Damodar Acharya

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1998
The Concerned for Working Children


This profile was prepared when Damodar Acharya was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Damodar Acharya, known as Damu, is addressing pervasive problems of child labor and urban migration by eliminating the reasons why children move to cities and work. He believes these two problems are intertwined, and, therefore, the solutions must be, too. Child labor and urban migration occur, says Damu, because of lack of alternatives. If local occupations and opportunities exist that guarantee financial stability, then families will stop sending children into frequently hostile and dangerous work situations. Setting up alternative occupations requires reorganization of villages. To bring about such development Damu has identified and implemented mechanisms to organize children, educate them, and give them a voice in political decision making. He demonstrates that, with guidance and education, children create child - centered and environment -friendly development models.
Damu's models for devising and implementing these mechanisms are carefully tailored to the specific characteristics of each region. His program analyzes migratory trends and literacy patterns, for example. Environmental conditions also play a role in deciding how to reduce child labor and urban migration; villages have differing needs depending on whether they are situated in highlands, plains, deltas, tribal forests, or coastal areas. This scientific approach to development work is in itself a unique model that Damu is trying to popularize. At the national level he is trying to persuade the planning commission to recognize it as a model for addressing child labor. With that done, he aims to exponentially multiply the number of "child labor-free zones" in villages throughout the state of Karnataka.
To meet the first challenge he has introduced rag pickers' collectives in six communities in Delhi. The rag pickers are employed by the communities to collect, segregate, compost, and recycle waste at the site. Ravi explains why it works: "It has to be a win win situation for all. The rag pickers need formal employment, recognition, and better conditions to work in, and those who live in colonies [residential areas] need more cleanliness." Recognition of the success of these projects will also define community waste managers, especially rag pickers, as a formal workforce. "Our initiative marks the beginning of a new waste policy," Ravi explains. "The policy will reverse official apathy for the unorganized sector of rag pickers and turn a dynamic, informal human chain into a formal workforce with fiscal and other incentives."
The waste policy that Ravi envisions also extends to the problem of waste creation at the other end of the waste stream. To address this second challenge, he is building a market for more responsible industry that internalizes the true cost of a product, ensures a safe and proper path for it after it has been used, and shifts away from the use of hazardous and untreatable materials. Ravi and the organization that provides his institutional base have been decisive voices in India's public appraisals of waste management, which included a ban in 1996 on the incineration of polyvinyl chloride, the first of its kind in the world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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