What started out as a project between a few friends just seventeen years ago has now grown into a fully operational and internationally renowned NGO, with a plethora of served communities and a fully committed and passionate staff that appears to grow every single day.
The founder and current director of the NGO, Amlan Ganguly, was born to a father who worked as a civil servant and previously worked as a lawyer at one of the most reputable firms here in Kolkata, India. However, he became frustrated by a legal and bureaucratic system that was unable and unwilling to provide social and financial services to the millions of impoverished citizens dwelling here in West Bengal. Out of this frustration and disenfranchisement grew an opportunity, and soon Amlan and a few other key individuals registered the organization here in Kolkata. Since its founding, the organization has always had a particular focus on bolstering the rights of children. Integral to this approach is an emphasis on the right to participation, as Prayasam believes that social change has the best chance of success when responsibility and initiative is engrained into those who hold the future in their own hands.
Located in an area of Kolkata known as Salt Lake City, Prayasam is strategically near the six main slum areas where their work is focused. The areas: RAC, BDC, Arjunpur, Udayanpally, Nazrulpally, and Mohisbathan, are all directly adjacent to the wealthier suburban Salt Lake area. The close dichotomy of the urban poor with the urban wealthy is a characteristic that is neither foreign nor novel to situations of large urban centers with vast income disparities. It becomes ever more apparent once one realizes that many of the highly sought after ‘IT’ and ‘tech’ jobs with western companies are located in Salt Lake City. As it becomes a much more arduous task to tackle social problems at all age levels, Prayasam primarily works with youth around age seven to age twenty residing in these seven areas. Utilizing training sessions, workshops, computer and technology courses, community mapping projects, academic mentoring, English lessons, as well as grassroots community organizing, the group seeks to empower and equip the youth of these areas with a fully loaded arsenal of knowledge and skills.
The mission of Prayasam is a simple, yet beautiful one: Prayasam endeavors to train the marginalized youth of today for the work of tomorrow. Their strategy, “Each One Teach One”, is evident across their organizational makeup. The office staff includes thirty-two individuals – including volunteers – who work across Kolkata, fifteen of whom work at the office every day and are on payroll. When talking one day with Snigdha Nandy, a committed and hardworking Project Coordinator here at Prayasam, she spoke of the cohesiveness of the staff here and how it operates much like a family. “Everyone here, including the youth volunteer leaders, never feel like they are under the strict authority of a boss”, she told me. “Each person is allowed to ask anyone anything, help anyone in need, and is free to remind or inform others when work is required or a task needs completing”, as transparency and accountability is expected of all members.
Completing this mission requires a solid and resolute outline of goals the group expects to strive towards. Conceptually speaking, Prayasam believes in social justice and challenges all forms of discrimination, especially those based on sex, age, social class, disability, HIV status, sexual preference, religion, race and ethnicity, with a particular emphasis on gender equity. The group works to proactively alter existing gender norms and social constructs that have historically hindered women and girls from proper access to education, healthcare, shelter, emotional support, and self-esteem. Simultaneously, Prayasam works to educate the marginalized youth of their human and child rights, granted to them by the charter of the United Nations. Finally, Prayasam seeks to fulfill these goals through both equal participation and distribution of responsibilities between men and women.
Quite obviously, these goals are not achieved in a short amount of time, as it has taken years to build up the capacity to reach sustainable and successful outcomes. Likewise, as the work increased and the group gained more international attention, acquiring financial support from reputable and trusted stakeholders has become integral. Currently, Prayasam receives funding from overseas organizations and global implementing agencies such as UNDP, DFID through I/CF KUSP, The Global Fund for Children, Save the Children, as well as the local government of West Bengal and leading businesses. In addition, local households and committed individuals whom reside here in India and around the world have been instrumental in providing financial support over the years.
In the short amount of time that I have been here, I have already witnessed many of the key concepts that I have learned about through my majors in International Development and International Relations. The managerial and non-profit organization levels have become ever more apparent as I interact with and work daily with a team of committed “on the ground” professionals here at the NGO. There are defined stakeholders, weekly meetings, mission and goal statements, as well as fairly robust (yet always improving) monitoring and evaluation strategies that take place regularly. I think one of the strongest attributes has been the NGO’s commitment to only moving forward with any tangible plans once the specific community has given their consent and approval. The amount of respect and careful human capacity building is perhaps one of the major reasons they are so successful, and will most likely continue to make progress in the future.
I feel very privileged to work with such an amazing team here, and even though I am already halfway through my internship, I know that there is still much to learn and experience here in Kolkata.