Harish Hande, Neelima Mishra chosen for 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awards

Nileema Mishra
Nileema Mishra

Two Indians - Harish Hande and Neelima Mishra - are among the five individuals and one organisation chosen for the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awards, considered Asia's highest honour.

The list of awardees was announced today by Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF) President Carmencita T Abella in Manila today.

The awards are given every year to men, women and organisations who have contributed towards changing their respective countries. This year's six recipients will enlarge the community of Magsaysay laureates to 290 individuals and organisations spread across 22 countries of Asia.

Hande has been recognised for "his passionate and pragmatic efforts to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor, through a social enterprise that brings customised, affordable, and sustainable electricity to India's vast rural populace, encouraging the poor to become asset creators".

Mishra has been chosen for "her purpose-driven zeal to work tirelessly with villagers in Maharashtra, organising them to successfully address both their aspirations and their adversities through collective action and heightened confidence in their potential to improve their own lives".

Harish Hande
Harish Hande

The others chosen for the honour are Hasanain Juaini of Indonesia for his community-based approach to pesantren education in Indoneisa, Koul Panha for his leadership of a campaign for a vilant citizenry who will ensure fair and free elections and Tri Mumpuni of Indonesia for her efforts to promote micro hydropower technology.

The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) of the Phillipines will be honoured for its efforts to make appropriate technologies improve the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor in that country and elsewhere in Asia.

"All are deeply involved in addressing issues that impact human progress not only in their respective countries, but indeed, in all of Asia. They are showing how commitment, competence, and collaborative leadership can truly transform individual lives and galvanize community action," Abella said.

"The concerns they are working on are clearly quite diverse-affordable electricity, political reform, inclusive education, economic empowerment, access to water. But there is one thing these Magsasyay laureates 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," Abella said.

"Three of the awardees are engaged in social enterprises, which present exciting new possibilities to address Asia's pervasive poverty. The Foundation is happy to recognize and encourage their innovative contributions to sustainable progress in our region."

This year's award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of late Phillipines President Ramon Magsaysay, after whom the award is named, and a cash prize. They will be formally conferred the award at a ceremony to be held on August 31 in Manila.

The citation for Hande, a young engineer from Bangalore wth a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, noted that, on his return to India, he decided to live with villagers to understand their situation first-hand. This convinced him that, in diffusing a technology, it is not just the product that matters but also the social realities which technology seeks to change.

He established Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO) in Bangalore in 1995. After ups and downs, the company was restructured. It remained a for-profit business, but it strengthened its purpose as a social enterprise, measuring performance by how it creates social capital instead of simple financial profit.

"SELCO has since demonstrated that indeed the poor can afford sustainable technologies and maintain them, and that social ventures can be run as successful commercial entities," the citation said.

"SELCO is more than just a technology provider. Treating the poor as partners instead of mere consumers, SELCO builds their confidence as it assists them in accessing and using technology to better their lives. Poverty reduction is central to its goal," it said.


"To date, SELCO has reached more than half-a-million people by installing solar lights in 120,000 households, microenterprises, and community facilities. Already one of the largest solar technology providers in the India, SELCO still has a huge market before it. But Hande has learned his lessons well: he will not sacrifice the development process for numbers, or his social mission for rates of return," the citation said.

Mishra returned to her village in 1995, five years after finishing her studies, to organise the Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan (BNGVN), which was aimed addressing the community's problems from within the village itself.

"Starting with a self-help group of only fourteen women, other self-help groups followed, engaging in microcredit and such income-generating activities as the production of food products and distinctive exportquality quilts. BNGVN enabled these changes by training women in production, marketing, accounting, and computer literacy. Inspired by Nileema, the women went on to build a warehouse so they could procure supplies in bulk at better prices, and formed an association that now has outlets for its products in four districts of the state. Traditionally confined to the home, these village women have become productive, articulate, and confident in their ability to think for themselves," the citation for her said.

Responding to a wave of farmers' suicides, Mishra and her group helped create a village revolving fund that provided loans for farm inputs and emergency needs; they addressed health problems by building over 300 private and communal toilets; and activated a village assembly to discuss and resolve local needs.

"In less than ten years, BNGVN has formed 1,800 selfhelp groups in 200 villages across Maharashtra. Its microcredit program has caused to be distributed the equivalent of US$5 million, with a hundred-percent loan recovery rate. But the most critical change has taken place in the villagers' sense of themselves, their newfound confidence that they need not despair, that, working together, they will find a way. For Nileema, now 39 years old, the way has not been easy. She has had to battle frustration and failure, to find which approaches work best for the village. But she remains resolute and passionate about her work," it said.


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