ICA Honors Activists Nileema Mishra, Melinda Kramer


By Indiawest

The Indians for Collective Action marked its 45th year with its Annual Award Dinner and Benefit Gala Nov. 17, honoring Padmashree and Magsaysay Award winner Nileema Misra from Maharashtra, founder of Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan, and Melinda Kramer of Berkeley, founder of Women’s Earth Alliance, at the TiE Silicon Valley office here.

Mishra, an activist engaged in rural development in Maharashtra, is one of the youngest recipients of the Magsaysay Award. She donated her Magsaysay award money, received in 2011, to Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan to provide micro-finance to help poor women.
In recognition of her work for rural development she was awarded the Padmashree by the Government of India in 2013. Micro-financing coupled with logistical support provided to farmers, entrepreneurs and women’s self-help groups encourages savings, imparts skills for alternate livelihood, and helps build sanitation systems.
Mishra’s initiative has eliminated farmer suicides and empowered rural women in multiple villages in many districts to be proud earning members of their families.
Her work has focused on the concept of “swaraj” – empowering villagers to lead their own development initiatives and take responsibility for education, healthcare and economic development. One of her anecdotes of swaraj in practice almost brought the house down: when they were building new community toilets for the village, the women objected to the design because it had separate stalls. They said their toilet time was one of the few opportunities they had to talk to each other about problems with their husband and in-laws. So the design was modified to put the stalls in a circle so the women could see each other and converse as they did their business.
Kramer co-directs WEA’s world-wide work around issues of clean water, food security, climate change, and land protection through strategic investments in grassroots women’s leadership. WEA works to build solutions to global environmental challenges by uplifting the leadership of women.
WEA’s work in India includes the Green Foundation, Ruptantar in Chhattisgarh, Rural Women Upliftment Society in Manipur, People’s Action for Development in Assam, Bindrai Institute of Research and Action in Jharkhand, and Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in UP.
Rucha Chitnis, the South Asia program director of WEA, joined Kramer in receiving the award.
In his introduction, Bhupen Mehta, past president of ICA, described the organization as a “banyan tree” with roots that spread from the U.S. to India and around the world. ICA has incubated a wide range of organizations from the well-established Foundation For Excellence and Asha for Education to innovative social ventures such as EKTTA, which is using technology to build capacity in Indian organizations, according to a press release.
In describing the work of ICA, Abhay Bhushan said that ICA has disbursed over $6.5 million to more than 400 innovative projects all across India. He also noted that 100% of contributions go directly to supporting projects.
Hetal Sheth gave a presentation on EKTTA, a new ICA initiative to create a technology platform that can be easily adopted and scaled to meet the needs of Indian community-based organizations. “There is a need for this technology, as even large, well-established organizations lack the capacity to manage data and track activities, which results in wasted resources and lack of transparency,” said Sheth. This scalable technology is now being implemented at SEWA, the Self Employment Women’s Association, which has more than 1.5 million members.
Lata Patil discussed ICA’s innovative Women’s Leadership Program, which provides training and capacity building to women in India to help them lead their communities.
ICA president-elect Pushpa Subbarao concluded the evening with a vote of thanks.
Notable contributions to ICA this year included $7,500 from the Milpitas-based Shirdi Sai Parivar to support flood relief in Uttarakhand, $5,000 to support ICA’s Women’s Leadership Program from Dr. Tom Kailath, and a $20,000 contribution from Unmesh Sheth to pilot EKTTA’s Technology initiative in Gujarat. The event drew about 120 guests and raised some $50,000 in contributions for ICA and projects it supports.
The evening featured entertainment by the dance groups Jhankaar-Beats and BollyNritya and sumptuous appetizers and gourmet dinner was catered by Turmeric Restaurant in Sunnyvale. ICA was founded in 1968 and continues today as a 100% volunteer-run organization with the mission to support innovative, community-initiated and sustainable development projects that empower low-income people in India by partnering with dedicated activists and non-governmental organizations.

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