Priscilla Nirmalakumari Daniel

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1989


This profile was prepared when Priscilla Nirmalakumari Daniel was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Increasingly disillusioned with top-down central planning, India has been developing a new consensus that initiative must now come instead from the grassroots of society, which overwhelmingly means the villages. Priscilla is setting out to demonstrate how to help the now terribly weak leadership of the government-supported (and therefore widespread) village Madhar Sangams or women's groups become more effective. She also hopes to strengthen the capacity of the government servants charged with supporting the Sangams, both to help the Sangams and to engage government as a prime means of disseminating her work across the country.
If she can turn even ten percent of the Sangam officers into effective leaders, her impact would be enormous. New national legislation being considered by Parliament which would require 30 percent of elected village council (Panchayat) members to be women, further increases the possible importance of her work.
Priscilla, who has been running a program to introduce innovative subjects and teaching methods in-service teachers, decided to use her training skills to help women after a meeting with village women leaders crystallized her own difficult experiences and what she had seen in the villages into a sharp realization of just how powerless and unprepared women typically are to participate meaningfully in decision-making. She starts with a good many ideas of how to design her "information, education, and communication" program, but she plans to hold off beginning work on her training materials until after she's deepened her personal ties with the women leaders in her target villages and has been able to study the specific problems facing them.
One of the most sensitive aspects of helping women leaders develop is counseling them how far and how hard to press. Committed to change, not gestures, Priscilla plans to have an important part of her leadership training help her clients learn how to judge where the boundary line in their situation is between not pressing hard enough and triggering a destructive response by frightening their men.
More broadly, her approach is designed to help her clients obtain the information they need to deal with the problems their women's groups and villages face, the education that will help their personal social and economic development, and the confidence and skills that will enable them to lead.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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