working either directly on the field or at an organization that works in rural areas would be the ideal way through which you could narrow down your focus, following your passion, staying updated on current work through different entities and having informational interviews with experienced professionals in the field could also prove to be beneficial.
If you are passionate about the rights of women in rural areas and want to work on livelihoods issues, researching possibilities of working with a government entity or organization that facilitates women’s self-help groups could be one way you could go about narrowing down your focus. While this is a very basic example, research (and experience) continues to show time and again that the productivity and quality of one’s work is better when a person is doing something they truly care about and is passionate about. Thus, choosing an organization whose work resonates with your values and an issue that you care about does matter.
Knowing your particular area of focus also allows you to gain specific knowledge and experience or technical know-how relevant to that particular area which is crucial inensuring successful outcomes. There are specific Masters programs in Rural Development for those interested as well as different training programs through which you could develop skills useful for rural development.
It is clear that while significant headway has been made in initiatives aimed towards improving the standard of living, much work still remains to be done. The numbers clearly suggest that there is a need for more rural development professionals, however, having the rights skills, knowledge and understanding of local contexts is of equal importance.