Shrikrishna Upadhyay / SAPPROS

(2010, Nepal)

...for demonstrating over many years the power of community mobilisation to address the multiple causes of poverty even when threatened by political violence and instability.


Shrikrishna Upadhyay is a Nepalese development practitioner who has empowered more than a million people in rural Nepal to work for the improvement of their living conditions. Through his work with different organisations, he has demonstrated that poverty can be eradicated if the poor are mobilised and organised. A strong advocate of local self-governance, Upadhyay has strengthened Nepalese communities despite the violent political conflict in the country.

Contact Details

Sappros (Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal)
PO Box 8708 / Prashuti Ghriha Marga 400/28

Phone : 977-1-4244913/4242318/4232129
Fax: +977-1-4242143


Shrikrishna Upadhyay was born in June 1945. He was educated in the U.S. and gained an MS in Economics. Serving as chairman of the board and general manager of the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal (1982-1990) and as a member of the National Planning Commission of Nepal (1990-1993), Upadhyay came to the conclusion that top-down development does not work. 

Thus, in 1975 he helped initiate the Small Farmer Development Programme (SFDP) which yielded substantial achievements in the fields of micro credit, low-cost drinking water supply schemes, tree planting, training and literacy through social mobilisation. In 1991, Upadhyay initiated SAPPROS (Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal). 

SAPPROS works in the poorest areas of a very poor country: 31 percent of the population live in absolute poverty, according to government figures. SAPPROS' strategy is to develop grassroots level institutions that are self-sufficient, replicable and enable the poor people to self-govern and manage community affairs.

SAPPROS' achievements

SAPPROS is currently working in 12 districts of Nepal, all but one in the north west of the country. In total, by 2010, SAPPROS had formed 2,434 Savings and Credit Groups and 273 Cooperatives with a membership of 1.3 million of whom about 40% are women.

Under SAPPROS' programmes, the following infrastructure has been installed by the villagers over the years:

  • Water-systems (474 for drinking water, 383 for irrigation, 327 tanks, 477 tube wells, 536 sprinklers, 19 cycle pumps, and 672 other irrigation systems)
  • 323 km of rural roads, 519 mule and 384 foot trails, 17 suspension bridges and 60 wooden bridges
  • 109 health posts, 582 schools and 50 community buildings were either built or rehabilitated.

In addition, from 1991-2010, SAPPROS has helped communities manage 67 community forests, covering 2,620 ha, and install 3,600 latrines, 105 cooling stores, 102 photovoltaic and 50 biogas systems.

In all these works SAPPROS provides funds, but the community also contributes funds or labour or both. Because of this, under SAPPROS' schemes these installations often cost much less than in conventional development cooperation projects. In total SAPPROS has now worked with 235,000 households.

How SAPPROS works

When working in a new village, SAPPROS first discusses with the participants their way of living and helps them identify positive and negative traditions. Next, they help the villagers analyse the root causes of poverty by conducting a "village survey". SAPPROS asks the villagers to identify their resources like water, land, forests etc., as well as their economic and social status. By asking who is rich and who is poor in the village and why this is the case, collecting data becomes an awareness-raising process. Based on this survey, the villagers choose among them one or more social mobilisers (local catalysts) who organise the implementation of their ideas. SAPPROS advises the villagers on different technical solutions, provides training to the local mobilisers and helps mobilise funding. 

SAPPROS has developed manuals for user-groups covering topics such as irrigation, drinking water, forestry and rural roads. The manuals have been used for training by many other NGOs, and have also been utilised by international agencies, such as the UN Development Programme. It has also published a Social Mobilisation Manual, which explains social mobilisation for development. 

The most remarkable fact about SAPPROS is that it has been able to conduct this work despite the political instability in Nepal. During the Maoist insurgency, it was often the only NGO left in contested areas and had to work on a razor edge between the warring parties, but it never lost any of its staff. 


Upadhyay's experience has been recognised internationally in the form of invitations to act as a consultant for an agricultural credit review in Bangladesh (for the Asian Development Bank), irrigation management in Thailand, rural institutions in Nepal and local governance in Mongolia (UN Development Programme), and community development and integrated crop and food production in Afghanistan. He was a member of the Independent SARC (South Asian Regional Cooperation) Commission on Poverty organised by heads of state of the region in 1991. He has served on several committees in Nepal, among them the Prime Minister's coordination committee on decentralisation. 

