Devotee-led NGO Alliance launched

 

by Pancaratna Das

This January a group of devotee-led NGOs  (Non Government Organizations), working for sustainable development in village India, formally launched the “Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development.”

 

The Sattva Alliance has been established to foster mutual support, professional development, exchange of ideas, funding and joint programs amongst these and other partner NGOs that share a dedication to sustainable development with spiritual growth.

 

The founding partners include:

 

Food for Life - Vrindavan led by Rupa Raghunath Das who, along with his team, have begun development programs in neighboring villages with microcredit, education, water supply, etc.

 

Venu Madhuri In Belgaum, Maharashtra led by Devamrita das  and Krishna Chandra das (Hrishikesh Mafatlal) who have begun an NGO with the aim of a complete integrated village development project centered on preservation and promotion of indigenous breeds of cows.

 

Sri Mayapur Vikas Sangha in Mayapur led by Pancharatna Das and his associates, who have worked with programs in health, education, livelihoods, and community development supported by grants from the UNDP, UK DFID and other national and international funding agencies.

 

A special feature of these NGOs is that while working through people-centered modes of development such as micro-finance, village participation, village health and sustainable agriculture, these organizations are also finding ways to integrate spirituality in their development projects.

 

In Mayapur, development field workers from both Hindu and Muslim religious traditions meet to discuss their common values and how these are important to sustaining development.

 

In Vrindavan, village workers have used traditional bhajan meetings as a platform for forming women’s self-help micro-credit groups .

 

And, in Maharastra, development planners have incorporated vaishnava principles of cow protection in planning an animal husbandry program.

 

While pursuing immediate objectives like reducing poverty, ill health and other obstacles to well-being, these organizations work towards a long term objective of development with both equity and spiritual growth.

 

The Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development will help these devotees and other like-minded persons to work closer together and to mobilize resources cooperatively.

The need for spirituality in development

Sustainable development has become a rallying cry for people everywhere who are concerned for the future of our planet. Although there are wide variations in perception of degree, there is near universal acknowledgement that the current mode and pace of development cannot be sustained but would eventually lead to a meltdown of civilization as we know it.

           

The proposed solution is “sustainable” development where long-term management of resources and building people’s capacities takes precedence over short-term gains and “patching up” of problems.

 

Development workers agree the ultimate goal of development is certainly well-being for everyone. However, well-being can not be achieved solely by material means but must encompass the entire range of human experience physical, mental, social and spiritual.

 

Gradually people are beginning to recognize what Srila Prabhupada long ago pointed out, that despite huge advancements in material development in the so-called “developed” countries, there are actually increasing deficits in the social and spiritual quality of life leading to ill-being not only for those directly affected, but for others affected by the ills that grow out of spiritual malaise.

 

In fact problems of violent crime, broken homes, drug addiction, mental illness, etc. what to speak of environmental degradation are in many cases increased by material development rather than cured.

 

Unfortunately, development policies and practices today rarely make reference to spiritual development in sustainable human development. Yet, without spiritual development the positive fruits of human advancement in technology, commerce and culture can not be sustained for long.

 

With few exceptions, in the realm of development planners, economists, etc. the primary focus has been on impersonal mechanisms and infrastructure with little regard for the spiritual dimension of development.

 

Recognizing the essential role of human ideals in sustainable development UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, stated that we should seek to “put in place a new global ethic of global conservation and stewardship.”[1]

 

Such an ethic can best be built on a foundation of spiritual awareness by which human life is seen as ultimately meant for inner growth rather than outward material consumption.

 

In a  paper presented to the UNED-UK conference on Education for Sustainable Development Paul Maiteny writes:

 

“Spirituality can be defined as 'contextual (or holistic) awareness'. It entails a sense of the interconnectedness of all things and of relatedness with the wider systems of which human beings form a part. Awareness shifts focus from the particular to the general; from knowledge of parts to knowledge of the inter-relations between the parts and how they contribute to the whole. It gives the ability to see 'the forest' as well as simply a 'group of individual trees'.

 

Such experience gives rise to values that, in turn, shape behaviour. A value can be defined as an enduring belief that a particular outcome, and/or a mode of behaviour for achieving it, is preferred to another one. Behaviour informed by spiritual beliefs will express value given to relationships with other people and environments, service to others and self-understanding as means of enhancing personal well-being and fulfilment in ways that material consumption or accumulation cannot. A shift away from the latter towards valuing non-material wealth will, ipso facto, contribute to reducing pressures on external life-support systems.”[2]

 

Sattva Alliance - Integrating spirituality with development

 

There are three ways in which Sattva Alliance will link spirituality with development:

 

Instrumental – Spirituality as an instrument for sustainable development through building capacities within individuals and amongst communities to address problems from a spiritual perspective and to use traditional spiritual beliefs and practices to promote sustainability, care for the environment, peace, cooperation, etc.

 

Consequential – Spiritual growth as a goal for development, e.g. ethnic harmony where there was tension, a sense of stewardship where there was exploitation, inspiration where there was despair.

 

Indicative – Spiritual awareness and practice as an indicator of human development, complementary to purely physical indicators like income, health, habitat, etc.

 

Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development will encourage and support development in which spirituality is an integral aspect as instrument, goal and indicator.

 

Current and future projects

The founding NGO partners of Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development are already active in many areas of development. Through Sattva Alliance both ongoing and new projects will be developed and supported

 

Project planning is already underway for several initiatives to be conducted jointly by Sattva Alliance partners in micro-finance, micro-enterprise, village health, and sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry(see appendix for a brief description of these projects). Other projects under consideration involve village education, appropriate technology, and safe water and sanitation.

