Grassroots and Development Category

Dr. Sandeep Pandey

While pursuing a Ph.D. in control theory at the University of California-Berkeley, Sandeep joined V.J.P. Srivatsavoy and Deepak Gupta to form Asha (Hope), to support education for poor children in India by tapping the resources of Indians abroad. The enterprising founders raised ten thousand dollars in one year, an auspicious beginning for an organization that now claims thirty six North-American chapters and has disbursed nearly one million dollars for programs in India. After launching Asha, Pandey himself returned to India, doctorate in hand. He taught briefly at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and, in 1993, left the institute to devote himself full-time to Asha's larger purpose: to bring about socioeconomic change in India through education.

In the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, Pandey confronted the impoverished world of low-caste families and dalits, or untouchables. With local volunteers in the villages of Reoti and Bhainsaha, Pandey has created schools that instill self-reliance and values for a just society. He has also founded the Asha Ashram in the dalit village of Lalpur, outside Lucknow. There students live and study among traditional artisans The Ashram also serves as a retreat center for Asha workshops and provides simple health services for the community, introduces new technologies and livelihood projects.

Pandey has built Asha's network in India to twelve chapters and linked its grassroots endeavors to the larger task, as he puts it, of "shaping the socio-economic-political future of the country." He denounced a government plan to favor Hinduism in state schools and called for an end to "the politics of revenge" that drives his country's communal violence. Warning against militarist nationalism, in 1999 he organized and led a 1500-kilometer Global Peace March to protest India's nuclear arms program. These days he vocally supports reconciliation between Indians and Pakistanis. "The voice of peace has to be louder," he says.

Pandey shares his busy activist life with his wife Arundhati Dhuru - a leading activist with Narmada Bachao Andolan - and their two children. He is soft-spoken but passionate, as he motivates Asha's volunteers and young people and shepherds a multitude of projects. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2002. He studied at Benares Hindu University before his graduate study in the United States.

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Dr. Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah is the co-founder and the US director of Indicorps and also the Associate Director for Economic and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. Indicorps, founded in 2001 by Shah and her siblings, Roopal and Anand, is a non-profit organisation that helps young Indian-Americans reconnect with their heritage by providing them with the opportunity of one-year fellowships to spend time in India doing community work at grass roots level. Indicorps designs and develops projects with local organizations in advance to maximize the impact and to foster an exchange of ideas and expertise. Indicorpsí aim is to cultivate a new generation of Indian-American leaders in the United States that have a better understanding of India, can understand the challenges of development and be the catalysts for change.

Sonal runs U.S. based operations of Indicorps, including recruiting new fellows, fundraising, presentations, and providing guidance on development of new projects. In 2003 Indicorps was involved in atleast 9 different projects in India in the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where 11 fellows participated. She worked on trade, outsourcing and post conflict reconstruction issues. Prior to joining the Center, she was the Director of Programs and Operations at the Center for Global Development managing the daily operations and serving as a strategic adviser to the president. She also developed and managed policy and advocacy programs for the Center. Before that she worked for eight years at the Department of Treasury on various economic issues and regions of the world. She was the Director of the office covering sub Saharan Africa, worked in Bosnia and Kosovo after the war, and served as the senior adviser to the Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary at the Department of Treasury during the Asian financial crisis.

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