I am the founding chair of the Sustainable Economic and Educational Development Society (SEEDS) (www.seedsnet.org). My day job is as a scientist and architect for Intel Corp. in Oregon.
While I was a student at the Univ. of Texas, we read persistent news reports of deaths from malnutrition and hunger in eastern India's Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput (KBK) districts. This region is densely forested, populated by tribals, different in culture from the mainstream of Indian society. It has few schools, little infrastructure or govt. services. Starvation deaths accompanied massive migration, parents reportedly selling off children for a few bucks.
Horrified at this inequity, injustice, I organized people on internet and started community projects in the KBK area, and then spread out. SEEDS, though still small, has grown from the early days of building school huts to irrigation projects, farming cooperatives, education camps, rechargeable solar lights for off-power grid villages, networked computers for rural schools, in a catalytic way.
In 1999 eastern India was hit by a ‘Supercyclone'. Death estimate was at 100,000. SEEDS raised $100,000 in donation. We helped rebuild a girl’s orphanage and numerous school houses, funded cattle and goat herds, renovated damaged embankments, irrigation dams. But the most innovative was the setting up of microfinanced microirrigation systems. The villagers had lost everything to wind and water, including all seed stock. In several devastated villages SEEDS people got together farmers with contiguous marginal land and persuaded them to start cooperatives. SEEDS supplied fast growing high yield seeds stock, and installed boreholes, diesel pumps, water distribution pipes and trained villagers to run a cooperative. In four months our cooperatives were producing bountiful rice harvests, sharing with their neighbors, while others in the same village were still on handouts from aid agencies.
Efficacy of our project management style, compared with better funded, large international aid agencies, stands out because of the SEEDS principle of no overhead costs. Our projects cost half for the same outcome. But garnering barely enough resources is still a huge challenge. Yet, personally, it has been a beautiful, satisfying experience.