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Deep Joshi among 2009 Magsaysay Award winners

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Social activist Deep Joshi who is one of the 2009 Magsaysay Award winners
Social activist Deep Joshi who is one of the 2009 Magsaysay Award winners
Well-known Indian social activisit Deep Joshi, whose non-profit organisation Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) helps to professionalise the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is among the six Asians chosen for the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards for 2009.

The Board of Trustees of the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) said Joshi, 62, was being recognised for "his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India, by effectively combining 'head' and 'heart' in the transformative development of rural communities."

The other five winners of this year's awards, often described as Asia's Nobel Prize, have gone to Krishna Kraisintu of Thailand, Yu Xiaogang of China, Antonio Oposa, Jr. of the Phillipines, Ma Jun of China and Ka Hsaw Wa from Myanmar.

"The Magsaysay awardees of 2009," said RMAF President Carmencita T. Abella, "are true Asian Heroes, putting their advanced knowledge and skills at the service of critical needs of their people. They are, each one, addressing major issues affecting the growth and preservation of their respective societies - health care, mass poverty, community displacement, environmental degradation, human rights. They are each using calibrated strategies to craft lasting solutions to problems besetting their people. Nevertheless, these six awardees share a greatness of spirit which infuses their leadership for change. They all build collaboration and seek consensus wherever possible. They all refuse to give up, despite adversity and opposition. Four of them share a passionate concern for the environment, which the Foundation wishes to give special attention to at this time.

The six 2009 Magsaysay awardees join 271 other laureates who have received Asia's highest honor to date.

This year's Magsaysay Award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize. They will be formally conferred the Magsaysay Award during the Presentation Ceremonies to be held on August 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The Award was created in 1957 in the memory of former Phillipines President Ramon Magsaysay who died that year in a plane crash. It was established by the trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), with the concurrence of the Phillpine government, to honour Magsaysay's memory and perpetuate his example of integrity in public service and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.

Joshi, who grew up in a remote village in Uttarakhand, got a degree from the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Allahabad, a master's degree in engineering from the Masachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) and a management degree from MIT's Sloan School.

He returned to India and worked as a Ford Foundation programme officer and gained experience in development work. He was particularly inspired by a visit to US-trained doctors Rajanikant and Mabelle Arole, who were working on rural health in remote West-Central India.

"Deeply impressed by how the Aroles combined their sophisticated training with strong empathy for the poor, Joshi concluded that if only more people equipped with both knowledge and empathy decided to work in the villages, India's rural society would be transformed," the citation for Mr Joshi said.

With some colleagues, he formed PRADAN in 1983 as a non-profit organisation. It recruits university-educated youth from campuses across the country and grooms them to do grassroots work through a rigorous year-long apprenticeship which combines formal training and guided practice in the field.

"Civil society needs to have both head and heart. If all you have is bleeding hearts, it wouldn't work. If you only have heads, then you are going to dictate solutions which do not touch the human chord," the citation quoted Mr Joshi as saying.

According to it, PRADAN staff empower village groups with technical, project implementation, and networking skills that increase both their income-generating capabilities and their actual family income. Its staff, combining their professional expertise with local knowledge, also train villagers as para-veterinarians, accountants, and technicians who support their fellow-villagers in building and sustaining collective livelihood projects.

PRADAN has reached over 170,000 families in over three thousand villages of India's poorest states. Over a thousand graduates have joined its apprenticeship program. More than three hundred professionals comprise its staff, most of them working in field-based teams across the country, it said.

Mr Joshi now works as an Adviser to Pradhan, having retired at the policy-prescribed age to create institutional space for second-generation leaders.

According to the citation, Mr Joshi wanted to show that, for people with the finest education, there are few intellectual challenges more worthy than addressing rural poverty.

He says: "Development work is considered intellectually inferior to high science, industry, or diplomacy. We want to prove it is both a challenging and a noble choice."

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