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Ved Arya’s new model for rural development relies on collaboration between government, citizen organizations, donor agencies, and private businesses. His hybrid organization works both as a consulting firm and a grassroots development agency.

This profile below was prepared when Ved Arya was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.


Ved Arya’s new model for rural development relies on collaboration between government, citizen organizations, donor agencies, and private businesses. His hybrid organization works both as a consulting firm and a grassroots development agency.


Ved is changing what is often perceived as an adversarial relationship between government institutions, donor agencies, and citizen organizations (COs). His organization, SRIJAN (meaning “creation” in Hindi and originally, Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action), mixes consultancy services with support in the field. Ved’s consultants influence policy, project design and management, and recruitment for government development jobs while his field teams work with local communities to implement innovative, pro-poor projects and demonstrate their effectiveness.

Revenues from his consultancy services support his field initiatives and bring the incomes of field workers into line with industry norms, which in turn helps attract talented professionals. This creates a new human resource base for India’s development projects. Collaborating with the government, he is addressing broader issues of transparency and corruption and changing the ethos within the development bureaucracy.

SRIJAN promotes self-reliance and poverty alleviation through sustainable livelihood and water management projects in rural India’s poorest regions. Because his organization is involved at every level—from the design, to staffing and resource management, to implementation in the field—its projects have been unusually effective. They also have the potential to grow and expand more rapidly than other development work. The World Bank is replicating this multifaceted strategy, particularly the human resource strategy, in its projects in India as well as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.


In the last decade, poverty in India has declined at a much slower rate than anticipated. Despite rapid economic growth and that India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is poised to become the third largest in the world within the next five years, the number of poor people has remained more or less constant. Over the eleven year period ending in 2005, the overall poverty rate declined by less than one percent. Today, at least a quarter of the country’s population continues to live in abject poverty, earning less than US$1 a day—the problem is particularly acute for the country’s rural poor.

This comes at a time when the GDP is growing at 9 percent a year and the government has more tax revenue at its disposal than ever. Both the central and state governments allocate large sums of money for rural poverty alleviation. The country recently launched its single largest development program for the most impoverished rural districts.

The problem then, has more to do with the inadequacies of India’s development bureaucracy, which is run from the top-down and riddled with corruption. Development agencies often do not have the knowledge or skills to build the capacities of the rural poor, nor the institutional means to create and run large-scale poverty alleviation programs.

Recently the Indian government made a priority of accelerating socioeconomic development in so-called “backward” regions. To reach out to large numbers of poor people, it has begun to collaborate with COs, which are often better at working with target populations in a cost-effective way. This represents a new paradigm for large-scale change because it relies on partnerships between the central government, panchayats, or local councils, influential village leaders, COs, and private companies. Local human resources, appropriate technology, and traditional systems of resource management or healthcare are now part of sustainable program interventions. The private sector and voluntary agencies are playing roles that were once reserved for the government, working with government agencies, and discovering new ways to influence large-scale programs. This approach promises not only to reduce development imbalances, but also to have a multiplier effect on the overall economy. Despite these efforts, government and citizen sector agencies remain uneasy bedfellows; critics continue to equate it with co-option.

 The challenges for COs include influencing government development policies, resource allocation, and project designs. They can encourage government agencies to support community-driven development projects, drive government funds toward appropriate projects, and facilitate communication between development officials and recipient communities, but currently there are almost no effective forums or mechanisms by which governments and COs can work with one another on a continuous basis.


Ved’s model for reforming the development paradigm rests on two strategies. The first is the hybrid structure of his organization, which includes a consultancy arm, SRIJAN INFRATECH AND DEVELOPMENT SERVICES PVT LTD (SIDS), which works on policy, and a grassroots arm, SRIJAN, which implements development policy on the ground. His second strategy involves strengthening the three-sided relationship between the government, donors, and COs. Since the government needs help on both the strategy and operational levels, he assists with government projects both in the field and as a consultant.

In the field, Ved and the SRIJAN team begin by researching local socioeconomic conditions and resources. If the community accepts the solutions they develop, the field team starts planning livelihood projects with groups of 2,000 to 3,000 families. Livelihoods projects are in sectors of dairy, horticulture, and crops such as paddy, ragi (finger millet) and soybean. These initiatives are linked with market as well as microfinance. SRIJAN has reached over 16,000 rural poor families in ten districts of three states of India.
The young professionals who work on Ved’s field teams see the fruits of their labor and get the satisfaction of watching the government recognize and replicate their work on a larger scale. The revenues from the consultancy meet the gap in field workers’ salaries since government projects pay at most 60 to 70 percent of their wages. One of the reasons this model has been so successful is that it brings real-life innovations to government projects and allows donors to replicate changes. It also brings transparency to an area where the government is often corrupt. Unlike most consultancy groups trying to influence government policy, Ved’s can rely on the real-world experiences of his field teams. Finally, the field professionals get the opportunity to work in consultancy assignments and enhance their perspective by working with senior government officials, which serves as a great motivator and helps attract both young and more senior professionals. Currently, SRIJAN employs sixty professionals trained in agriculture, dairy, engineering, and management in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka, in addition to another fifty para-professional youth working as part of field implementation teams. SIDS has five senior consultants, with between five and twenty-five years of experience.

