In April 1997, a few colleagues who had spent a decade or more at PRADAN felt the desire to form a new group, to work under a new identity, in order to allow themselves space and autonomy to try innovative ways to work for the rural poor. Acronym SRIJAN means ‘an act’ of creation in Sanskrit. The full name, Self-reliant Initiatives through Joint Action, has two sub-themes embedded in it – ‘self-reliance’ and ‘joint action’. We believed that development could not be promoted on large scale by charity, by grants; ways must be found to promote less subsidized models of poverty alleviation, the ones that promote self-reliance and enhance self-respect of those who are called “beneficiaries”.
Further, it cannot be an exercise of creating oases of “success.” NGOs, particularly the big ones, cannot afford to just receive foreign grants to “do development” in isolation, and expect to be taken seriously within their own country. They must act jointly, in collaboration with other stakeholders in society, negotiating and carving out a space due to them. They must work with the democratically elected government, however indifferent it is at times to the cause of poverty alleviation, or whatever may be the cost of doing business with it. Major theme during the first three years, pursued through research and consultancy, therefore, was Government-NGO Collaboration.
We also used this period to influence designs of externally aided state government projects for poverty alleviation and water resource management, primarily those supported by the World Bank, DfID, SDC and SIDA.
We began field operations once we were legally registered as a public charitable trust. In November 2000 SRIJAN started its first field project in Sagar district. Geographically, it now works in eleven field locations. Six of these are in Madhya Pradesh, two in Rajasthan and two in Karnataka.
In February 2006 we took a pledge to reach and reduce poverty among one hundred thousand rural poor families by 2011.