Social Entrepreneurs provide examples of Leadership and Vision...


Mithu Alur
NRCI &  Spastics Society of India













Bert O'Donoghue speaks to children in a school established by the NRCI and Spastics Society of India

The Spastic Society of India was founded in 1972 by Dr. Mithu Alur at a time when very little was known about the complicated disorder of cerebral palsy.  Initially it provided education and treatment services, gradually broadening its scope to teacher training, vocational training of young adults, advocacy and awareness, support for parents and other professionals.

Today it is one of the foremost organizations in the medical and social field, working for children and adults with developmental disorders.  It has facilities for identification, assessment, education placement in normal schools, vocation and employment.

The National Job Development Centre was set up in Chembur to promote research, assessment, training, work experience, socialization and placement of multiple disabled adults.

In 1999 Dr. Alur established The National Resource Centre for Inclusion (NRCI) to address all children with disability as well as other children facing barriers to learning. After discovering that 98% of persons with disabilities were excluded from government programs and that policy reference to “all” children in educational services did not include disabled children, Dr. Mithu Alur evolved the mission of the Spastic Society of India to be about “inclusion”.  Until this point the government of India had relied on NGO’s and voluntary organizations to look after the needs of disabled children.  This had led to dis-empowerment and marginalization of disabled people.  90% of disabled people did not have access to any service, particularly in rural areas.

From Segregation to Inclusion

The change in focus from segregated education to inclusive education was a key shift in Dr. Alur’s efforts.  She felt strongly that education of children with disabilities must become the State’s responsibility.  Disabled children and adults were citizens of this democracy and, like anyone else, should have the same access to services and education.  While working to effect policy change, Dr. Alur also created an inclusive community where all children who face barriers to learning due to social disadvantages, gender or disability are included.

Other initiatives were developed including:

-Teacher training courses

-Postgraduate courses in inclusion.

-Community initiatives in inclusive education

-All India regional alliances for inclusion in education

-An international north-south dialogue and conference where learning could be shared outside of India.

Dr Alur describes the journey that has taken the work of the Spastic Society to the activities conducted today by The National Resource Centre for Inclusion. Like any great efforts it requires a continued commitment to the mission and a focus on measurable objectives. What is also important is the need to de-mystify the situation and the needs of people. The tendency for professionals to do what they know to be right often stifles new ways of looking at problems and creative solutions, acting as a disincentive to others. So it is sometimes important to de-professionalize and let the ideas come from the heart. With this is the challenge of de-institutionalizing the organization so as to keep its energy alive and full and prevent it from being co-opted by the system.

Approximately 5% of India’s population is disabled in some way. Four to five million are under 5 years of age.

From Charity to Rights

The NRCI in its earlier stages depended on charity for its funding. However as the mission developed and the NRCI asserted that the inclusion of disabled in education was a right under the 93rd Amendment giving education for all, the state was seen as responsible for education funding. Additional services and education are funded by those receiving them and by organizational Support.

Click here to view The Spastics Society of India/ NRCI homepage


Sheela Patel







Sheela Patel discusses the work of SPARC in the slums of Mumbai, with Christel Bories, Alan Goodyear and Atul Dhawan

The Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC), founded in 1984 by Sheela Patel, works to bridge the gap between the government and the poor, and to facilitate in organizing slum dwellers and pavement dwellers all over India to address issues related to urban poverty, and collectively produce solutions for affordable housing and sanitation.  With organizations like SPARC, the pressure on the government to communicate with slum dwellers and to consider them as a very real part of the population has increased dramatically. 

SPARC has been working in partnership with two community-based organizations, the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan. Together, they are known as the Alliance. Today, the Alliance works in about 70 cities in the country and has networks in about 20 countries internationally.

The National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) was founded in the mid 1970s and is a national organization of community groups and leaders who live in slums/informal settlements across India. Its main aim is to mobilize the urban poor to come together, articulate their concerns and find solutions to the problems they face. Today the NSDF works with about half a million households in the country. In 2000, the President and Founder of NSDF, A.Jockin, was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Mahila Milan means "Women Together" in Hindi and is a decentralized network of poor women's collectives that manage credit and savings activities in their communities. Mahila Milan aims to provide a space for women to take on important decision making roles and be recognized for their critical contributions towards improving the lives of their communities. Mahila Milan was initiated in 1986 when 500 women who lived on Mumbai's pavements organised themselves to successfully prevent the demolitions of their homes. Today, Mahila Milan has given out tens of thousands of loans to poor women all across the country and has collected savings worth several crores of rupees.

The roles of each member of the Alliance are clearly defined. The NSDF organizes and mobilizes the urban poor and negotiates with resource providing institutions, Mahila Milan supports and trains women's collectives to administer and manage their community's resources and participate in NSDF activities, and SPARC provides the administrative, financial, policy, documentation and other support necessary for these processes to be successful on the ground.

Sheela Patel, the founder and director of SPARC, decided long ago that the only way to make an impact in the lives of slum dwellers was to give residents like A. Jockin a powerful voice that was able to connect with and be heard by the State.  Her guiding principles in developing the role of SPARC have included: “not being fearful, not getting comfortable, not doing what’s convenient, but doing what’s needed.” 

Her organization has also followed a number of principles over the years and some of these include:

1. Facilitating a “Bottom-up” approach to solving problems

SPARC is unique in that it is facilitating a “bottom-up”, asset-based community approach to solving huge social problems while leveraging democratic and empowering methods to address issues and achieve results.  SPARC recognized early that those who live with the problems (Pavement dwellers and slum dwellers) are the most passionate about solving them as it is in the interest of their own survival to do so. 

SPARC understood this relationship early on after observing that when solutions were imposed from the outside, they most often failed because they were unrealistic, given the circumstances and also lacked a real understanding of the complexity of the realities of daily life in the slums.

What the slum dwellers lacked however in seeking to solve their own problems were the resources and the influence with government to make it happen. 

2. What you learn, you teach to someone else

The strength of the Federation is that it shares what it learns.  When success is realized or progress made, it is passed on to someone else either in another slum in Mumbai or in another city in India so that it might be replicated.

3.  Know the details of the situation better than anyone and be prepared to negotiate

SPARC realized that if the slum dwellers biggest asset in negotiating with the government for what they needed, was the information that they could possess on the actual situation in the slums because they lived there ie. Number of households, education, socio economic information, number of people per household, statistics on sanitation and toilets, employment etc.  Thus not only was the information gathered by the slum dwellers themselves, but it was organized and used in order to make demands and negotiate for what they needed.

 4. Empowerment leads to solving more problems

In the early years, when pavement dwellers (specifically Mahila Milan) stood up for themselves against those who came to demolish their homes they learned how to work with the bureaucracy of the city government.  Empowered, they had the confidence to take on other problems, such as adopting a savings and credit program to fund small enterprises, designing and creating new housing options that met their specific needs, self policing (through a police Panchayat) their neighborhoods in cooperation with the police force and more.

These and other principles have contributed to SPARC’s unique approach to helping solve problems of health, livelihood, dignity and daily living that others could not.

The urban poor in most cities across the world have inadequate access to housing and infrastructure. Therefore the immediate aim of the Alliance is to create the institutional arrangements that are necessary for large numbers of the poor to access and housing and infrastructure. Our long-term vision is to support a process where organised groups of the urban poor can participate in making decisions about how their cities are developed and managed.

SPARC’s primary activities include:

Setting up community centers which they call Area Resource Centers.

Encouraging communities to join a Savings and Credit program that simultaneously builds trust within a settlement and strengthens the financial assets of participating families.

Supporting communities to collect detailed information about themselves, which they call Enumerations, Mappings and Surveys, so that they can negotiate with local authorities from an informed position.

Facilitating communities to visit each other, share ideas and learn from each other's experiences and lessons through Peer Exchanges.

Organizing Housing and Toilet Exhibitions which showcase affordable housing and sanitation solutions to government authorities as well as local populations.  SPARC also goes a step further helping communities to design toilet blocks and establish dialogue with local governments in order to build them.

Demonstrating through Pilot or Precedent Setting Projects the kinds of housing and infrastructure models that work for the poor as well as the city and can be scaled up substantially. Specifically how to build and finance community initiated housing and toilet blocks.

And finally, based on all of their grassroots mobilization work and experience, advocating for pro-poor Policy Changes.

All these tools and strategies are geared towards strengthening bonds between poor communities and building their financial, managerial and organizational capacities so that they can take on not only housing and infrastructure projects themselves, but also participate in larger issues of city redevelopment and management.

Click here to view the SPARC homepage


Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan











Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan discuss the work of Janaagraha with participants of The International Forum in India in 2007       

Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan are the founders of Janaagraha, whose work is fundamentally about two things:
1. Creating new politically legitimate "space" at the local level, which includes all citizens in the process of decision-making. That is, deepening the idea of democracy beyond the occasional trip to the ballot box, and providing the citizen with an on-going right to have a voice in decisions that affect her.
2. Strengthening the ability of the two central political players—the citizen and elected representative—to participate in these spaces. This means evolving robust structures, processes and tools for such participation.
Their experiences have shown that passion, conviction and ideas in grassroots activity bring best results when they are in tandem with stable organizational structures and processes. Janaagraha has evolved in these last four years from being an open citizens' platform to the more rigorous institutional structure called the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (JCCD).

Core Values

Positivity: To believe that real change is possible, if everyone did his or her bit.

Belief in the power of the Community: To recognize that the central means of all action is a collective one. From an inclusive community comes collective strength, but also the building of long-term bonds that will shape our society."

Constructive Engagement: To engage (with individuals, communities and organizations) in the spirit of partnership and give the benefit of doubt until proven otherwise.

Professionalism: To deliver on individual roles and responsibilities at the highest degree of commitment and capability at all times.

Moral Compass: To consistently be guided in all actions by the principle of moral truth and be concerned with not just the ends but the means as well.

Compassion: To empathize with and support those in real need and carry out one's responsibilities in building a caring and just society.

Core Purpose

To improve the quality of life for all, by improving the quality of public governance.


To fundamentally transform the trajectory of India, in 20 years.

Vivid Description

Twenty years from now, India will be best known for the quality of life it offers to its citizens. And this will be accomplished through the practice of democracy that is based on personal freedom, collective action and transparency. A democracy, that provides every citizen with a direct voice and an active role in public governance, leading to an abundance of public and private wealth.

This vision for India would be achieved by developing participatory structures of public governance, by evolving a sense of shared ownership of the environment and the community's destiny and by establishing practices of engagement that ensure broad participation in public governance, of the entire citizenry.

India would provide to the world a model of democracy that brings individual ambition and common cause into harmony, and helps unleash the creativity of millions of Indians in ways that generate the greatest rewards for the society as a whole. By 2025, no Indian would have reason to feel disenfranchised and in fact would have every chance to fulfill his/her personal potential while making the greatest possible contribution to the society.

Click here to view the Janaagraha homepage


Om Prakash Sharma
Wells for India







Mr. Om Prakash Sharma facilitates a discussion between village members and participants of The International Forum

Wells for India is a small charity which works with partners - non government organizations (NGOs) -  in India, who have direct contact with village committees and the people of the desert.  Their focus is on water -  the provision of sufficient clean water for drinking, cooking, washing, the animals and for crops. They also are involved in a number of associated projects including health and education.  Wells for India have been working in Rajasthan since 1987, in close partnership with the villagers themselves, with the NGO's and with the Government of Rajasthan.

Wells for India works with local (mainly Gandhian) partners in Rajasthan for the uplift of the rural people living in the Aravali Hills, Thar Desert and Sambhar Lake areas.  Together they focus on the poorest and marginalized communities, irrespective of caste, religion or ethnic background.  Priorities are set by the villagers themselves with their active involvement and contribution so that they own the projects and are able to sustain them by the time the project has run its course.

Values of Wells for India

Human Rights:

The Work of Wells for India is based on the conviction that everyone has the right to clean, easily accessible water, food and shelter, good hygiene and sanitation, education, curative and preventative medicine, and participation in decision-making.

Social Justice:

Wells for India is committed to social justice, with a special focus on the poorest and most marginalized people.  This commitment involves putting those in greater need first, recognizing the importance of local decision-making, supporting the principles of solidarity and mutual responsibility, and tackling unjust systems that rob people of their dignity and potential.


Wells for India is committed to fully ecological principles and practice, believing that abuse of the environment has serious adverse effects on water availability and on poor communities.


Wells for India is committed to supporting people regardless of religion, race or caste.


Wells for India is committed to non-violence and respect for culture and religious tradition, recognizing that spirituality permeates the whole of people's lives.

Click here to view the Wells for India homepage


Devi Shetty
Narayana Hrudayalaya







Dr. Devi Shetty discusses issues in healthcare with participants of The International Forum in India in 2007

Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH) was founded in 2001 by Dr. Devi Shetty. The hospital has 500 beds, ten operating theaters, two cardiac catheterization laboratories and its own blood and valve banks. Its pediatric intensive therapy unit is the largest in the world. 40% of procedures performed at the hospital are pediatric treatments.  The hospital has over 90 cardiac surgeons and cardiologists who were trained in leading international institutions. Some have performed more than 10,000 heart surgeries.

 Available and Affordable Health Care

Dr. Devi grew up in a village where, whether you were rich or poor, if you became ill you could not buy life with money. The health care to save lives was not available and therefore no-one was privileged to get it. But today in India, as elsewhere, people’s hopes and dreams assume an education and health care. Some will find they are left behind because they are not among those who can afford the medical help to stay well or to save a life. Health care exists today for those who can afford it and have access to it. As Dr. Shetty points out, we have found the solutions to medical problems and health; but we have so far failed to find the way to deliver medicine and health care to humanity. In other words, it is largely a distribution problem.

 For its population of over one billion, India spends around 1% of GDP on public health care. When private spending is included this rises to 5% of GDP. Its 600,000 physicians are mostly located in urban areas making access to health care a challenge for India’s very large rural population. Less than 14% of the population has any insurance. Heart disease is very common in India. While the average age for heart attacks in the West is 65, in India it is 45. Indian genes are more vulnerable to heart disease. The fact that 2.5 million people in India need heart surgery in a year presents a special challenge to health care.  


A major part of Dr. Shetty’s strategy to make health care accessible and affordable to the poor, particularly in rural locations, is the use of Telemedicine. Coronary care units (CCUs) are set up in remote locations in India and linked via INSAT satellite (supported by ISRO – Indian Space Research Organization) to hospitals. Cardiac specialists are rare in rural villages so patients would otherwise have to depend on available physicians who may lack the required knowledge for diagnosis and treatment. The CCU’s are equipped with electrocardiogram (ECG) machines, video-conferencing, and technical staff. Software has been developed to scan ECG images and transmit them to the hospital where a specialist will diagnose the condition and discuss it on video with the patient and physician. A decision can be made on whether or not the patient requires surgery thus saving the cost of unnecessary hospital visits. This makes it possible for specialists to handle many more cases and see many more patients. However, “the patient must see the compassion on the doctor’s face” according to Dr. Shetty.

 The use of telemedicine has contributed to a material reduction in India’s death rate from cardiac ailments. Telemedicine units are also linked to Malaysia, Nepal, Mauritius and soon to other countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, Yemen, Pakistan and Zambia. The potential for networking telemedicine as an affordable approach to bringing health care to the poor in remote areas is huge as it can be self sustaining at a few rupees per patient. And as Dr. Shetty explains “not all doctors will agree to take responsibility for patients that they do not meet in person, but they will care for someone they see on the screen”.

Mobile Cardiac Diagnostic Labs

Buses go to rural areas with doctors, including cardiologists. They are fitted with ECG equipment, treadmill, and defibrillators to perform as diagnostic labs. NH now has 39 remote clinics and mobile testing units and with satellite links it treats 17,000 patients.

Financing affordable care

NH attracts patients who can afford to pay because of its high quality (for example: its mortality rate of 1.35% for coronary bypass compares with 2.7% in the USA). Those who can afford to pay provide the surplus needed to subsidize those who cannot afford treatment. The ratio is around 60:40. In addition, the operation of the hospital seeks to lower costs where possible while maintaining its high quality. High volume of cases and high utilization of equipment produces an economy of scale and surgeons can focus on performing their special areas while becoming the most experienced in their fields. Charitable organizations and trusts are sought to provide support for those patients who are financially constrained. Surgeons earn about one-half their US salary; their insurance costs are low because there are no major mal-practice awards.

Yeshasvini – Health Insurance

In his mission to make health care accessible to the rural poor, Dr. Shetty encountered the inevitable problem of ability to pay. To address this he developed a health insurance program known as Yeshasvini. Now, more than 2 million farmers and their families in the state have insurance covering them for all surgical procedures and outpatient care. The annual premiums are 60 rupees ($1.50) or 5 rupees per month. Similar insurance schemes are being developed for teachers and other groups in the State of Karnataka. Experience with insurance has shown that poor families are now more likely to seek low cost treatments which they had previously forsaken because of ability and reluctance to pay for conditions that did not appear life threatening.

Launching the insurance scheme involved collecting premiums up front. To keep collection costs to a minimum Dr. Shetty is able to utilize the government infrastructure, its post offices, to collect monthly premiums, track payments and issue health insurance cards. As he explains, people will trust government agencies in such a role; however, the planning and implementation are best managed by the NH team.  

Phase 2 and the Future

The mission of providing affordable health care is to be expanded beyond the original Heart Hospital facility to a new “Health City” that will provide treatment in oncology, neurology, nephrology, orthopedics and more with capacity of 5,000 beds. NH will serve as the backbone to these other specialties. Part of the reason has to do with efficiencies because NH has reached the limit of its cost reduction through volume of surgeries and it needs to better utilize its other equipment, services and materials. New buildings are being constructed on the 35 acres around NH that will eventually be 10 hospitals. They will utilize the common infrastructure, labs, supplies and transport in a new Health City.

Dr. Devi Shetty

Dr. Shetty founded NH in Bangalore in 2001 with a generous contribution from his father-in-law, who owned a construction company, Shankaranarayana Constructions (SNC) and constructed the first phase of the hospital on 25 acres of land adjoining Bangalore's famous Electronic City. Previously, Dr. Shetty trained and operated at Guy's Hospital in London before returning to Calcutta in 1989 to join Birla Heart Research Foundation. He describes Calcutta as a microcosm of the country­, a magnified Indian village with well-equipped hospitals but with extremely poor people unable to afford modern healthcare. He founded the Asia Heart Foundation (AHF) which promoted its own hospital in Calcutta, the Rabindranath Tagore Institute (RTI) of Cardiac Sciences. By 2004, RTI was the largest heart hospital in East India.

While in Calcutta, Dr. Shetty became the personal cardiac surgeon to Mother Theresa. Her work helped him to form his vision and to set his direction for healthcare. He believes that “she is singularly responsible for much that I have achieved. Somehow, even though I am a scientist and do not expect to find God, meeting her was almost like an encounter with the divine."

Click here to view the Narayana Hrudayalaya homepage


Mimi Silbert
Delancey Street






"People who would be considered patients in other programs are the bosses here."

Dr. Mimi Silbert
President and Co-founder

Delancey Street is a self-help residential education center for former substance abusers and ex-convicts. It has about 1000 residents located in five facilities throughout the United States: New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Los Angeles and headquartered in San Francisco.

Delancey Street was founded in 1971 by Mimi Silbert and her late partner John Maher. It is based on the premise that to gain self-esteem and make a meaningful contribution to society you must give. To be able to do you have to learn and, as you learn, teach others. 

When residents first arrive at Delancey Street they live in rooms with 6 others. The other residents teach them. Gradually they take on jobs like sweeping and washing, graduating to table setting, fixing cars, cooking, sewing, painting and carpentry – all taught to them by the others who live there. 

There is a curious organization structure. Depending on your talents you will make your way up the hierarchy in three different parts of the organization: the Vatican Room (focused on the emotional well-being of residents); the War Room (focused on the finances): the State Room (focused on the general operations and bureaucracy for running the place). Depending on your strengths, you may be at the top of the hierarchy in one part of the organization and at the bottom in another. While it is not a business, it is a self-sustaining enterprise and it now runs over a dozen businesses including the second largest moving company in California, a popular restaurant and catering service, an event planning company, a special events decorating company, an automotive service center, a printing company, and a Christmas tree sales venture that earned $1 million last year. The entire organization is run by its residents.

During its 30 years in operation Delancey Street has taken no government handouts; it has managed without a fleet of therapists and it has not had a single arrest or violent incident. The center itself was built by the residents and was required to become its own licensed contractor. Since 1971 over 11,000 ex-convicts, homeless people and drug addicts have passed through Delancey Street, successfully graduating to lead normal lives in communities.

According to Mimi Silbert, "the Delancey Street principle is that ordinary people can transform extraordinary dreams into reality by pooling their resources, supporting one another, and living lives of purpose and integrity. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of money to make change possible. It takes a sense of values and a vision—and people believing in one another."

Learn more about Delancey Street - click here



Börje Ehrstrand
Rinkeby Skolan





Björe Ehrstrand speaks with Jan and Trine Løkling from Norway







"When everything around you is bad, people are skeptical.  A leader needs to know what he is going to do"

- Björe Ehrstrand
Rektor, Rinkeby Skolan

Rinkeby Skolan is a school on the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden. It is an example of the types of challenges facing European cities as they find ways to deal with immigrant populations and prepare young people for the future of Europe.

Rinkeby is a suburb of Stockholm with 13,000 inhabitants largely of immigrants to Sweden. Those living there represent some 62 countries, speak 30 different languages and are of many different ethnic groups and religions. Half the population is Muslim.

Twelve years ago, this community was a testimony to failure. Unable to resolve differences, to deal with crime or to ensure an education for the future of their children, 30% of its residents moved in and out of Rinkeby on an annual basis. Its school was a dangerous place to be, poorly maintained and covered with graffiti. Politicians were ready to close it down and to send the children to schools in other communities. The situation was so bad it had to improve, and it did. 

When Börje Ehrstrand was offered the position of Rektor (Headmaster) of Rinkeby Skolan he said, "This is the best job you can take in Sweden as a headmaster. Everything is going to change and improve."

Twelve years later in 2002, the community of Rinkeby has one of the best schools in Sweden and possibly one of the best public schools in Europe. Its students learn to speak a minimum of four languages and often several more. It has the best sports teams of any school in Sweden. Ninety-seven percent of its students graduate. Twelve years ago it was less than half. Rinkeby Skolan received the European prize for the best in prevention of crime.

How was this accomplished? 

Mr. Ehrstrand believes that "the way to change a school is to take the parents into the school." He says, "you must ask them what they want for the future." As immigrants from many countries, they want their children to be prepared for a future in Europe as a whole, not just in Sweden or the town in which they live. 

Here was the seed for an idea that made Rinkeby Skolan special in the way it prepares its students for the future Europe. There was much to do. Vandalism was rampant; graffiti was everywhere; parents had no confidence in the school and feared for their children’s safety because of crime. 

Mr. Ehrstrand saw parents as the key resource for changing the school and knew that their support and involvement was essential. When he called the first meeting, 200 parents attended and were informed by the headmaster that the school could not improve without their help. The teachers could not do it alone.

Parents, children and teachers took responsibility for removing the graffiti and improving the physical condition of the school. Local residents who were carpenters and others gave their time to help rebuild the school. The children took responsibility for cleaning the halls, removing the graffiti, cleaning toilets, removing chewing gum and painting.

Each year the School receives funding from the government based on a set amount per student. Rather than use this to repair and maintain the buildings, Mr. Ehrstrand and the School choose to spend the money on culture and sports while relying on the students themselves and the community to maintain the physical condition of their school. The students continue to clean the school, including the toilets. It is understood that "if students learn to take responsibility for the condition of their school, they will have a similar attitude and behavior in their community".

The Rinkeby School has 480 students; 20% of them live outside the Rinkeby suburb. In Sweden, parents may choose which school to send their children, even if it is outside the community in which they live. The educational objective of Rinkeby Skolan is to give all children the maximum of education related to their own ability. As the student body at Rinkeby Skolan represents some 62 countries, 30 different languages and many religions, it is a microcosm of the future of Europe. Unlike their parents, these children are likely to live and move in different places in their lives. They must learn how to integrate not only into Sweden, which is a country of seven million people, but also into a multicultural and increasingly divers Europe of the future. They represent Europe’s future.

Students of the School may follow one of two paths in their education and development. The first of these is European studies where it is expected that 100% will go on to higher education in universities. The second is focused on science and nature and is conducted in partnership with technical institutions. Students typically go on to technical colleges where they are prepared with working skills for their careers.

The School requires each student to develop a three-part plan for:

(1) acquiring a high level of knowledge; 

(2) developing social confidence with different groups and nationalities as good members of society capable of handling their future; 

(3) achieving good physical and mental health. All students have mentors in pursuing their development.

Students must learn to communicate in four languages. The School believes that it is possible to learn three languages at the same time at the age of three. At ten years old, students choose their fourth language and at thirteen years, they have the option of the fifth language or more. 

Those who follow European studies must learn Swedish, but they must also learn to speak and write their native language because they will work in the Europe of the future. At the age of ten they must learn English and begin their fourth language. The school hires its English teachers from England and the United States to ensure proper spoken English. 

During our visit to Rinkeby Skolan we spoke with students from Chile, Argentina, Somalia, Bosnia and other countries. They were born in Sweden but their parents were born in their native countries. The children spoke English with no trace of a foreign accent. Parents are also offered language instruction at the School and 50 parents are currently attending language classes.

Börje Ehrstrand emphasizes that to be good at languages one must read lots of books. Great importance is placed on the School library, which includes many books in Swedish and English. A professional librarian takes a personal interest in each student and is aware of what they read as this is tracked by computers. Observing their speaking capabilities and how they are improving, the librarian suggests various books that are suitable for them. The benefits of reading were well demonstrated when one class of ten year olds read five hundred books and achieved substantially better marks. 

The challenge of learning languages is considerable because the mother tongue of most parents is neither Swedish nor English. But the School library and the library in Rinkeby community are both well attended by students. Authors of books are invited to come to the School library to meet the students and these have included Nobel Prize winners. Students are encouraged to write notes to the authors in foreign languages.

The School library is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and reading desks are well used by students from many different countries. We spoke with Karolina, age thirteen. Her parents came from Chile and, in addition to her native Spanish, she speaks Swedish, English and French. She has traveled to France and South America to visit family and in her spare time plays football (soccer) and attends classes in scripture at her Catholic Church. Her friend Emma is fourteen and her family came to Sweden from Bosnia. In addition to Bosnian she speaks German, English, and Swedish. She is Muslim. Emma and Karolina spend much time together in a student body that includes other girls in their age group from such countries as Iran, Iraq and Ethiopia.

Rinkeby School believes in teaching important values to all students. It starts with what we have in common that connects us. They refer to this as "the children of Abraham" because Abraham is common to Muslims, Jews and Christians. 

The Koran and the Bible teach us how to behave and students learn first what the similarities are in their religions. Only then do they begin to learn the differences and with them the need to respect differences and diversity. 

