Our Institute is rooted in concerns of the broadest kind regarding the direction in which humanity is heading. This embeddedness in ideological concerns is not just an afterthought, introduced to contextualise our activities. On the contrary, it is the source of each of actual and practical actions we take on the grassroots level. The reason such a bond between the ideological and the practical is tenable lies in the richness and universal relevance of the source material. Mahatma Gandhi is the source of our inspiration and it is from his follower, the economist J.C.Kumarappa, we derive our name.
The global transfer of trade from local enterprises to huge multinationals is affecting everyone, in both the developed and ‘developing’ world. New consumers in the West might shake their heads as they learn of increasingly grave conditions in the factories of Asia, which churn out products destined for designer shops in their own countries. However they may have overlooked the impact, the same processes are having on their own neighbourhoods.
A good illustration would be the rise of the supermarket chain in countries like Britain. CEO’s of such companies might claim they are creating jobs, and in a sense that would be true. But in reality more jobs are destroyed, as local business, unable to compete with chain store economies of scale and advertising power, is forced into bankruptcy. Money that would be remaining in the local economy is instead funneled towards head offices elsewhere, where it collects, and multiplies, enabling more stores to open.
This is why the Gandhian alternative, of downscaling to human sized operations, grows ever more pertinent. He propounded a philosophy in which exploitation of certain people by others could not arise, and it is this unfashionable concept that our Institute took as one of its basic tenets when it was formulated in January 1967.
Gandhi advocated a way of life founded on principles of decentralized, unexploitative, cooperative, self-reliant and peaceful living. His policy of Gram Swaraj, or economics of peace was proposed to this end. Our institute resolved from the beginning to strive for successful implementation of these doctrines at the most basic level. That level is the grassroots of India, the rural areas – the villages – that have always been the sustainers of the Indian way of life in its purest form, and the central points of social life and culture.
As a necessary precursor to these activities, we resolved also to carry out our own evaluative programmes of the issues facing the rural poor. In this way, we knew then, as we know now, that we would be able to act on the basis of reliably acquired information. Such certainty has always been impossible when working with published results of university or otherwise institutionalized surveys. In our view, these elite organisations often appear to be in tacit complicity with the whole process that generated difficulties for the common man in the first place.
Our approach, is, in contrast, saturated with an urgent sense of the importance of a collaborative approach to development, one that listens to the people and works with them. This, for us, is preferable to the imposition of complex ‘solutions’, involving advanced technologies often produced by the kind of private enterprise, which the establishment is committed to promoting anyway.
Angered by this often hypocritical approach, we resolved to find solutions for rural issues under the principles of traditional Indian culture, using simple methods in preference to showy ones, and to ensure the involvement of the people. The key was, and is, to motivate them to put their energy and creativity into helping themselves – with our determined support.