Participatory Institute for Development Alternatives (PIDA)

Awarded 1982

Sri Lanka

For developing exemplary processes of self-reliant, participatory development among the poor in Asia.

The Participatory Institute for Development Alternatives (PIDA) was a non-governmental development organisation to start and promote grassroots participatory development processes in Sri Lanka. Established in 1980, PIDA’s approach to development grew out of pioneering work in the mid-70s by South Asian scholars who researched Asian poverty and the failure of past development efforts. They attempted to define a conceptual framework for an alternative model for development in Asia.

PIDA’s vision for development was a process of holistic human improvement led and managed by the people concerned in their own communities. This way, PIDA has shown that the social and material position of both the rural and urban poor, who are nearly always marginalised by conventional development efforts, can be considerably improved largely through their own efforts if they are given the necessary help and encouragement. PIDA was also involved in training educators and networking with other grassroots groups in South Asia.

PIDA is not active anymore.

Bringing out the creativity and the potential of the people is the means as well as the end of development.

Susil Sirivardana of PIDA, 1982 Laureate

PIDA's approach was based on scholarly work to develop an alternative development framework in Asia. To turn this theoretical work into practice, the Sri Lanka government and the United Nations Development Programme began a Change Agents Programme in 1978, which in turn led to PIDA's foundation in 1980.

From its very inception, PIDA was working together with SAPNA (South Asian Perspectives Network Association), a South Asian NGO with its headquarters in Sri Lanka. The two networks enriched and supported each other.

PIDA's approach

PIDA's vision of development perceived it as a process of holistic human improvement led and managed by the people concerned in their own communities. To start the process, PIDA initiators would go to live in villages and seek out the poor with whom they wish to work. They would then engage with them in a process of heightening awareness of the political, economic and social realities of their condition and how it could be improved through a combination of mutual self-help and collective organisation. They would encourage such organisation for the achievement of specific objectives, such as improved access to credit, access to farm inputs, improvements in the marketing of produce and the formation of informal consumer cooperatives.

This conscientisation dimension was at the core of the PIDA methodology of rigorous social mobilisation. This way, PIDA has repeatedly proven that the social and material position of both the rural and urban poor, who were nearly always marginalised by conventional development efforts, could be considerably improved through their own efforts, given the necessary stimulus and encouragement. PIDA was also involved in educating trainers and networking with other grassroots groups in South Asia.

The expansion of PIDA's work

In later years, PIDA expanded and multiplied its coverage from small village to district level, through a three-pronged approach:

  • expansion through groups organised by PIDA itself;
  • training of development workers of other community-based organisations and mid-size NGOs in order to widen their vision about development and also to build their capacity;
  • playing a consultancy role in state sector development efforts to make development more meaningful to the community and minimise any harmful effects resulting from such programmes.

A fourth South Asian tier was also established in cooperation with SAPNA. PIDA's cases on the ground have been extensively used in SAPNA's several book-length publications, e.g. Pro-Poor Growth and Governance in South Asia, Decentralisation and Participatory Development, (SAGE, 2004).

As of 2021, PIDA was no longer active as an organisation.

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