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PRADAN was founded in 1983 as an India-based NGO (Non-Government Organisation).[1][2][3] Its title stands for Professional Assistance for Development Action.[4] It is a voluntary organisation registered under the Societies Registration Act of India. In 1983,Vijay Mahajan and Deep Joshi set up PRADAN, inspired by the belief that well-educated people with empathy towards the poor must work at the grassroots to remove mass poverty.

Soon there were several score professionals in PRADAN, working in remote villages[5] in many parts of the country, helping poor families enhance their livelihoods through concrete action programmes.

PRADAN believes that the path towards conquering economic poverty is through enhancing the livelihood capabilities of the poor and giving them access to sustainable income-earning opportunities. In the process, the poor must be enabled to break free from their past, develop an alternative vision of their future and set achievable goals. They must be equipped with the technical, organisational, negotiating, and networking skills that will facilitate the fulfilment of their goals.[citation needed]

Today, some 400 professionals under PRADAN’s fold are working in the remote villages of India, immersing themselves directly with target communities. These young professionals are recruited from universities and hold specialised degrees in subjects like management, engineering, agriculture, and the social sciences.

PRADAN professionals, divided into 32 teams, have worked with over 271,000 families in 5,000 villages across seven of the poorest states in the country. A majority of the families that PRADAN works with belong to the Schedule Tribes and Schedule Castes.


PRADAN’s mission is rooted in a clear understanding of the societal contexts that make poverty in India complex, a phenomenon which thrives in various interrelated factors including:

  • The rural poor’s view of themselves;
  • Their understanding and skills to deal with outside systems;
  • Their access to resources;
  • Their technical knowledge to use the resources that they have;
  • The existence of feudal or semi-feudal agents which deprive the poor of their surpluses; and,
  • Other causes that are rooted beyond the local context.

Over the many years that it has worked with India’s rural poor, PRADAN has learned valuable lessons that serve as a guide to fulfilling the organisation’s mission. Among those learnings are the following:

  • Alleviating rural poverty is an extremely challenging task. Development efforts must be conducted with the collaboration of different and equally interested actors in order to make an impact.
  • Rural communities are fragmented along caste and class lines. These tend to restrict the effectiveness of joint action for development.
  • Among the rural poor, women are generally marginalised, yet they prove to be more effective agents of social change. Sadly, however, such potential is not well-recognised.
  • There are plenty of resources in the rural areas – including human resources – which remain largely untapped.
  • There is need for innovation in the social and technical spheres for generating ideas that can affect the rural poor on a large scale.

The government[6] remains the biggest and most dominant actor in development, but its efforts have had a limited effect on alleviating rural poverty. This could be due to various factors, including:

  • lack of access of people to government;
  • government programmes that have little relevance to rural communities;
  • inappropriate design of some government programmes and schemes;
  • low quality of human resources at the implementation levels of government; and,
  • lack of recognition among government personnel that they have a stake in the poor’s development.

The context in which PRADAN operates is changing fast.

With all this in perspective, PRADAN seeks to define the space in which it can be most effective, as well as the approaches that can best help the rural poor enrich their lives.

Core competency[edit]

PRADAN's core competency is in the area of sustainable livelihoods. By addressing issues of livelihood, PRADAN has been able to make an impact in the lives of poor communities. Having access to sustainable livelihood opportunities, the poor become less vulnerable to adverse natural and man-made forces. Control over their source of livelihood improves the poor’s image of themselves. Livelihood is a tangible instrument around which rural poor people can be organised, opportunities to deal with outside systems be created, and a greater impact on the fight against poverty be attained.

In this light, PRADAN is guided by the principle that for the rural poor communities to be able to access opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, they must first be enabled. This concept of "enabling communities" implies that PRADAN adopts participatory processes in its work with the people, making available ideas and technologies in a manner that enhances the poor’s access to and control over their resources. These resources, in turn, aid in the improvement of their lives, in organising them into appropriate peoples’ institutions at various levels, to improve their bargaining power and in enhancing their ability to deal with mainstream systems and provide sustainability to the interventions.

As rural poverty is so widespread and multifaceted, it is not possible for any single actor to make a significant dent on the problem merely on its own. Efforts will be sustainable only when made at multiple levels and in a scale that is significant. Therefore, PRADAN also collaborates with, educates, and influences mainstream actors in development. A gap exists between the mainstream and the grassroots, and PRADAN is competent in effectively filling such void. Moreover, PRADAN strives to share its experiences with other development workers, recognising the unfortunate fact that knowledge about processes in addressing rural poverty is severely limited.

Governing Board [7][edit]

The Governing Board comprises maximum 12 members.

Nine are invited Honorary Members, who come from diverse professional arenas, having their own distinguished record of public service. They are independent directors and hold no material interest in PRADAN.

The Honorary Members nominate two senior members of the staff to sit in the Board. The Board appoints the Executive Director, who serves a five-year term by convention, and concurrently acts as the ex officio Secretary of the Board. The Board renews itself periodically as members can serve no more than two consecutive terms of three years each. All incumbent Honorary Members are also members of the General Body besides other individuals who have joined the Society earlier.

Name Board Position Affiliated Organisation
Mr. Ravi Narain Chairperson National Stock Exchange of India Ltd
Ms. Anshu Vaish Vice Chairperson Retired IAS Officer, GOI
Mr. Pramath Raj Sinha Member Managing Director 9.9 Media
Ms. Sushma Iyenger Member Development Activist
Ms. Meera Sanyal Member Ex Chairperson, RBS Foundation (India)
Ms. Mirai Chatterjee Member Director of Social Security at SEWA
Mr. Vineet Nayar Member Former Chief Executive Officer of HCL
Mr. Saroj Mahapatra Staff Member PRADAN
Mr. Arnob Chakrobarty Staff Member PRADAN
Mr. Manas Satpathy Ex Officio Member-Secretary and Executive Director Executive Director-PRADAN
Period - As on 31 July 2015


Currently 32 field-based teams carry out daily operations and the organisation’s livelihood and other programmes in all project areas, each of them working under the leadership of a mid-career executive designated as Team coordinator(TC).Each field team comprises 3 to 5 professionals.

A senior executive designated as Programme Director supports several teams. Organisation-wide functions are also overseen by the Programme Directors. All Programme Directors, together with the Executive Director, constitute the Executive Committee that is responsible for strategic and operational integration and institutional development.The Executive Director, Programme Directors, and Team Leaders constitute the Consultative Forum which carries out twice-yearly programme planning, budgeting, and review.

PRADAN professionals work with over 271,921 families in 5,000 villages across seven of the poorest states in the country. All professional staff meets once a year in a Retreat to exchange experiences and broadly chart out future direction.


PRADAN is one of the pioneers in the promotion of Self-Help Groups (SHG) in India, having formed its first SHG in Alwar, Rajasthan, in 1987. A savings and credit SHG is a simple yet effective way of reaching out and connecting with rural poor women.

A Self-Help Group is an informal association of 10 to 20 poor women belonging to the same village and sharing a common socio-economic background. The group enables its members to gain their identity as individuals, while realising – and utilising – the immense power of mutual aid. It provides them with a platform from where they can access banks and public services, and spearhead changes that affect them as poor women.

Nurturing the Self-Help Groups of rural poor women is PRADAN’s key tool in fulfilling its mission and goals. The Self-Help Groups work for the women in a number of ways: they provide guidance; they give support and assistance to women; and they identify and promote home-based enterprises among its members. These home-based enterprises, called "honeybee activities", involve a myriad of ventures. The SHG members take loans from the SHGs and set out to begin an enterprise of their own.

As a result of PRADAN’s intervention efforts, an increasing number of rural families – especially women – are engaging in independent livelihood activities. These activities serve as opportunities for diversifying and enhancing their incomes.

PRADAN gives particular attention to women because even as they comprise half of the country’s population, they remain the most disadvantaged sector among the poor. Yet it is the women who prove to be most effective in fostering change in their families and communities.

As of March 2013, PRADAN has worked with some 18,736 SHGs across seven states, representing a total membership of 252,000 rural poor women.

