A Holistic Approach to Development

The Sarvodaya Shramadana movement was founded in 1958 by Dr A.T. Ariyaratne. The organization gradually became the largest grassroots non-governmental organization (NGO) in Sri Lanka. Sarvodaya aims to eliminate poverty as much as possible by having poor and underprivileged communities initiate their own development projects. Currently Sarvodaya is active in more than 16000 villages throughout the island of Sri Lanka.

Sarvodaya has a strategy of development that doesn’t only include economic matters, but also takes into account the social, cultural, moral, spiritual dimensions that goes into developing a country. It has a strategy of working with the people instead of working for them. They urge communities to become self-reliant by encouraging them to come together to share their own resources and address their own needs. This allows independence from outside resources.

We were able to meet with Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, the son of Sarvodaya’s founder and the General Secretary of the organization. He explained to us how the structure of sarvodaya works and what the organization encompasses in general. First he started with the name. Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word for ‘the awakening of all’ which reflects the organization’s Buddhist principles. Although their philosophy is largely derived from Buddhist thinking they are a secular organization catering to the diverse ethnic and religions populations that exist in Sri Lanka. Sarvodaya no longer relies on foreign funding, all of their work is done using local resources and labor.

Sarvodaya’s village development follows a holistic process with 5 main steps: psychological infrastructure development, social infrastructure development and training, satisfaction of basic human needs and institutional development, income and employment generating and self financing and finally sharing the surplus with neighboring villages. This holistic process leads to grama swarajya or “self governing villages”

Sarvodaya outreaches to over 16000 villages, 5400 of which are registered village societies. They have 26 district centers, 8 development education institutes and 4 multipurpose community centers and 11 legally Independent organizations under the Sarvodaya framework.

What makes Sarvodaya different from other development NGO’s is that they are not a top heavy structured organization, differing sections within the organization have legal independence from each other. An example of one of these sections being the Sarvodaya economic enterprise development services (SEEDS). SEEDS works for the sustainable economic empowerment of rural communities. This program is structured in a way that makes rural communities responsible for their own development and demonstrates that the poor, marginalized and differently abled people are capable to do things on their own. Sarvodaya SEEDS workers explain to villagers how to run a savings program that is kept and maintained within the villages, they set up localized special credit lines and deposit mobilization at village development finance centers.

Sarvodaya is a mass movement with the participation of genuine people at their base. It’s an organization that encourages independence and sustainability. Sarvodaya’s holistic approach to development has experienced 55 years of success within Sri Lanka. The founder of sarvodaya said to us when we met with him that in order for a society to thrive you must lay cultural, social, and moral foundations and out of these foundations development, and not just economic development but development in all aspects of life, then becomes possible.

-Daniella Zelaya

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