The Marquee Harbingers Of India’s Development Spring

bunker roy aruna roy
Aruna and Bunker Roy.

Historians will tell you that an explosion of creativity occurs the moment the world starts complaining that there is nothing left to invent or that the search for solutions to complex problems has come to an end. This explosion is fate’s way of reminding us that there is always something just over the horizon of knowledge.

Social entrepreneurs are now using their talent to seek better answers to tough social problems at a time when the world has never needed them more. They are responding to   challenges   with solutions that leave business-as-usual in the dust. They want to use the power of knowledge and the principles of business to create a better world. Making money is not necessarily their first objective. Their first objective is to make a contribution.

The rise of soloists signals the ultimate atomization of the modern world. It also demonstrates that individual initiatives can be as powerful game-changers as collective efforts. The power and reach of individual creativity has grown in inverse proportion to the shrinking of the global village. The failure of conventional strategies to alleviate the problems that the marginalized face today has triggered the creative juices of shoals of the younger lot. It has catapulted them to a cutting edge vanguard position. This approach leaves no room for alibis and is highly committed to delivering results. This new generation of innovators,   many from Ivy League universities, IITs and IIMs, are former bankers, academics, technocrats, bureaucrats and consultants. They favour open-source solutions that share intellectual property–whether computer code or DNA sequences–so those others can improve and build on their creations

This is now a global phenomenon. Even as many Ivy League pass outs head to Wall Street, several of them are taking a different path. A number of bright and committed individuals, though, have given up the best of salaries to serve development causes .India’s villages are among the most promising destinations for them. Moving from villages to bigger cities is no longer the norm. Increasingly, a growing number of people are moving back to their roots or to smaller cities. Whether it is disenchantment with city life or the availability of better opportunities in smaller areas, this trend of ‘reverse migration’ is slowly catching on.

Two extraordinary personalities who studied at elite academes and opted for a career in the hinterland are Bunker Roy and Aruna Roy. Although married to each other, they sought to pursue different paths and different agendas. Bunker set up the famous Barefoot College in a remote village called Tilonia near Ajmer to serve as a nursery for training villagers in simple technologies such as plumbing, servicing solar lamps and hand pumps.  Aruna   worked for years out of a mud hut in Devdungri village in Rajasthan where the DNA of RTI and NREGA was assembled. Similarly the almost mythical doctor couple –Abhay and Rani Bang –set upon to revolutionize   healthcare for the poorest people in India by establishing SEARCH in Gadchiroli, one of the most deprived districts in the Indian state of Maharashtra

Tilonia and Devdungri are the Sewagram and Sabarmati of our times. Both these geniuses  radiate a  contagious light that spreads energy to other people  .They were fired not by   a blind optimism that ignores the scale and scope of  challenges, but rather a hard-earned optimism rooted in the stories of real progress .It’s a belief that each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try.

The influx of talents out of big cities to smaller centres is by no means an indication of aspiration deficit. Rather, it means these people are looking at the new port with a zeal that was earlier meant only for urban pockets. They want more fulfilling careers, ones that can enthuse and satiate their cravings.

Studies by Great Place to Work Institute, the global management consulting and research firm have shown that the NGO sector has emerged as a highly competitive destinaiton .Organizations in this sector appear to be quite ahead of the corporate sector in terms of providing a positive and engaging employee experience. The studies show that 85% of the employee-respondents from the NGO sector feel theirs is a great place to work, as compared to 78% in the non-NGO sector.

We have the example of SEWA (Society for Education Welfare and Action) where highly talented women have renounced their ambrosia and devoted their entire lifetime to empowering poor women. It would be outright vanity to dream of becoming social heroes overnight. The real development story is an aggregate of initiatives in thousands of clusters led by extraordinary people, few of them known and the vast majority of them unknown. For instance, SEWA Rural promotes work-life balance through multiple initiatives that include time off for parents to support their wards appearing for board exams and special leave so that employees can attend camps for holistic living.

It can be difficult to attract people who have specialized skills and can therefore command a higher salary in more traditional segments of the business. There is also a problem in retention. Moreover, organisations usually invest a lot in helping managers develop the skills they need, but once they have those skills, they may have an opportunity to earn more in traditional segments. When they leave, the investment is lost.

When it comes to compensation, one or more issues are often mixed up. There is talk of money buying talent but not commitment, the development sector needing a high level of commitment, and so on. This may be true, but one must not forget that a large number of competent, committed and concerned people would not venture into this sector, if it does not secure their future financially.

However Compensation does not automatically solve the puzzle. It may take care of the financial security, but development jobs require a right mindset. The most powerful factor at play is attitudinal behaviour and a right mindset. This can’t be taught in academic courses. The organizations need to build a pipeline of well-trained talent. Nowadays, most aspiring managers study at the elbow of a seasoned manager. There is no need to get intimidated by academics—book-smart PhDs, believing that replacing them with mere practitioner is anti-intellectual.

Development managers must have a clear set of credos, value statements, and rules in place—along with people who exemplify both organizational values and a d4veloment orientation. It is important to celebrate remarkable performance and communicate success stories. The best organizations develop simple, communicable, and viral language that resonates for everyone. There’s no doubt that morale is higher when people have a strong sense of organizational purpose and personal impact, which creates a greater sense of belonging and improves retention. The challenge for organizations is not reducible to compensation systems—they need to act systematically to frame and reflect the company’s mission in different ways.

I never knew who Che Guevara, one of world’s greatest revolutionaries, was till I read this passage attributed to him: “The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understanding its dynamics, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it, he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed.”

While we continue to work towards engineering reverse migration to villages, it would be wiser to nurture the available rural talents to drive the development revolution in the hinterland .The advice of eminent scientist C N R Rao, the recipient of Bharat Ratna at a lecture at Yenepoya University, has great relevance:”The real science of India lies among girls and boys of villages. So, I have decided to give half of my total earnings to find such talents from rural India”

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at


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