In my recent work trip to Tamil Urdu in southern India, I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Kulandei Francis, the founder of the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP) in the Krishnagiri district. It’s not very often that one gets to meet inspirational leaders who are truly making a difference in their community, and I feel very lucky to have been in Mr. Francis’s presence.
Mr. Francis is the 2012 winner of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award and has an amazing life story. He was the only child in his family to earn a university degree and started out as a pastor. After preaching Christianity for a while, he decided that it was not enough.
He eloquently said, “Helping hands are holier than praying lips.”
He then pulled up his sleeves and in 1979 started IVDP, a network of women’s self-help groups. He educated the community about issues confronting it and made available products that could improve their lives (i.e., sanitary napkins, solar lanterns, water purifiers). Just imagine a man discussing the topic of the menstrual cycle and the use of sanitary napkins in a community where the topic is taboo and women don’t even wear underwear! That is an extreme behavior change and a marketer’s ultimate challenge.
His organization is now entirely self-sustaining, and he reinvests any profits back into the community. All the women in the area now use sanitary napkins, and he has boldly proclaimed that he wants to eradicate kerosene in the district; in fact, he’s already a third of the way there!
It’s truly amazing what one individual with determination and a strategic approach can achieve. In the international development space, “scale” is the talk of the town. But have we underestimated the power of drip-by-drip changes, which can ultimately change the world?