In India, EWC Leadership Fellows Help Boost an Alumna’s Development Efforts for Women


Leadership fellows from the 2016-17 cohort of East-West Center’s Asia-Pacific Leadership Program, spent a week recently volunteering their technical assistance for the Parinaama Development Foundation in India's Odisha state.

GISTer Mourng Kagna from Cambodia teaches a computer literacy class at Parinaama.

Nine competitively-selected APLP fellows went on road for several months, exploring issues ranging from drug enforcement reform in the Philippines to women’s roles in post-disaster resilience building in Indonesia and Myanmar. Known as GISTers (Group Independent Study Travellers), the group met in India from March 18-27, 2017 to review their progress, and offer their diverse skills to Parinaama, a grassroots organization founded by APLP alumna Dr. Madhavi Panda.

The seeds for Parinaama were planted in 2011 when Dr. Panda launched mobile health camps in Odisha state as part of her APLP community project. A demographer and health researcher, she was concerned by the area’s lack of access to healthcare and high infant mortality rate. Her story demonstrates the power of East-West Center’s GEM (gender equality multiplier) effect in action. Panda’s initial health project quickly expanded when she realized the benefits of empowering women to earn their own income. With an initial donation of sewing machines, she helped women build tailoring, embroidery and appliqué skills - and Parinaama was born.

The GIST group arrives at the train station in Balangir.

Five years later and with very limited financial support, Parinaama now has projects in Delhi, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand, where it supports women to develop textile sector skills and micro-enterprises, and provides basic health services and awareness. Parinaama has developed the skills of over 2,000 women, and provided basic health service to over 1,000 families, making Panda a truly impactful GEM in her community. In some of the places where it works, Parinaama is the only NGO concentrating on empowerment and livelihoods. Panda is currently exploring ways to create a sustainable social enterprise model that can operate independently. When the opportunity arose for GISTers to provide technical assistance to a grassroots organization, the Leadership Programs staff and Dr. Panda knew that Parinaama was a great choice.

The group is welcomed at Parinaama.

GISTers conducted a needs assessment prior to their arrival and found that developing business and investment strategies was the most effective use of their time. In eight short days, the team assisted Parinaama with internal operations and social enterprise activities by compiling a detailed report that included contact details, guides for grants development and volunteer partnerships, and suggestions for developing Parinaama leadership, among other things. “It was a truly a first-of-its kind learning and sharing experience for us,” Panda said. “We are grateful to each and every member of the team who took pains to understand and explore the various nuances and complexity of the project.”

Also joining the team was APLP alumna and Parinaama board member Ms. Nok Boonmavichit, who said that through the experience we are all inspired by the impact of Parinaama’s work on marginalized women in multiple villages of Odisha.”

The alumni collaboration throughout this project not only resulted in benefits to Parinaama and demonstrated the dynamic potential of the East-West Center alumni network, said APLP Senior Program Officer Nina Dutra, who accompanied the team on its mission, but it also “allowed the GISTers unique access to knowledge that can only be gained by being present in such an intensive, grassroots environment.”