Ashok Khosla

Development Alternatives
Year founded: 

Development Alternatives' innovative technologies and methodologies combine the dual goals of creating income for the poor and regenerating the environment.

Focus: Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Literacy, Rural Development, Technology, Water, Youth
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 2,972,120 (2009-10)
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Half of India’s rural population is unemployed, underemployed or informally employed. This population needs income-generating jobs that provide economic security and the products and services required to satisfy their basic needs. At the same time, industries that create these jobs must reduce their waste of natural resources. New technologies and institutional systems are needed to achieve equitable and environmentally sound development.

Innovation and Activities
Development Alternatives seeks to implement good science for social benefit, utilizing low environmental impact. DA initiatives include Shubh Kal, which brings the risks of climate change to the immediate attention of communities in central India’s semi-arid regions. The concept implies a “better tomorrow” by exercising an ability to handle climate risks through adaptation and mitigation practices at the grassroots level.

Other projects, such as the Community-led Assessment, Awareness, Advocacy and Action Programme (CLAP) for Environment Protection and Carbon Neutrality, and CLEAN-India, work toward mobilizing community responsibility for environmental assessment and protection, as well as carbon neutrality.

In line with the organization’s strategy, DA produces standardized and affordable products for rural markets, such as roofing systems, compressed earth blocks, fired bricks, recycled paper, handloom textiles, cooking stoves, briquette presses and biomass-based electricity. The simple but highly effective TARA micro-concrete roof tile kit, for example, provides employment for five people, while the TARA vertical shaft brick kiln reduces energy use by 55% and emissions by 50%. DA’s paper production units employ 40 workers producing high-quality paper from rags and recycled paper. DESI Power, DA's electric utility, installs mini power stations in villages, fuelled by weeds and agricultural wastes.

TARAhaat, the ICT affiliate of Development Alternatives, brings information technology to villages through its portal ( and its rapidly growing network of +200 franchised local telecentres, which provide information services, educational courses, e-governance services and Internet connectivity to local people on a commercial basis. The Lifelines Project in rural India uses mobile telephone technology to connect poor farmers in 1,500 villages to critical agricultural information through volunteers. Its functional Hindi literacy programme has helped educate +60,000 rural women, and local groups and official agencies use DA’s portable pollution monitoring kits to test water quality in cities and towns.

The Entrepreneur
Ashok Khosla holds a PhD in Experimental Physics from Harvard University. He abandoned a scientific career to focus on issues of environment and development. After helping design and teach Harvard’s first course on the environment, he set up and directed the environmental policy unit for the government of India. Subsequently, he worked for the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Kenya before starting Development Alternatives in 1983. He has been a board member of many global environmental institutions, including the Club of Rome, IUCN, WWF, IISD, SEI and the Alliance for a New Humanity. He is also an advisor to UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank.