Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1998


This profile was prepared when Soumyadeep Datta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Saumyadeep Datta, a lifelong birder, has seen up close how environmental degradation increases economic stress in forest communities and drains positive youth energy into terrorist movements. Based in Assam, he is mobilizing and training a youth environmental movement of over 3,000 volunteers to return the rain forests to their indigenous people, and initiate conflict resolution, crime prevention, and peace initiatives among them. Saumyadeep's approach, for the first time in the country, has turned around competing government, extremist, and indigenous claims over protected wildlife areas in the favor of the latter. Most importantly, it has organized rural youth leaders – most vulnerable to extremist pulls – to turn around unprotected green belts into "people's sanctuaries."
Saumyadeep's creative interplay of environmental and economic strategies have brought youth from tribes in conflict – Boda, Rambha, etc. – into a taut network. By demonstrating that the youth of antagonistic tribes share a common green heritage, it has shown them positive lifestyle options in eco-activism. Thus, as new youth leadership emerges around forest belts of Assam, wildlife protection is fortified and the economies of local communities are uplifted. Saumyadeep aims to replicate the model across the seven strife-torn states in the country's Northeast and is establishing linkages with citizen organizations and bureaucrats in the region.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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