Indian government bestows its highest award on SDI founders

The national government of India has bestowed its highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri award, on Jockin Arputham, President of SDI and the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) of India, and Sheela Patel, Chair of the Board of SDI and founder of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC). The entire SDI family wishes our two dear colleagues and friends a hearty congratulations!

In its citation for Jockin, the Indian government notes his pioneering strategies for facilitating learning between and among the poor, as well as the significant results these methods have achieved. Such an approach to horizontal learning stands as a significant alternative to dominant development models of training workshops and programs determined by professionals:

Through the same sorts of slum-to-slum learning exchanges that he initiated in India, Jockin Arputham has now extended such efforts to several neighboring countries. Through the Slum Dwellers International, which he helped found, Shri Arputham has assisted urban poor communities in South Africa to organize themselves and work effectively with the government and, in Cambodia, to set up the country’s first government-sponsored resettlement program for squatters. Likewise, the Federation’s community-organizing techniques and practical know-how has been exported to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several countries in Africa.

In electing Jockin Arputham to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the board of trustees recognized his extending the lessons of community building in India to Southeast Asia and Africa and helping the urban poor of two continents improve their lives by learning from one another.

Ms. Patel’s award cites her commitment to developing a model of professional NGO that supports the work of community-based federations of the urban poor. In particular, the citation notes her success in bridging the gaps between government and such organizations of the poor:

In 1984, she founded SPARC along with other professionals. SPARC came into existence to address the problems of pavement dwellers, the poorest of the poor in the city of Mumbai, who were not recognized as legitimate citizens by public authorities. Soon thereafter, SPARC entered into an alliance with NSDF and Mahila Milan. It would be fair to say that the patient advocacy of the cause of pavement dwellers by this alliance led to their recognition by Maharashtra Government’s State policy and programme to resettle and rehabilitate them.

Smt. Patel and Shri Jockin Arputham, President of NSDF and of SDI, worked closely together to support and create federations of the urban poor both in India and abroad, with a special focus on the empowerment of women – through their savings collectives – and who have now become forces for change all over the world. If one main plank of the alliance’s efforts was to support the organizing processes of the urban poor, the other plank was to build partnerships with municipal, state and central governments so that government policies and programmes would be designed and implemented such that they not only benefited the poor but cities as well.