Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RM Awardee Deep Joshi of India:Using head and heart to fight poverty

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Feature
by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
MANILA, Philippines—“IF ALL YOU HAVE are bleeding hearts, it wouldn’t work. If you only have heads, then you are going to dictate solutions which do not touch the human chord.”

Words to remember from India’s Deep Joshi, one of the six recipients of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Development workers, civil society advocates, and social activists take heed. You need both head and heart in order to truly serve. You need both empathy and knowledge in order to be effective.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation is honoring Joshi, 62, “for his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India and in truly combining ’head and heart’ in the transformative work of rural development.”

Joshi and the five other winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award were conferred the prizes on Monday afternoon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The five other awardees were Krisana Kraisintu of Thailand, Yu Xiaogang of China, Antonio Oposa Jr. of the Philippines, Ma Jun of China, and Ka Hsaw Wa of Burma (Myanmar), who each received medallions bearing the likeness of the late former President Magsaysay.

Giving and receiving
Joshi has blazed a trail in professionalizing development work especially among the rural poor of Central India through Pradan, a nonprofit organization he and his colleagues established in 1983.

“We thought of a name first, before we gave (the acronym) a meaning,” Joshi said in an interview. It is a practice also common among civil society groups in the Philippines.

The acronym Pradan stands for Professional Assistance for Development Action. But the word has a composite meaning of giving and receiving.

Pradan is a “school” in the service of grassroots communities. Good intentions alone would not qualify one to immerse in communities to effect change. One has to undergo formation to prepare one to serve effectively.
Pradan provides that formation, a learning experience for both head and heart that combines both theory and actual practice. University graduates from all over India who are filled with idealism make for great recruits.
In Pradan, they are groomed to do grassroots work and are guided in the field. Professionalism is key for Pradanites.

“I have received so much,” Joshi said. “I must give back to society.”

Raised in a remote village in Uttarahand in the Himalayas, Joshi was able to go beyond his village confines and earn a degree from National Institute of Technology in Allahabad and two master’s degrees—in engineering and management—at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A vocation
He asked himself why highly educated people like him would want to devote their lives to village people and projects.

What is stopping them? Well, Joshi showed there was none to stop him. Instead of opting for a high-paying career, Joshi chose development work.

“Development work is considered intellectually inferior,” he said, “unlike science, industry or diplomacy. We want to prove that it is both a challenge and a noble choice.”

It is a calling, he added. “It is not just volunteerism, it is a vocation.”

Pradan’s programs are two-pronged—training of professionals and reducing poverty in communities. The latter takes many forms. And so Pradan must pick and train some of the best and brightest from all fields.

Empowering the poor
Pradan is not just a training ground. It works directly with India’s poorest communities, tribals among them, empowering them with technical and networking skills, project management and implementation.
Pradan helps income generating projects become profitable and sustainable. It organizes women’s self-help groups whether through spinning, agriculture, silkworm raising, micro-enterprises, dairy production or poultry raising.

People are taught how to farm productively through better farming practices. Livelihood projects must be based on sound management of natural resources.

Part of the training of Pradan’s apprentices is living with poor families. Joshi is pleased to say that many of the idealistic university recruits have stayed on with Pradan for many years. Those who have moved on join similar concerns, bringing with them what they have learned.

Great education
“It’s a great education that no university can provide,” Joshi said. There are plans for Pradan to partner with an educational institution.

Over the years, Pradan has reached over 170,000 families in over 3,000 villages in India’s poorest states. Over a thousand trainees have gone through apprenticeship. Pradan has more than 300 professionals on its staff, most of them spread out across India.Pradan also works with government. “India has a large rural development budget,” Joshi said. This is due to India’s economic growth in the last few years.

In the state of Madhya Pradesh, Pradan works with the state’s District Poverty Initiatives. Government funds could be used for infrastructure that supports livelihood programs.
Joshi said that two-thirds of Pradan’s funding came from trusts, while one-third comes from the government.

Corporate responsibility
Having been in development work for a long time, Joshi knows a lot about funding sources. What does he think of corporate funding and the so-called corporate social responsibility?

He said: “We wish that companies would share some of their wealth with the marginalized. But if the approach is one whereby they expect some kind of return, like visibility or fame from their investment in poor people, then it is not good. To me, philanthropy and social responsibility means you do something which society needs, not what will bring you a good name and fame.”

Money is not enough, Joshi emphasized. “More important is, what is this money supposed to do?”

Although Joshi has retired at the policy-prescribed age, a move that shows his professionalism, he has stayed on in Pradan as an adviser upon the insistence of his colleagues. It is their turn to give back, just as Joshi had given back a hundredfold.