The Poverty Alleviation Fund

Upadhyay is now actively scaling up the success of community mobilisation in Nepal through a new institution, the Poverty Alleviation Fund. Upadhyay is a board member of the fund, and the Prime Minister is its chairman. The fund is supported by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) and the World Bank, and the idea is to channel money directly to the communities, with NGOs and local governments as advisors and mobilisers, but avoiding the state bureaucracy. He hopes that the fund will soon be working in all 75 districts of Nepal, reaching almost 3 million people through thousands of community organisations.


Acceptance Speech by Shrikrishna Upadhyay

6 December 2010

(The Speech was read by Mr. Narendra Bahadur, Executive Director, SAPPROS)

It is with regret, that I inform you that Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhaya, mourning for his mother's death at this very moment, is unable to be here to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award 2010. My name is Narendra Bahadur K.C., serving as the Executive Director of SAPPROS Nepal, speaking on behalf of Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhaya and the organization. I am accompanied by Dr. Jyoti Bhattarai, daughter of Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhayay.

I also want to welcome our honourable ambassador from Nepal to Denmark, Mr. Vijay Lal Karna who graciously agreed to join the ceremony and came all the way from Copenhagen.

Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhayay urged me to convey the following message to this assembly.

This is actually the recognition of the contribution by the poor of Nepal who have shown their wisdom and creativity in coming out of poverty.

It is an honour for those individuals and organizations that have joined the mass movement in community development, managing common property resources and providing public goods and services in rural areas of Nepal. On this occasion I want to salute them. This will encourage all of us to continue our mission to develop Nepal as a democratic, peaceful, equitable, inclusive, stable and important part of the world community.

I want to thank the jury for recognizing our efforts in poverty alleviation and awarding us the Right Livelihood Award 2010.

The magnitude of poverty in Nepal is very high with dehumanizing levels in the mid and far western region of the country. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) developed by Oxford University, Nepal has the highest rate of poverty in the South Asian Region - almost two thirds of the population. This level of poverty gives ground forfrustration, particularly among the youth, resulting in escalated levels of conflict which Nepal has experienced in the past.

We realized that poverty reduction needed to be on the main agenda of development and had done some work at the grassroots level. It did not take us long to realize that efforts through the government bureaucratic structures gave some positive results, but not enough..

We were fed up with the shifting priorities of donor countries, particularly as they insisted on more emphasis on management of credit operations and less on developmental aspects. Visiting small producers, artisans and wage earners,,we realized that they not only needed financial assistance, but also technology, access to markets and above all, capacity building to manage local resources. This required building trust in the relationshiop with the people and to believe in their wisdom and indigenous knowledge system, subsequently supported by external interventions.

Finding the right match between local resources and external support was important, so that the communities did not become overly dependent on external support. During our work with the Small Farmer Development Programme, we observed that external pressure to disburse funds without preparations at the grassroots level had resulted in an over dependency on external resources. We were also not clear on the entry point of interventions which would trigger development and build faith among poor communities.

So, we decided to implement an Action Research Project on Social Mobilisation in a few villages of the Gorkha District in 1991. We started by training social mobilizers and group leaders in the art of building organizations for the poor. We trekked for days in those remote villages to learn about their aspirations and talked to them about finding creative solutions. We did not have many resources to share with them except ideas from our past experience. The mutual trust and participatory learning exercise helped us to believe in the capability of poor producers to uplift them.

Based upon the action research,we developed the social mobilization manual using pictures because most of the people were illiterate. Later on, we made videos and used video projectors going from one village to another organizing people. Since the model was based upon contradictions in the society, people understood the logic of the poor being exploited due to unequal power relations.

Once we started building separate organizations for the poor, there was considerable resistance from landlords, moneylenders, traders and local politicians.

As small producers became more self reliant and independent, the conflict came to the surface and some of our staff were even threatened. As savings increased, moneylenders were pressured to lower their interest rate. With increased economic activities, wages gradually increased. The wage laborers also benefited, resulting in reduced labour supply for landlords. The landless became tenants and started benefiting from access to new technology and a growing urban market for vegetables and horticultural products.

People were able to meet their food needs and generate some surplus for the market. They were able to send their children to school and there was demand for school buildings and suspension bridges for gaining access to these services. As the effectiveness of our programme increased, news spread "SAPPROS does what it says". Support started pouring in and our confidence level increased. We were able to mobilize more and more resources and using them more effectively.

After gaining experience, we decided to move to other districts and finally went to the most remote districts of the mid and far Western region. Amongst them Mugu was the most underdeveloped district, falling to the lowest in all development indicators including a life expectancy of 39 years.

