From Dreams to Vision
Brief story of Mr. Malay Kumar,
Founder & Chief Functionary, Prayatn

When Malay stepped out of XISS Ranchi in 1993, his dreams were just like any other post-graduate entering the field from a reputed institute. He wanted a job in a reputed international developmental organization. For 7 years, he worked with grassroots level organizations in Odisha and Rajasthan. He then got the opportunity of joining International Union of Food (IUF) as Programme Manager for South Asia. It was as if the dream has come true.

It was only 6 months down the line and Malay started realizing that his dreams have moved beyond. A social entrepreneur was budding inside him, but within the length, breadth and height of the international organisation, it was not finding adequate space to grow. Within one year, he decided to leave and go back to the ground to start afresh.

Prayatn was founded by Malay and few like minded professionals in 1992 when he was studying at XISS.

When he left IUF in 2000, he decided to dedicate all his energy to Prayatn. The initial vision was just of a value based organization but as experience grew, the vision and mission became more specific and society centric instead of being issue centric.

Bringing vision into reality was very difficult, especially, at the initial stage.

When a person sees a river or pond from outside, the water body appears shallow and calm. But the actual and the undercurrents of water are felt only when the viewer actually steps in. Malay too realized that forming an NGO is not as simple as bringing some friends together. Besides the registration as a society, registration under different sections of Income Tax Act, FCRA and PAN and TAN registrations were required. Formalities in each case were multiple and needed to be completed cautiously. Any mistake done, the application was returned.

Registration was not the end but the beginning of the struggle. After intensive thought it was decided to work in Bharatpur and Dhaulpur districts because there was a dearth of strong NGOs in these districts due to tough geographical conditions. Accordingly offices were started at Bharatpur and Dhaulpur (area of work) and at Jaipur.

In absence of any source of funding, Malay undertook a few consultancy assignments to meet such expenses. Every week, he used to drive up and down from Jaipur to Bharatpur and Dhaulpur about 300 kms by his motorcycle to strike balance between liaison building and field work. He still remembers taking break at roadside dhabas for a cup of tea and sleeping on the charpoys provided by them when tired.

The first assignment 'earned' amidst this struggle was of five health camps for which Municipality of Nadbai (a block in Bharatpur, Rajasthan) had invited bids. This was definitely an encouraging start but was not enough to sustain. Five camps were to be organized whose budget was only Rs 7,500 which proved highly inadequate. The actual expenditure went above Rs 10,000. But intensive efforts made this over-expenditure impactful. The Municipality decided to organize more camps and supported Prayatn for the same.

Subsequent efforts at brick kiln sites of the same block are also worth mentioning. Uttar Pradesh government had decided to develop a corridor around Taj Mahal because of which a lot of brick kilns shifted their operation from Agra to Bharatpur. Malay saw opportunity of working for rights of children of brick kiln workers but his movement at these sites was felt unwanted and intolerable by the brick kiln owners and munims (managers) of these sites. They started threatening him. It was lesson to Malay. He realized need of revisiting the working strategy and taking them together as stakeholders in his efforts. The strategy was used in subsequent work not only in Nadbai but at other locations as well when interventions around sandstone mines, street children etc. were taken up.

UNICEF showed trust at subsequent stage, and Prayatn had an agreement to undertake project - Universalization of Elementary Education for girls from 2001 to 2003. This helped the organization in gaining ground in Dhaulpur which later turned to be a hub and laboratory for Prayatn.

There are issues beyond registration of NGO. The most meticulously written proposals were turned down by funding agencies just because the financial statements of past years of the organization didn't have adequate number of zeroes on its income side. There were unexpected challenges like abrupt discontinuity of funding of a smoothly running project making payment of salaries to staff difficult.

While there were several challenges that demotivated, there were opportunities that motivated. The foremost opportunity was the availability of people's support for community based work once the depth of the same is understood. Encouragement by agencies like UNICEF for qualitative work motivated a lot at this stage and beginning in Dholpur and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan could be made.