Our visit to the school was during the bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (April 2002). This presented great difficulty to the students in their discussions, particularly as many will have heard their parents speak with sometimes, definite opinions on the issues. But the students are guided by the objective of learning what they have in common while respecting the differences among others - and the opportunities and benefits for them in being able to live with diversity.

The School is open everyday of the year, including Christmas Eve when many of the students who are Muslims, are found using the school. Participation in cultural and physical sports activities is very high. Students remain at the school after 4 PM, and into the evening, to study or take part in a wide range of leisure activities including drama, culture or music. The school has an active sports program and has the best school teams in Sweden in both football (soccer) and basketball.

 Associated with the school is the Rinkeby Music School that involves some 400 students - an increase from 80 students, three years ago. The physical plant of the school is used year round and by parents and teachers during the evenings. The computer room has 130 computers connected to the Internet. Students use these until 6 p.m. after which they are available for use by parents and teachers. The involvement of parents in the use of the school and in its activities is essential. Parents are educated in Swedish at the school and learn about Swedish society so they can be good parents to the children.

The major part of the school’s financial resources come from the state on a per student basis; but there is much more. By taking a holistic view, the school involves its community, including businesses and parents, in many different ways beyond direct financial support. 

One hundred fifty of the school’s students spend two weeks in companies, asking questions about their future and seeking ideas and direction for what they should be doing for their future. 

Rinkeby Skolan faces an unusual challenge for many of its young female students. The traditions of their native cultures would normally expect them to marry at age 17 and to have children and stay at home rather than getting an education. The School is helping these young women to find alternative examples for their future and to get visions from universities and the people in them for ideas on continued learning and lifestyle.

The community of Rinkeby includes many nationalities. Its shops and merchants are owned and run by people from Iraq, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Bosnia, Gambia and many other countries. They speak many languages and bring to the community many different skills, stories and cultures. To visit them is like being at a mini-world fair - friendliness, hospitality and an opportunity to practice speaking almost any language. But it is clear that these people have great pride in the School. They see it as the key to a future for the children in a world beyond where they themselves now live. As immigrants, this is of utmost importance. 

The school’s success in collaborating with local business, social institutions, police and other services has not only brought great support to its efforts, but has instilled a sense of deep pride among them all for the mission and success of Rinkeby Skolan. 

Governance of this school is also important. Its board of trustees is made up of six parents, six students and six members of the teaching faculty including the headmaster.

Rinkeby Skolan’s headmaster, Börje Ehrstrand, is an inspiring example of leadership. He, his school and its community have demonstrated how, by working together, they have achieved remarkable progress in what was an apparently hopeless situation. 

The record of the School’s past 12 years would be impressive anywhere in the world. When they graduate these students are exceptionally well prepared for the challenges of an increasingly diverse and demanding world. This has happened in a country of eight million Swedes on the northern border of Europe, with a population of some 450 million, of whom 6% are immigrants from outside Europe. What a timely message for those who now worry about how Europe can manage immigration. 

Those who seek refuge in the platforms of radical politicians like Le Pen should find some hope that diverse ethnic and religious groups can be successfully integrated in Europe’s communities and that crime and other problems can be solved in many of Europe’s cities. But Rinkeby Skolan is not a product of top down bureaucratic government solutions imposed on a community. It is another example of how initiative from the ground up with leadership and community involvement at the local level can produce an outstanding result. Hopefully it is an example that will be followed by many.

Click here to view Rinkeby Skolan homepage (in Swedish)



Lily Yeh
Village of the Arts and Humanities




Participants of The International Forum visit neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, part of the Village

 The Village of Arts and Humanities is a community-based arts, education, and neighborhood development organization located in inner city North Philadelphia, USA. which is led by its founder and creator, Lily Yeh. Through arts-based programs and activities, she works with residents to reclaim abandoned space and rebuild a sense of hope and possibility in the neighborhoods of North Philadelphia.

The organization collaborates with local and national organizations including public schools, universities, government agencies and community development organizations. Their programs and activities reach more than 10,000 people annually and impact several neighborhoods throughout a 260-square-block area in North Philadelphia.

Since 1993, the Village and its director have collaborated with people in the Republic of Georgia, Ecuador, China and Italy to assist them with arts education, job training, transforming environments, and community revitalization through the arts.


The Village's mission is to build community through innovative arts-based programs in education, land transformation, construction and economic development. In all of its projects and activities, the Village seeks to do justice to the humanity of people who live in inner-city North Philadelphia and similar urban situations.


The Village was established during the summer of 1986 when Philadelphia-based artist Lily Yeh began working with neighborhood children to transform an abandoned lot in North Philadelphia into a colorful public park. During the following three summers, more children, along with neighborhood adults and professional artists, joined in to complete the project. The art park, with its mosaic sculptures and benches, vibrant murals and lush greenery, became an oasis of beauty and quiet for the residents in this impoverished urban setting. Building on the momentum created by the project, the Village was established as a nonprofit organization in 1989 and members renovated an abandoned three-story warehouse next to the park for use as its main facility.