 

In addition a special research project on the role of spirituality in development is planned. This project will be conducted in partnership with both development agencies, practitioners and academic partners.

 

And, in practice, all Sattva Alliance projects will add to the body of knowledge on this subject by maintaining professional modes of monitoring and evaluation that include the role of spirituality.

 

Sattva Alliance Objectives

 

Beginning in January, 2003 the Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development began operations in the US implementing an international program of fund-raising, advocacy, and networking. Through this organization experienced professionals will assist the partner NGOs in project design and grant-writing, mobilization of resources, and project implementation. 

 

Along with the U.S. organization a counterpart organization in India will act as a service center for partner NGO’s providing professional assistance, coordinating cooperative programs and receiving and distributing funds from the U.S. organization. The India organization will also conduct local fund-raising and advocacy initiatives.

 

Initially the NGO partners will be those represented by the founding partners.  Then, as opportunities develop, the organization will establish relationships with new partners, both in India and other areas like Africa and South America.

 

The founding partners of the Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development are committed to develop the organization from their limited resources. However, as India-based NGO’s there is little scope to contribute financially to establishing a U.S. based organization.

 

Rather, initial seed funding for the organization must come from U.S. sources. This funding will provide for the basic costs of establishing and running the organization until fund-raising initiatives mature.

 

By utilizing the human resources of Sattva Alliance partners and volunteers, the professional staff and overheads will be kept to a minimum. In principle, Sattva Alliance will seek to keep administrative expenses to within 20% of it’s overall budget leaving  80% for direct project expenses.

 

Anyone interested in participating in this project or who would like further information should contact Pancharatna das, Sattva Alliance for Sustainable Development, 27511 NW CR 241, Alachua FL 32615 Phone (386)418 3825, or email pancaratna.acbsp@pamho.net

 

Appendix

Proposed Projects

Poverty Alleviation through Micro Finance

Sattva Alliance partners have already established over 300 micro-credit groups called self-help groups (SHGs).  In Mayapur, West Bengal, with support from the United Nations Development Program, an innovative health credit fund, a revolving fund to help pay for health insurance premiums and a bridge fund for claims processing, has been piloted.  With help from India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), these SHGs have begun receiving bank credit as well.

 

This initiative would continue this work and further develop it.  The basic goals would be

 

1) capacity building of existing SHG's

2) expansion of SHG's in new areas (a total of about 500 new groups)

3) development of a community-based micro finance institution (MFI)

4) expansion of funds available for on lending to SHG's

5) working with SHG groups to promote literacy, health, and livelihood development as well as spiritual growth

 

This project would also be coupled with a micro enterprise development project that could include entrepreneurship development for SHG members, training, etc.

 

The focus of the project would be poor and marginalized rural women and the time frame for the project would be five years.

 

The overall budget for the project, implemented through all project partners, is expected to be approximately $300,000 including a revolving fund grant of $100,000.

Micro enterprise development

The condition of impoverished people could be described as like a hot air balloon which is tied down by many ropes and two big chains. The two chains are lack of access to credit and lack of skills, while the ropes are numerous other disadvantages like ill health, poor infrastructure, lack of education, etc. If the two big chains are cut by providing easy access to credit and basic livelihood skills than the upward power of the balloon would break the smaller ropes.

 

The micro finance program provides easy access to credit.  Micro

enterprise development provides livelihood skills.

 

The basic components of this project are:

 

1) entrepreneurship training

2) training in specific skills like weaving, handicrafts, kitchen gardens, etc.

3) a common service center providing facilities like Internet access, design support, and assistance for marketing.

 

This project would also include an emphasis on the need for using enterprise to serve God and community and to avoid exploitation and destruction of the natural environment.

 

Sattva Alliance partners have already initiated several micro enterprise projects which would be further developed and added to through this initiative.

 

The overall budget for this project is expected to be approximately $50,000 including a working capital grants of $20,000.

Sustainable Agriculture and Animal Husbandry

One of the great tragedies of modern development has been the gradual demise of family farming and greater and greater alienation of society from the land that nurtures and supports human existence. It is imperative that the mistakes of  commercial agriculture in the developed world are not replicated in developing countries.

 

Sattva Alliance partners will work together through this project to promote what is known as LEISA (low external input sustainable agriculture) along with sustainable, non-violent animal husbandry. A unique component of this project would be revival and development of indigenous bovine breeds and integrated use of ox power in all aspects of the farming and dairy operations.

 

Initially the project would focus on research and experimentation while exploring new markets for non-violent organic agriculture and dairy products that could offset the loss of chemical-based farming subsidies.

 

The overall budget for this project is expected to be approximately $30,000.

Village Health

For the last 5 years Sattva Alliance partner SMVS has been conducting a village health program focused on reproductive and child health.  This program currently employs 20 village health workers and four health professionals.

 

In 2000 this project was incorporated into a pilot program on Community Financing of Health funded by the UNDP. The aim of this initiative has been to build the capacity of the village health workers to provide needed services to their communities and to build the capacity of these communities to directly pay for these services.  Although this has been achieved to some extent, there's still a gap between the amounts that village beneficiaries can afford and the cost of providing these services.

 

With support from Sattva Alliance fund-raising this program will be continued and refined with an ultimate aim of making them self-sustaining. The project can also be replicated with other Sattva Alliance partners.

 

This project will also include a variety of specialized campaigns for addressing specific health issues such as sanitation, child nutrition, disabilities, and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

 

The overall budget for this project is expected to be approximately $100,000 spread over three years.

 

 

 



[1] “Taking Action for the Earth’s Future,” October 2001

 

[2] “ Values, Spirituality and Education for Sustainable Development”, Paul Maiteny  (South Bank University, London and The Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies, London)