The year 2003 proved to be a turning point in life of Malay when Mrs. Vijaylaxmi, then Program Manager, Actionaid India, paid a visit to Prayatn and was face to face with the issue of declining sex ratio in Dhaulpur, although Actionaid was approached to work for children in Brick Making industry in Bharatpur. She asked Malay if something can be done in this regard. Dhaulpur (Rajasthan) and Morena (Madhya Pradesh) were ravine districts and working on such issue here was highly risky.

There were no models to follow as civil societies were yet to wake up on this issue especially in the northern region of India. But Malay was seeing opportunity amidst this challenge. His experience had made him a strong believer in community based working and rights based approach. He immediately undertook a detailed situational analysis based on which a comprehensive intervention was proposed. After a lot of discussions, a decade long agreement on project called Chahat Hai Jine Ki, together with two more local partners, was signed with Prayatn being in the lead role for implementation. Malay and his team's dedicated effort and the intervention turned out to be a scalable model, receiving appreciation from all sections of society from local to international level.

With continued support of Actionaid and UNICEF, new agencies like Save the Children, IFES/USAID, Aide-et-Action, Room to Read, Back to Life, UNDP (United Nations Development Fund), KKS (Karl Kubel Stiftung), CRY (Child Right and You) and government programs from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Women and Child Development etc. also partnered with the organization, through which it could expand its work to more locations in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha and take-up issues like child development, education, health and nutrition effectively.

The organization valued the trust of the partners and performed better than expected to ensure that the same is honoured. Several successful community based models on issues like gender based discrimination, child labour, malnutrition and practices like government community interface and teachers' felicitation were innovated in this process. The civil society sector, too, started recognizing Prayatn as a promising organization. Appreciation by local administration, ISO 9001:2008 certification and felicitation by HCL Foundation in 2016 are testimony to the same.

HCL has initiated HCL Citizen's Grant whose objective is to enable and invest in not for profit organizations, who have demonstrated excellence in the field of rural development, with specific focus on education and skill development. Under the initiative, it has decided to invest Rs 100 crore in social sector within 5 years through its CSR initiative called HCL foundation. This is the biggest commitment any corporate in India has announced till date.

The award was formally launched on January 17, 2016, by the honourable President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee with Mr. Shiv Nadar, Founder and Chairperson - HCL and a Padma Bhushan awardee, himself acting host. During the ceremony, the final awardee was announced. Though Prayatn was not the final awardee it was among the top 6 finalists who were felicitated.

It is important to note that the proposals were invited for the award by HCL through an open procedure, in which about 400 NGOs from all over India had applied. This was followed by tough process of multi-stage scrutiny which involved field visit by programmatic and financial scrutiny by an external agency (Ernst and Young Foundation), field visit by HCL representative and its video documentation team and review of their inputs by multi-membered jury which included eminent people like Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, economics ex-Deputy Chairperson, Planning Commission of India. Prayatn had submitted a proposal on the theme of Education and Skill Development for children and youth in Dhaulpur.

Malay was clear from day one that there is no substitute for honesty and hard work. He was, therefore, upfront in saying 'no' to the projects which were not in line with the organizational vision even if huge budgetary support was backing and instead took up low budget projects if the same was found contributing. Sustainable development of the society was the prime concern.

Prayatn has been continuously evolving. Malay has been able to steer the organisation from Development approach to Model Development approach where the core values are same but the strategy of engagement with various stakeholders has been to demonstrate people centric solutions to the problems.

As the captain of the ship, Malay valued his team and laid strong emphasis on capacity building, vision building and spend quality time with it. He has been able to develop a balance between the professionally qualified professionals from various reputed institutes and grassroots experienced people from local team.

When Malay says that he sees himself as a Mentor in future, he is no longer dreaming, he is visioning..


Malay can be reached at prayatnraj@yahoo.com