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7 Organizations Transforming Society in India

by Sarah Dec 4, 2015


In the unsuccessful efforts at Indian development, marginalized villages are left highly dependent upon outside forces for aid. Barefoot College, a participatory organization with a campus in Rajasthan, is dedicated to addressing poverty in India in such a way that the rural poor take ownership over their own success by leveraging the skills and knowledge already present in the community. Their programs place great emphasis on the decentralization and demystification of the use of technology, while training the often-illiterate men and women in specialty professions, giving them independence as they plan, implement and maintain all of Barefoot College’s initiatives themselves.

These initiatives span four main sector areas: solar electrification of villages (primarily solar-powered water heaters, cookers and desalination), availability and access to clean water, healthcare, and craft/communication programs. And Barefoot will be sustainable. Rather than institute strict formal teaching of hard skills, its programs meld them with experiential education through family, community, culture, tradition, and the environment. And these efforts have not gone unrewarded—Barefoot College’s programs have seen increases in employment, boosted incomes, empowered the illiterate, rural poor, reduced CO2 emissions and led to other environmental benefits, and improved the socio-economic statuses of entire villages.


Plan India is an independent subsidiary of Plan International, a global NGO dedicated to furthering the cause of children’s rights. Plan India has been working in the country for over 35 years to address the issue of widespread violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse of children in India by creating safe spaces in which they are not just beneficiaries, but active participants. The organization’s ultimate goal is to strengthen community structures and cultivate a supportive environment–what they call their “children-centered community development” and “rights-based approach.”

they see an absence of choice as the root of the problem.

Within that environment, Plan India offers programs to provide children with a number of essential services. These include quality and holistic education programs, as well as proper healthcare ranging from maternal health services, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, and HIV prevention and education programs. As the children grow, Plan India has programs dedicated to economic empowerment, vocational training, and gender equality, as well as a movement to build the disaster resiliency of communities. In addition to these on-the-ground campaigns, Plan India is also active on the policy and advocacy level, working to address systemic issues on a broader scale, promoting and protecting the rights of children that extend far beyond the individual village.

APNE AAP Women Worldwide

Apne Aap is an NGO based in Mumbai, a grassroots movement founded by the subjects of the Emmy-award-winning documentary, “The Selling of Innocents.” The organization came into existence to further their campaign to dismantle the Indian-Nepali sex trafficking system on both the supply and demand side of the industry. On the supply side, they see an absence of choice as the root of the problem. Poor, low-caste, typically teenage females are often also relatives of prostitutes, or victims of child marriage or domestic servitude, and thus fall in themselves. To eliminate their dependence upon the brothel system and reduce the risk of being trafficked, Apne Aap’s has developed and implemented a network of programs focused on education, livelihood training, self-empowerment groups, legal support, and loans for food, housing and health care.

80% of their work is devoted to prevention and 20% to the rehabilitation and reintegration of women out of the prostitution industry and back into society. On the demand side of the coin, Apne Aap sees social institutional issues that must be addressed, particularly the reality of intergenerational prostitution in caste communities. To tackle this systemic obstacle, Apne Aap too performs work at the policy and grassroots level. They engage in legal action, advocacy initiatives, and awareness raising campaigns in order to create widespread and lasting social change.


India struggles with a grave lack of quality education for underprivileged children and youth. There’s poor teacher training, weak curriculum quality and assessments, low enrollment levels, and inadequate quality and quantity of pre-primary and primary education programs. Pratham was founded in 1995 to combat this, and today, it’s the largest NGO in the country. They have a wide range of programs from early educational care and vocational training to digital learning and literacy—the goal being to combat adult illiteracy (India has the largest number of illiterate adults globally) in the early stages of life.

Pratham collaborates with the government, along with local communities and civil society members, but their goal is not to replace the government’s education system. They seek to supplement and support it. To this end, Pratham is also a very active and vocal advocate in the Indian education sector to help define the country’s agenda in this space. And they have seen fantastic results—in 2014-2015 alone Pratham has reached 7.7 million children to date, touching lives in 21 out of 29 of the Indian states.


Asha for Education is another transformative Indian NGO that focuses on addressing gaps in the education system, with 50+ chapters globally that support its efforts. They, too, believe that education is an essential tool for catalyzing socio-economic change in India. Asha for Education executes 19 different types of educational programs for children of all ages and with all different needs.

Only 40% of the population have bank accounts. Only 13% of the poor households have access to bank credit.

They offer alternative education, community based interventions, fellowship and internship programs, and resources for children with mental and physical disabilities. They also provide tuition centers, vocational training, pre-primary programs and community awareness programs to round out their holistic approach to educational development. To date, Asha for Education has supported more than 400 projects in 24 of India’s 29 states.


India is home to 40% of the world’s poor, and existing solutions are failing to meet the immense needs of this low-income population in all of the key sector areas—agriculture, energy, health, education, WASH services and housing. Acumen is a non-profit global venture fund that invests in enterprises, leaders and ideas that seek to change the way the world addresses poverty. The fund first raises charitable donations, which it then invests in early stage companies that focus on social impact and on reaching low-income consumers, as well as providing them with management support services. Acumen then recycles the returns they receive from successful ventures into scaling those effective programs, as well as putting them into new investments. Acumen has helped 23 million Indians through their investments of $31.9 million to date, creating almost 10,000 jobs in the process.


Grameen Foundation India (GFI) lays out the problem clearly and poignantly: Only 63% of all households in India have access to phones. Only 40% of the population have bank accounts. Only 13% of the poor households have access to bank credit. 73% of the 89 million farmer households have no access to formal source of credit. 111.5 million households in India have no access to formal credit. An independent subsidiary of Grameen Foundation International, Grameen Foundation India provides financial and technical services to the world’s impoverished peoples by supporting Indian social enterprises and microfinance institutions.

A great portion of their focus is on creating and scaling badly needed products and services for India’s poor, helping to reduce financial risk, improve security, and increase income levels. GFI has programs that implement mobile technology for community health initiatives, allowing workers to better reach and serve patients, as well as broaden the distribution of critical life-saving information. Additionally, they share these various tools with similarly minded organizations in order to help them be more effective, and strengthen the nationwide campaign for improved socio-economic conditions all over the country.

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