As we moved to that region, the Maoist conflict heightened into full scale and civil war covering almost all parts of the country.

Also in other districts, we had to operate between two groups fighting each other whilst maintaining complete neutrality. Our staff were resolute and with their strong support we succeeded in expanding our operations into those remote areas.
We were able to develop a poverty reduction model which is people-based, people-driven and result oriented. This experiment increased our faith in the creativity of people.

During the conflict, we realized that our efforts would not be enough to heal the wounds and that people needed to be treated with compassion given the amount of hatred being generated amongst the different segments of society. Those in power had exploited the poor for too long and for that reason it was easier to galvanize the anger against the powerful class and launch a class struggle on Marxist principles.

We strongly believe in an harmony model where the poor are treated with equality and justice to enable them to be effective citizens in society. We believe in building democracy from the grassroots with community organizations acting as the primary school of democracy.

We needed a strong structure in the form of a multisectoral fund which could support community initiatives directly without going through the bureaucracy. It took almost 12 years of struggle and advocacy to convince the rulers that such a fund was necessary and finally the Poverty Alleviation Fund was set up in 2004 with World Bank assistance.

Our journey to this stage has been difficult and arduous but faith and confidence in people power has kept us going and we have become more resilient.

We believe we need to forge alliances within and outside to mobilize support for the cause of the poor so that they become subjects and not objects of development.

Recognition in the form of the Right Livelihood Award 2010 has strengthened our cause and given us new hope to continue our journey until the mission of eradicating poverty is achieved. We need the support of all of you including the media to highlight the plight of the poor and also to give us strength to remove poverty.

In closing, I want to quote Nelson Mandela who said "To overcome poverty is not an act of charity; it is an act of Justice." Therefore the time has come to do justice to the poor.

Thank you all.


Three questions to Shikrishna Upadhyay

Interview with Shrikrishna Upadhyay

Interview conducted in September 2010 -- free to use!

Q: How do you define poverty in the conflict situation of Nepal?

A: Poverty has traditionally been measured in the form of income needed for minimum subsistence, often given in predefined calories. Recently, this measure has been criticized as inadequate to reflect the conditions in which poor live. Poor are constrained due to a lack of access to resources, assets and services that are vital for the improvement of their quality of life. This notion of income poverty has now been challenged by several authors including Dr. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate, who says that poverty is due to a lack of capability on the part of poor, which needs to be enhanced. This theory is now validated by an Oxford study that looks into multidimensional aspects of poverty. The researchers have come across the methodology to measure multi-dimensional aspects of poverty called Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) covering areas such as income, education, health and access to public services. The ranking will be considerably different when MPI is used to measure poverty, compared to using conventional income and consumption indicators. Using the MPI, Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia, with 64.7 percent poor people. Using conventional income and consumption indicators, only 31 percent of the Nepalese population is treated as poor, less than half compared to when the MPI indicators are used.

The Nepal case is unique because of the lack of provisions of public goods and services. With democratization and extended openness, the government policy of promoting polycentricity enables various service providers, including community groups, to engage in service provision. This has introduced the concept of competition in delivery of public goods and services resulting in cost effectiveness, increase in efficiency and sustainability.

Q: What structural deficit is at the heart of the poverty in Nepal?

A: There is an unequal power relationship based upon patronage-client relationships, leading to the exploitation of the poor.  The landless class, which has dominated the rural scene for a long time, is locked into patronage-client relationships. Tenants and small producers are exploited through production and market relations, also accentuated by a lack of remunerative employment opportunities in the villages because of sluggish growth of the agricultural sector. There is exploitation of the poor also due to monopolised land and product-markets controlled by landlords.

Q: Is there any kind of common denominator that most villages share with regard to their way of living and that has to be changed in order to get them out of poverty?

A: Nepal is one of the most diverse countries with many different cultures, religions, social and economical backgrounds. However, one factor which binds people together is the concept of sharing and caring which is manifested in community-based activities. We are trying to use this community spirit, which is unique in South Asia, to build a base of stronger self-governing organizations, developing their problem-solving capabilities.

We believe that following a participatory approach and involving people in the planning, design, execution and management of small projects in rural areas will enhance their capacity and increase impact and sustainability.  This will secure the base and strengthen democracy at the grass root level.

Q: What are the main obstacles you encounter in your work?

