Transferring Grassroots Experiences into New Development Theories and Concepts


Chapter 6: A Way Forward: Linkages between the Tata-Dhan Academy and NGOs

As can be seen, many of the workshop deliberations ended up raising new questions. This is certainly a good thing. It reinforces the process of action—reflection—refined action mentioned earlier—a process that in the long run will enrich the wealth of both practical and theoretical knowledge available to development practitioners.

This process of reflection truly is important. The world today is rapidly changing—even in the most remote villages. Things like climate change and air pollution, for example, can have far-reaching consequences, forcing the development practitioner to think beyond what might be seen as an immediate problem. Considerations regarding the trade-off between the welfare of today’s population compared to the welfare of generations to come also raise ethical concerns for some practitioners, and the most effective way to help make these difficult decisions is to reflect on one’s work directly.

Why is facilitating a workshop such as the Transferring Grassroots Experiences into New Development Theories and Concepts an important activity for the Tata-Dhan Academy? The mission of the Tata-Dhan Academy is to (1) induct and groom young graduates as development missionaries, (2) build the capacity of practitioners in the development sector, and (3) build and enable a world of knowledge and practice through action, reflection, and adapting global knowledge. The overall vision for the Academy is that of “Becoming a ‘centre of excellence’ in development education.” Thus, knowledge building workshops like this one are paramount to the overall culture of the Academy. Not only does the Academy help facilitate knowledge building amongst practitioners themselves through the open sharing of both their successes and challenges, but the Academy is able to use this new, current knowledge to ensure that its curriculum is up-to-date, accurate, and relevant to the world their students will soon be entering as development professionals.

The Academy’s curriculum is divided into five broad disciplines: basics of development, technology of development, management for development, leadership development and institution building, and communication for development. In order to facilitate the transference of knowledge from workshops to the students, the Academy regularly tries to organize workshops in a related thematic way. For example, courses in the basics of development discipline are designed to introduce students to concepts like inequality, poverty, and development. As can be seen from the Transforming Grassroots Experiences into New Development Theories and Concepts workshop, the topic of “poverty” alone provided many enlightening opportunities which can be shared with the future development professionals studying at the Academy. These students, after graduating from the Academy, commit to serving in the development sector for at least three years with many of the NGOs and other stakeholders who participate at the Academy’s workshops. Thus, these workshops also help provide a source of inspiration for the students and help instil in them an intrinsic passion for socially oriented work.

Research has also become a stronger feature of the Tata-Dhan Academy. Again, this is to help build upon the knowledge-base available in the development community. Research findings are disseminated in various forms including workshops, case studies, seminars, and trainings. The research centres also try to facilitate the collection of knowledge and experiences; one centre, ASKMIAsian Knowledge Centre for Mutual Insurance. ASKMI is a specialized centre at the Academy developed to shape and advance the mutual insurance sector with support from MIAN, Interpolis, and ZLM Mutual Insurance Company, Netherlands., has dedicated considerable efforts towards establishing a library and creating a “digital knowledge bank” for specialized knowledge on mutual insurance. Centres like these will make it easier for NGOs and practitioners to access and share current knowledge about the vibrant and important field of development and simultaneously facilitate networking the development community—both within India and internationally.

Through these knowledge building workshops, the Academy and its research centres are also able to identify research leads—both for independent research and for joint research with other organizations. For example, recent events in India—such as the 2004 tsunami, floods, fires, and droughts—prompted many discussions among development practitioners about coping with these disasters. One initiative of the Tata-Dhan Academy is the establishment of a centre for disaster preparedness. Once established, one of the objectives of this centre will be to consolidate the wealth of knowledge already available from other stakeholders such as the government, NGOs, donor agencies, research institutions, and the affected communities. Through the joint efforts between the Academy, partner organizations, and other stakeholders—efforts including joint research projects, knowledge building workshops, case-studies, consulting, and research dissemination—the sector will be strengthened with contemporary theories, methods, and practices for coping with disasters.

We all hope for answers—and we all hope that we have found the “right” answers after our hard work. But it is important to acknowledge that the questions can be equally important, and it is important to acknowledge that we sometimes cannot see the questions on our own. These questions and deliberations are essential to maintaining or improving the quality of work in the development sector. The Tata-Dhan Academy is committed to facilitating this process of reflection along with the process of grooming new development professionals, and the process of relationship building within the sector through thematically organized knowledge building workshops and seminars.


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