An example of SRIJAN’s innovative approach is its women’s dairy cluster project, a model for livelihood promotion that goes well beyond providing subsidies to purchase an asset, the traditional approach of India’s rural development programs. Working in sixty-eight villages, the Women’s Producers’ Organization is being trained to operate the business and eventually take over SRIJAN’s role. SRIJAN is implementing end-to-end services—from purchasing high quality buffaloes, to veterinary services, to the production and marketing of milk. Microfinance helps enhance incomes and build on assets. The dairy cluster has sold 10 million Rupees worth of milk in last two years, out of which 85 percent reached the hands of rural families. The government of Rajasthan is currently looking into replicating this model.

SRIJAN also works on water management, mostly from the supply side. Because there has been little attention paid to managing rural India’s escalating and competing water demands, SRIJAN focuses on increasing the availability and volume of water. The organization’s agricultural engineers have designed new, low-cost sprinklers that are suitable for small and marginal farmers. The farmers participate in decision making with government engineers and share the burden of maintenance and repair. This low-cost irrigation system began as a subsidy and was later sold to corporate giant ITC. Over time ITC reduced its subsidy to 50 percent. Farmers were willing to share the costs because they felt confident that the irrigation would increase their yield and they would be able to repay any loans they had to take out.

In their consultancy work, Ved and his team advise on overall project strategies, focusing particularly on human resource development. This approach helps him create connections between policymakers and local leaders, which allows target communities to share their successes, seek advice on operational matters, and gain the confidence of government agencies and donors.

Central to SIDS’ mission is attracting and recruiting talented field staff for government projects. To do this, Ved relies on objective methods, including what he calls “emotional quotient” measures, rather than hiring on the basis of traditional cognitive ability testing or, worse yet, recommendations and favors. In Madhya Pradesh, the World Bank’s District Poverty Initiative Programme selected 150 teams using this methodology and has hired SIDS to work on project design as well. Tamil Nadu’s state government decided to outsource recruitment for the first time and though many well-known national agencies bid on the project, SIDS won the contract and has recruited 1,100 employees for a fifteen-district project. Currently, SIDS is recruiting state and district teams in Bihar and advising governments in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on using these methods. Ved’s idea is spreading to World Bank projects throughout South Asia.

SRIJAN is now financially viable and not only attracts support from major donors, but is replicating its strategy as it expands. It is undertaking new dairy projects in Rajasthan and new water resource management projects in Karnataka, and is diversifying its work in Madhya Pradesh. Ved’s goal is to reach 100,000 rural poor families by 2011. It needs more funding to consolidate and expand its work in water resources and dairy production, and to support work in new sectors such as job training for migrating youth, and job placement in the growing areas of the global economy such as retail and construction. SRIJAN’s next step is to increase its collaborations with central government agencies and the corporate sector. Internationally, Ved is working to influence World Bank policies as one of its Asia CO representatives. He hopes to hold Asia-wide workshops on senior development professionals.

Finally, Ved is training and equipping future leaders in his organization. He envisions graduates of India’s top management schools and other development professionals replicating his hybrid model. Using something akin to an initial public offering, he hopes to attract more public money so he can expand the network and reach of hybrid organizations.


After earning an undergraduate degree in Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business Administration, Ved began his career as a management consultant focused on mathematical modeling. After an expected professional opportunity failed to materialize, he began looking for alternatives. Two of his graduate school classmates started a CO called Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), which encouraged professionals to work in rural areas. Ved found the idea challenging, and joined them. This gave him the opportunity to combine his academic background and interest in Gandhian principles to improve rural development.
In 1990, Ved traveled to the U.S. on a Humphrey Fellowship and took courses at the Kennedy School of Government as a way to build on his professional understanding of development. He worked with the World Bank for four months and then took classes on environmental issues at Tufts University on a United Nations Environment Fellowship. After he returned to India he rejoined PRADAN, but differences cropped up over his ideas about hybrid development agencies. In 1997 Ved left PRADAN and started SRIJAN, which he calls the most transformative experience of his life. Ved cites Gandhi as his inspiration.

He lives in Delhi with his wife and daughter. His son attends boarding school in Andhra Pradesh.