A: The major one is a lack of long-term commitment to poverty programs. Government policies are seldom pro-poor, and often institutions designed to help the poor are not sensitive to their real needs. Donors remain in a cocoon and try to maintain their own turf and do not like to give long-term commitments, even to good projects.

In our work with the poor, we need a lot of flexibility because of an action-learning aspect, which is not usually supported by the traditional donor. Coordination becomes very difficult due to differences in work styles and missions, which are often conflicting. In addition, lack of physical access, insufficient skilled manpower and lack of access to new technologies are of concern.

Q: What is your experience with the large bilateral and multilateral donors like e.g. the World Bank?

A: Donor policies, including those of the World Bank and Regional Development Banks, are not pro-poor and hurt the interest of poor producers. In the case of Nepal, agricultural policies are not pro-poor since they do not provide any subsidy on inputs used in agriculture, making the farm products less competitive compared to the Indian farmers' across the border. The Indian government provides subsidies on fertilizers and irrigation equipments. In Nepal, the subsidies for fertilizers and irrigation pumps used by small farmer were withdrawn at the insistence of some donors. Many small producers have gone out of business due to cheaper Indian farm products flooding the Nepali market - produced at lower cost with government subsidies. Policy distortions are rampant and do not encourage efficiency and cost effectiveness. Big donors are willing to support infrastructure projects in rural areas run by government agencies, whereas similar projects implemented by community groups do not get the same support and are seldom completed due to a lack of access to funds.

Q: Why do top-down approaches to poverty alleviation not work?

A: Several studies conducted in various countries, including Nepal (Sappros's Institutional Options Study 2001-2002 for example) support the viewpoint that top-down delivery systems are costly, inefficient and un-sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the poor. The effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery systems improves once communities are involved in service delivery and have control over resources, including external funding. Once the poor own the process and also contribute with resources, they will identify the demands and choose the technology and process which is appropriate and sustainable. Experience from SAPPROS, PAF and other organizations that are working with poor communities show that the community-driven approach is cost-effective, efficient, sustainable and helps improve the quality of life of the poor. We need to package technology, resources and institutional capacity in a way that a visible impact on poverty can be made within the shortest period of time.

Q: How would you formulate the basic paradigm of your work?

A: It is based on preserving the dignity and integrity of the poor - the poor are treated as subjects and not objects of development and own the process and manage resources through their own organizations.

SAPPROS believes in the power and creativity of poor people, but they need to be organized and supported through a sensitive support system such as the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF), which can provide long term and sustained support, maintaining a maximum amount of flexibility and innovation. SAPPROS promotes a holistic approach to poverty reduction based on the felt needs of poor people and articulated by their own organizations, developed through a rigorous social mobilization process. We provide support in the form of finances, logistics and services to bring them into the mainstream of society. We are improving the social mobilization manual, which needs to be tailored specifically to the needs of each poor community, so that effective grassroots-based organizations can be developed. Poor people have dignity and do not want charity, but want their fair share in the society. 
Our vision is to develop SAPPROS to an institution of excellence, promoting self-governing institutions at the grassroots level. This will require enhancing its capacity to do action research and training in the areas of social mobilization and development of self-governing organizations. The participatory action research and training methodologies need to be readjusted so that they could also be used by other countries. In addition, this would enable SAPPROS to train a large number of facilitators, required for replicating the program on a wider scale.

Q: Nepal was in a state of civil war and the political situation is still fragile. What is the link between political instability, the violence and poverty?

A: It is true that, politically, Nepal is in a flux and that peace seems to be elusive with warring parties not coming to an agreement and the constitution-making process is hanging in the balance. People are extremely unsecure and their faith in democracy is being shattered. Government structures are completely dysfunctional, the service-delivery system is ineffective - there are huge policy and governance deficits.

There is a direct link between poverty and conflict. In areas where conflict started in the early phase, there is extreme poverty. A recent study on the conflict in Nepal by the Harvard Business School shows a direct correlation between poverty and the number of deaths during conflict. Setting aside political stalemate, people have started getting organized in order to provide essential public goods and services.
We need to use the creativity and energy of the people who have been left out for centuries from the mainstream of development and who are now looking for a peace dividend after a long and protracted bloody conflict. Nepal can come out of poverty if we strongly believe in and support the creativity of the poor and show long-term commitment towards their cause.

Awarding the Right Livelihood Award to SAPPROS for its commitment to the cause of the poor indeed shows that firm commitment.


Publications by Skrikrishna Upadyhay and SAPPROS

Download a Power Point Presentation about SAPPROS (zip-file, 6 Mb)


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