Also significantly, the financial accounting and Management Information System (MIS) of PRADAN’s SHG programme has been streamlined by the innovative system of community-based accounting through the Computer Munshi System.

Forest-based livelihood[edit]

PRADAN works mostly with Adivasis and poor people who live near forests for whom forests and trees have, traditionally, been an important source of livelihood. Over the years, dwindling forests and the implementation of protection-oriented public policies have made serious inroads to these livelihood activities, resulting in decreased incomes for the local communities.

PRADAN’s forest-and tree-based livelihood interventions in Jharkhand and Orissa consist of Tasar cocoon production, Lac cultivation and production, and trading of Siali leaf plates. Farm forestry has also been taken up as part of a programme on integrated natural resource management. In all, there are some 7,792 families who are involved in these various activities.

In its activities, PRADAN is supported by, and works in close association with various government departments such as the Ministry of Rural Development, the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Textiles, and a number of resource institutions such as the Central Silk Board and the Indian Lac Research Institute.

Natural resource management[edit]

A vast majority of the rural poor continue to be dependent on land and water resources for their meager livelihoods. Sadly, however, various phenomena including deforestation, drought and soil erosion have resulted in decreased incomes for these families. Chronic poverty persists. Thus PRADAN devotes a significant part of its intervention efforts on developing land and water resources. The aim is to enhance productivity, incomes and sustainable livelihoods.

Towards this objective, PRADAN promotes the Integrated Natural Resources Management (INRM) of land, water, forest and biological resources to achieve and sustain potential agricultural productivity. INRM combines managing the use of natural resources along with their conservation and sustenance. Programmes consist of enhancing productivity in agriculture; diversifying into new crops; setting up irrigation systems; and instituting entirely new ways of managing the natural resource base.


Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood in the regions where PRADAN works. With current low levels of productivity in agriculture, PRADAN extends assistance in finding opportunities to enhance livelihoods. Over half of PRADAN’s livelihood programmes are focused on agriculture, its improvement – and the overall management of natural resources – remains key in the battle against endemic poverty in the rural areas.

Enhancing productivity and diversification are the core strategies of PRADAN’s agriculture programmes. Specific activities are increasing the productivity of the main cereal crops to improve food security, and diversification into cash crops such as pulses, oil seeds, and vegetables.

Whichever programme is undertaken, PRADAN seeks to ensure its sustainability. In order to achieve this, the organisation trains and deploys a large number of agriculture extension entrepreneurs to the field. Producers’ institutions around agriculture are formed and strengthened as well.


Horticulture is gradually emerging as a significant livelihood programme in the high-rainfall regions where PRADAN is engaged. Diversification has become an essential component of sustainable strategies, given the dwindling productivity of agriculture. Critical to the success of PRADAN’s horticulture programmes is the enhancement and management of natural resources, particularly in the hilly are working to encourage farmers to take up vegetable cultivation on their small-scale homesteads and near dug wells. These activities provide the poor families with a dependable source of income. PRADAN has taken up fruit tree plantation programmes on private lands. Over 6,000 families are currently involved in PRADAN’s horticulture programme.

Land and water resources[edit]

At the heart of PRADAN’s strategy has always been to work directly with the rural poor, build their capabilities, and introduce and develop new livelihood opportunities. While the organisation’s strategies, programmes, and methodologies have evolved over time, developing land and water resources has been a fixture in PRADAN’s work.

PRADAN takes the integrated approach to resource management and has demonstrated ways to promote the development of natural resources. This approach leads to an equitable and sustainable economic growth, ensures household food security, and helps minimise mass poverty.

An integrated approach to land and water resources management requires participatory planning with the people, to develop systems and treatment measures that are most suitable to the resources available. The technologies that PRADAN has developed are simple and labour-intensive and best suited to the people they are designed to serve. PRADAN’s integrated approach to natural resource management (INRM) calls for the efficient management of soil, water and vegetation resources, yet maintaining a livelihood focus. INRM recognises that uncontrolled, unplanned and unscientific use of natural resources results in their decline. Therefore, managing natural resources calls for proper land use while protecting it from erosion; enhanced productivity while maintaining soil fertility; and water harvesting and conservation.

