He formed, together with some colleagues, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN). A non-profit organization, PRADAN recruits university-educated youth from campuses across the country and grooms them to do grassroots work through a rigorous year-long apprenticeship which combines formal training and guided practice in the field.
“Professionalizing” development work is PRADAN’s mission. Living and working directly with India’s poorest communities, PRADAN staff empowers village groups with technical, project implementation, and networking skills that increase both their income-generating capabilities and their actual family income.
The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India by effectively combining ‘head’ and ‘heart’ in the transformative work of rural development”.
Despite India’s remarkable economic boom in recent years, poverty remains urgent and widespread in this vast country. Forty-two percent of India’s population, or roughly four hundred million people, still live below the global poverty line. At the frontlines in addressing this problem is a huge civil society movement of a million non-government organizations, or NGOs. Yet, many of these organizations are small or ineffective. It is in the context of these challenges that Deep Joshi evolved his development work.
Joshi was raised in a remote village in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas, where until today there are few motor roads. But this marginalization did not prevent him from earning a degree from the National Institute of Technology in Allahabad, a master’s degree in engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a management degree from MIT’s Sloan School.
Returning to India, he worked as a Ford Foundation program officer and accumulated experience in development work. Encounters in the field inspired him, in particular a visit to the US-trained medical doctors Rajanikant and Mabelle Arole, who were working on rural health in remote West-Central India. Deeply impressed by how the Aroles combined their sophisticated training with strong empathy for the poor, Joshi concluded that if only more people equipped with both knowledge and empathy decided to work in the villages, India’s rural society would be transformed.
This idea led him in 1983 to form, together with some colleagues, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN). A non-profit organization, PRADAN recruits university-educated youth from campuses across the country and grooms them to do grassroots work through a rigorous year-long apprenticeship which combines formal training and guided practice in the field. “Professionalizing” development work is PRADAN’s mission. Joshi says: “Civil society needs to have both head and heart. If all you have is 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.”
Living and working directly with India’s poorest communities, PRADAN staff empower village groups with technical, project implementation, and networking skills that increase both their income-generating capabilities and their actual family income. Its staff, combining their professional expertise with local knowledge, also train villagers as para-veterinarians, accountants, and technicians who support their fellow-villagers in building and sustaining collective livelihood projects.
In its twin programs of training development professionals and reducing rural poverty, PRADAN has produced impressive results. It has reached over 170,000 families in over three thousand villages of India’s poorest states. Over a thousand graduates have joined its apprenticeship program. More than three hundred professionals comprise its staff, most of them working in field-based teams across the country.
PRADAN is not founder-centric. It is a decentralized, collegial body that has developed institutional space for second-generation leaders. Joshi is himself an exemplar of its strength and character as a professional organization, retiring at the policy-prescribed age despite the wish of his colleagues for him to stay on. Still, he remains deeply committed to PRADAN, now working purely as an Advisor. Modest, deeply respected by colleagues for his integrity and intelligence, he has shaped the professional ethos of the organization.
Joshi began by asking himself: Why would engineers and management professionals, with degrees from universities like Harvard and MIT, choose to apply their brainpower to a small village irrigation project? For someone who did exactly that, the pressing question was, what is stopping them? Joshi desires to show that for people with the finest education, there are few intellectual challenges more worthy than addressing rural poverty. He says: “Development work is considered intellectually inferior to high science, industry, or diplomacy. We want to prove it is both a challenging and a noble choice.”
In electing Deep Joshi to receive the 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India by effectively combining ‘head’ and ‘heart’ in the transformative work of rural development.
It is an honor to be chosen for the Ramon Magsaysay Award, named after a great humanist of our times.
Among those from my country so honored are saints of our times like Vinoba Bhave, Mother Teresa and Baba Amte; reformers like JP Narayan; artistes like Satyajit Ray; activists like Laxmi Jain and Aruna Roy; social entrepreneurs like Vergese Kurien; scientists like M. S. Swaminathan; community workers like Ela Bhatt… It is humbling to be joining such a galaxy of fellow citizens whose selfless, path-finding work I have always admired, some of whom I have had the privilege to know personally and one of whom, Mabelle Arole, indeed inspired whatever I have made of my life. The award is recognition of the hard work and dedication of my colleagues in PRADAN; it celebrates the idea of PRADAN, that education must serve a social purpose, that it must first be used to trigger transformations in communities mired in poverty and hopelessness. I do hope it also reminds us of the vast challenges that lie ahead of us to create a world without want, misery and strife. On a personal note, nothing I have done would be possible without the support of my family, especially my wife Sheela.
The word “professional” used in my citation derives from ‘profess’, denoting people who had discovered the Truth through years of study and reflection and used their knowledge to aid the salvation of ordinary people. Possession of unique knowledge and its use in public service thus define a professional. We hold them in high regard. They enjoy much authority and respect in society. Only fellow professionals can question or challenge them, not ordinary citizens. The world today almost totally depends on professionals. We let them run our economies, plan our cities, manage our forests and factories, dispense justice, run governments, educate our children, look after our health, plan our future and even fight our wars…Yet, as we look around, the balance sheet does not quite add up. Widespread poverty and misery, strife in many parts of the world, a planet inexorably heating towards peril…Professions and professionals have not quite acquitted themselves…Something has gone horribly wrong…
I am also trained as a professional. As a young man who grew up in a tiny village in the Himalayas I was culturally an alien to the world of professions. What an engineer or a manager normally does did not seem fulfilling. I could not think of an alternative until serendipity brought me to the work of two doctors, Mabelle and Raj Arole, in a poor, drought-prone part of rural Maharashtra in western India. Seeing Mabelle work with poor, illiterate village women was my turning point. The bond she had with those women clearly arose from her deep interest in them as human beings. Yes, she needed her medical knowledge to introduce new health practices and behaviour, but it was her empathy that helped her discern what was needed and win the villagers’ trust to get her ideas accepted.
I learnt from this encounter what professional schools never taught me, that knowledge alone does not make you a professional. Knowledge must have a social purpose and that comes from a concern for others, empathy with others. It comes from the heart, just as knowledge resides in the head.
It is the mission of PRADAN to bring educated Indians to work with poor people, as much to use their valuable knowledge as to express their concern for others. Over the years we have demonstrated the power of this idea. I believe we have only re-invented the definition of professionalism that has always existed. I am grateful that the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation agrees with us. I gratefully accept the award on behalf of my colleagues, all women and men working with poor people, my family and all the people in villages who have so willingly accepted us, taught us.
Thank you very much.