Arthacharya Foundation: 25th Anniversary Celebrations
Established in 1992 Arthacharya Foundation celebrates its silver jubilee this year. Arthacharya was started at a time when the whole of third world was going through a wave of structural adjustments introduced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Though these changes were expected to bring about positive results in the long term the outcomes in the short term particularly for the poor were to be adverse. In brief, the anticipation was that poverty would increase in the short term unless actions were not introduced to mitigate the damage. It was quite natural in this context for the founders of Arthacharya Foundation to identify poverty alleviation as its primary goal.
Focusing on poverty Arthacharya works only for the poor who are the most marginal in a community whether it is rural or urban but not for all its members irrespective of their socioeconomic standing. During the entire period of 25 years Arthacharya has been continuously in a learning curve where it has always tried to understand the changing nature of poverty which depends on diverse set of socio-economic and political variables.
Arthacharya has identified six different groups of poor in Sri Lanka as their priority communities that need to be focused on. They are the rainfed farmer families in the dry zone who have no irrigation, urban slum dwellers, fishing communities along the coast, plantation communities of South Indian origin as well as the traditional communities sandwiched between plantations and Muslim communities displaced by the war.
The poverty reduction approach of Arthacharya offers microfinance as a key solution to the issue of poverty. Though the sustainable long term solution is increase of incomes for the poor through microfinance it simultaneously tries to address other interrelated issues such as nutrition and food security, environmental pollution, irrigation, water supply and sanitation as well as social issues such as high incidence of suicidesin certain areas and private tuition.
Arthacharya is pleased to announce that some of its programmes have developed to replicable models which even other institutions or programme could effectively replicate or learn from. Its microfinance programme functioning under Arthavida Intermediary Limited which is the microfinance arm of Arthacharya is completely a sustainable operation in financial terms. The participatory solid waste programme it introduced in Sri Lanka at the request of the World Bank 20 years ago is replicated today by many local authorities and NGOs. The vocational skills programme it developed is a low cost operation bringing rapid results to many underemployed youth. While the food security programme has effectively established a process of activities to revalorize small millet cultivation which is the main livelihood activity of the most marginal farmers in the dry zone the suicide prevention programme is the only of its kind based on a social approach treating suicides in the dry zone as a public health issue.
Arthacharya operates today through 16 branch offices in eight districts with its head office in Ratmalana. Benefitting more than 300,000 poor in project communities it works with a staff of 160 of which 70 percent are women.
During this period of 25 years the programmes of Arthacharya were supported mainly by CILCA International, Rabobank Foundation, Janasaviya Trust Fund, National Development Trust Fund and Sri Lanka Savings Bank, The World Bank, European Union, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, AusAID, Norad, CIDA, IDRC, USAID, ITDG, Etimos, GIZ, CHF International, Konrad Adeneaur Foundation, Ford Foundation, EFIM Foundation, Oxfam GB, Vebego Foundation, Cordaid and the Wild Geese Foundation.
Also it worked in close partnership with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, Central Environment Authority, Ministry of Health as well as 16 Municipal Councils and Pradesheeya Sabhas.
Arthacharya has won a number of awards for the effective poverty reduction programmes that it has implemented. In the year 2000 Rabobank Foundation in the Netherlands selected Arthacharya as its best partner in the third world and awarded Dfl. 150,000 (US $ 100,000) in commemorating the centenary celebrations of Rabobank. In 2006 Microsoft selected it as one of the two best microfinance operations in Sri Lanka and awarded Rs. 8 million.