For this Magsaysay awardee, education is the key to rural uplift

Named as one of the six winners of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award 2009, prominent social activist Deep Joshi has been feted for "professionalising development work" and for "combining head and heart in the transformative development of rural communities". In other words, as the co-founder of the NGO, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), Joshi has directed his efforts towards uplifting the rural poor through professional training.

His own humble beginnings are testament to the power of education to change lives, as he worked his way up from the small village of Gadtir in the interiors of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

One of the seven children of Harikrishan Joshi, a farmer, he pursued his early education at the local primary school and went on to top in engineering at Motilal Nehru Engineering college in Allahabad.

"As kids, we were supposed to do household chores like collecting firewood and grazing cattle," recalls Joshi.

After a brief teaching stint at his alma mater in Allahabad, Joshi was sent to MIT on a government scholarship for his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. He then went on to do a Masters in Management from Sloan School, MIT. "I never thought of taking up a government job even after I returned from MIT, and found teaching an ideal occupation. I joined an NGO in Pune which worked for public health in rural Maharashtra. That is when I met this doctor couple Raj and Mabelle Arole who worked for community health and educating villagers with utmost dedication. It opened my eyes to what a professional could do," says Joshi.

The idea took root and Joshi founded PRADAN in 1983 along with Vijay Mahajan. The NGO recruits university-educated youth from campuses across the country and grooms them for grassroots work through a rigorous year-long apprenticeship which combines formal training and guided practice in the field. Living and working directly with India's poorest communities, PRADAN staff empowers village groups with technical, project implementation, and networking skills that increase both their income-generating capabilities and their actual family earnings. PRADAN staff, combining their professional expertise with local knowledge, also train villagers as para-veterinarians, accountants, and technicians who support their fellow villagers in building collective livelihood projects.

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