Livestock development[edit]

PRADAN works with rural families in the promotion of dairy and goat rearing activities in the project areas of Jharkhand, Orissa, and Rajasthan. While livestock populations in these areas are higher than the national average, productivity is low, rearing practices remain poor, breeds are non-descript, veterinary services are non-existent, and market infrastructure is often absent.

Yet dairy and goat rearing possess tremendous promise as livelihood supplements for the rural poor in these areas. Thus PRADAN seeks to help bring in better-quality breeds, veterinary care, while at the same time developing a reliable cadre of village-based service providers and marketing systems. Specifically in Rajasthan and Jharkhand, PRADAN is expanding its outreach programmes with support from various quarters like the government, financial institutions, and various resource institutions such as the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI).


PRADAN’s interventions on Dairy programmes are being extended through the induction of better quality of breeds, the training of women in feeding and husbandry practices, veterinary care, the development of a cadre of village-based service providers, and the creation of systems for effective marketing.

Though holding potential, Dairying remains poorly developed in PRADAN’s project areas. In these areas, the population of domestic animals is higher than the national average. Yet milk productivity is low, rearing practices are poor, breeds are non-descript, veterinary services are non-existent, and market linkages do not exist.

To fulfill the potential of Dairying in its project areas, PRADAN provides assistance for the induction of new animals, while giving attention as well to better housing and veterinary care, especially the provision of immunisation against diseases. In this light, systems have been set up to for the procurement and distribution of important vaccines.

PRADAN also assists participants in accessing funds from various sources such as centrally sponsored schemes, donor-aided programmes, and state governments.

In Jharkhand, PRADAN is promoting a women’s dairy co-operative. An additional two are in the pipeline, the setting up of which is being conducted with assistance from banks and the State Government. Meanwhile, in Rajasthan, PRADAN has set up a women’s Producer Company in collaboration with the Mother Dairy and the World Bank-funded District Poverty Initiatives Project (DPIP). The Producer Company will procure milk for bulk markets and provide technical assistance to the producers, too.

At present, the dairy programmes reach out to nearly 3,858 families.

Goat rearing[edit]

PRADAN is promoting goat-rearing programmes in Rajasthan[8][9][10] and Orissa. As with other PRADAN initiatives, the focus is on assisting women in optimising their livestock resources. This becomes necessary given that in these project areas, goat rearing is characterised by the use of poor breeds and unscientific husbandry practices that result in low incomes and high morbidity and mortality risks.

PRADAN focuses on the induction of new animals, better housing and veterinary care, especially immunisation against certain well-known killer diseases like PPR (Peste des petits ruminants). Systems have been set up to procure and administer necessary vaccines in collaboration with government agencies.

PRADAN assists poor women in goat rearing as a potential livelihood supplement. The programme enables women to obtain credit to buy goats and provide improved shelter and veterinary support. Training a cadre of para-vets to provide animal health care on a routine basis is also an important intervention.

The programmes are implemented in clusters so that capacity building, veterinary support, and marketing can be taken up in a more systematic manner.

PRADAN’s goat-rearing programmes currently reach out to some 2,331 families.

Microenterprise promotion[edit]

In PRADAN’s project areas, land, water, livestock, and forests remain the main sources of livelihood that are available to the rural poor. Most families depend on agriculture for their meager incomes.

But with continually diminishing outputs and declining farm sizes, it has become more urgent for the rural population to diversify their avenues of income. This necessarily involves introducing them to emerging home-based microenterprises. The aim is to take advantage of the rising demand for newer goods and services, which provide livelihood opportunities outside traditional farming.

PRADAN is promoting home-based microenterprises such as poultry rearing, Tasar yarn production, vermi-composting, mulberry sericulture, and cultivation of oyster mushrooms.[citation needed]

Extent of activity[edit]

Today PRADAN works with over 271,921 poor families in rural India in 41 districts of seven states. Over 400 professionals work full-time to eradicate mass poverty in rural India.

Currently it is one of the largest rural livelihood promoting NGOs in India, with extensive linkages to Government programmes and mainstream commercial banks.

See also[edit]

  1. Deep Joshi
  2. Vijay Mahajan


External links[edit]