Helping villagers pool resources to establish water and sanitation infrastructure, Gram Vikas improves the quality of life of poor rural communities in India.
Focus: Education, Health, Rural Development, Water and Sanitation
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 352,453 (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 15%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum
Joe Madiath became acquainted with the rural poor in the Indian state of Orissa when he led a group of student volunteers from Madras University to provide relief, following cyclone devastation in 1971. Struck by the terrible poverty, particularly among Adivasis (indigenous people) and Dalits (untouchables), Madiath remained to provide further assistance at a time when Orissa’s villages lacked the most basic infrastructure. He realized that limited economic options were driving villagers to urban slums in a futile search for prosperity. Hoping to reverse this trend, he and a few friends started Gram Vikas with the goal of improving living conditions in villages, increasing local economic options and restoring dignity to marginalized populations.
Innovation and Activities
Working in extremely impoverished areas of Orissa, Gram Vikas (GV) helps tens of thousands of villagers organize themselves to solve a wide range of social and health problems. GV requires participation by each and every adult in its programmes and provides incentives to encourage villagers to pool their resources to improve village infrastructure and sanitation. This process has led to increased awareness of civic rights and duties and more effective political mobilization.
The core methodology of GV is to harness, through full community mobilization, all physical and human capital in a village. The organization works with the villagers to create and manage a "village corpus", a fund that draws cash and in-kind contributions from all families based upon their ability to pay. Once the fund is established, it contributes supplementary resources and soft loans for specific projects.
Under a state project, Gram Vikas set up 55,000 biogas systems in Orissa to provide inexpensive fuel for villagers. Through its Movement and Action Network for Transformation in Rural Areas (MANTRA), GV has helped more than 55,422 families in 943 villages build low-cost facilities for safe drinking water and proper sanitation. As a result of every family in the village having a toilet, bathing room and protected piped water supply, water-related diseases have been drastically reduced. All construction makes use of the villagers' own resources, materials and labour, demystifying construction techniques and enhancing their skills. The same approach has been used to build roads, drainage systems, community halls and schools.
MANTRA has won numerous international awards, including the UN Habitat Award (2003), World Bank Development Market Place Award (2003), Kyoto World Water Grand Prize (2006) and Skoll Award (2006).
Recognizing the poor conditions workers faced on his family farms, Joe Madiath at the age of 12 led a movement to organize them to lobby for better treatment. His confrontational role was met with hostility as his family banished him to a boarding school 2,500 km away. When he returned at age 16, Madiath embarked on a bicycle tour across his country and worked with tribal people along the way to improve their conditions. After the successful launch of Gram Vikas, his family finally accepted his views, and his father became fully supportive of his son’s activities as a social entrepreneur.