Prize for promoter of ‘new institutional species’

‘I believe the central question right now is: How do we eradicate poverty and rebuild the health of our environment? Having worked for some 20 years in academic research, business, government and the UN, I decided to try civil society.’ So said Dr Ashok Khosla, President of Indian NGO Development Alternatives,[1] on receiving the prestigious UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize 2002.[2]

The prize was for his contributions in the environmental field through the creation of sustainable livelihoods to empower people subsisting below the poverty line.

In fact, what he found was needed for sustainable development was a ‘new institutional species’ that ‘merges and melds … the strengths of each one of the sectors: the social objectives of civil society, the motivation of the private sector, the innovativeness of academia, the reach of government – and, above all, the participation of the people’. Development Alternatives Group, founded in 1983, is one of the first such institutions, and ‘the first dedicated to sustainable development’.

What are sustainable livelihoods? According to Khosla, ‘they are jobs that produce goods and services for the basic needs of people and at the same time generate a decent income with which to purchase these. They give meaning and dignity to life and in parallel regenerate the resource base which has been devastated over the past half century of mal-development. In the Third World, we will have to create some one billion sustainable livelihoods over the next 15 years.’

Development Alternatives’ more significant achievements include:

  • introducing into the market more than 15 new environmentally sound and commercially viable technologies, including machines for weaving handloom textiles, making recycled paper and making low-cost roofing materials;
  • creating more than 300,000 sustainable jobs;
  • reclaiming some 5,000 hectares of degraded land.

1 See Alliance, Vol 3, No 3, Oct 1998.
2 Dr Ashok Khosla is an environmental scientist. He did his PhD in physics at Harvard University. In the 1970s, he worked as Director of the newly established Office for Environment in the Indian Government’s Department of Science & Technology. He then worked for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) for six years before leaving it to set up Development Alternatives.

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