Responding to a lack of activities for youth, the Village began offering after school arts and education programs in this new facility. Programs and activities continued to expand to address community needs, growing to include theater productions, festivals, economic development initiatives, community health programs, publications, outreach activities, community meetings, housing construction, and much more.

Since 1986, the Village has renovated six abandoned properties and transformed more than 150 parcels of vacant land into parks, gardens, green spaces, and a tree farm.

The Village has become a safe and trusted place where residents meet to discuss and resolve broader community issues. Today, the organization is seen by area residents, service providers, policy-makers, and public and private funders as a symbol of hope in community revitalization.

Click here to view the Village of the Arts and Humanities Home Page



Tori Zwisler
Roots and Shoots










Roots & Shoots members planting trees in Inner Mongolia

For over forty years, Dr. Jane Goodall has been working to preserve Africa's chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Now, the world's best known primatologist has started a program to help save our planet. "Roots and Shoots" is her international environmental education program for young people. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1977 and has since been promoting this program single-handedly. The purpose of JGI is to educate people on ways to sustain the environment.

Roots & Shoots is a global environmental and humanitarian program for youth. Roots & Shoots emphasizes intercultural interaction and promotes care and concern for the environment, animals,and other people through community service projects and educational activities. This program began in 1991 in Tanzania . Its dramatic growth and acceptance is testimony to the universal good it can do, and the positive effect it has, not only on the environment, but on the children who participate. Roots & Shoots members include preschool to university level youth in more than 75 countries around the world. Dr. Goodall's hope is to inspire students to make the world a better place for all living things.

The goals of all Roots & Shoots programs are:
-To implement positive change through active learning, caring, and interaction with the environment;
-To demonstrate care and concern for all animals;
-To enhance understanding among individuals of different cultures, ethnic groups, religions, socio-economic levels, and nations through our global communication network;
-To help young people develop self-respect, confidence in themselves, and hope for the future.

Roots & Shoots activities should focus on care and concern for a) the environment, b) animals, c) one's community. Of course, all three of these activities can be combined in creative ways. The underlying creativity and flexibility are what give this program its strength. Roots & Shoots encourages young people to get involved in ways that they think are important. Projects should be directed and managed by the students. Resources, when needed, should be donated or easily affordable and recyclable. Time is the most valued resource. Students come to realize that if they have the inclination to care and give their time, things can change for the better. The scope of the project can be large or small - the JGI philosophy is that every activity to care for animals, people, and the environment is significant, no matter what the size.

In 1998 Tori Zwisler met Dr. Jane Goodall, who asked her to start the Jane Goodall Institute in Shanghai. The Jane Goodall Institute-Shanghai began in 1999, and has focused on the Roots & Shoots program, promoting environmental concern, care for animals and care for people among Shanghai’s youth. The program is the first foreign-affiliated NPO (Not for Profit Organization) registered in China. Roots & Shoots works with 135 schools in Shanghai, using a curriculum approach to project management and creative problem solving in after school activity groups who are directed to ‘save the world’ – one successful project at a time. Tori Zwisler is currently the Chairman of the Board of the Jane Goodall Institute-Shanghai.

Projects of Roots & Shoots, Shanghai

Partnership in Understanding: Partnerships in Understanding is a program about giving and receiving. It encourages roots & shoots groups in different areas around world to communicate with each other. It helps to improve multi-cultural understanding and the building of friendships.

Environmental Curriculum Mentoring Program: Shanghai Roots & Shoots is implementing a novel environmental mentoring program in Roots & Shoots schools; a departure from traditional textbook education. The curriculum provides students with a new perspective of the world.

The Roots & Shoots Tree Planting: The Roots & Shoots tree planting project provides us all with an opportunity to remove our carbon footprint from the earth. Roots & Shoots has been planting trees in the Knorchin desert in Inner Mongolia. These trees are planted to improve the ecological and humanitarian conditions of that area which is suffering from desertification.

Organic Gardening Project: Select Roots and Shoots member schools in Shanghai have begun learning where fruits and vegetables come from--and in no way did this process involve a trip to the grocery store.

Sports Education Program/ Curriculum: With the coming Olympics many organizations are looking to the positive potential of sports. R&S sees this as a natural outgrowth of both our curriculum program, and our Anhui Poverty alleviation project. We have developed a holistic Physical Education program to be used in migrant schools. The curriculum fosters a disciplined approach to sports and team activities, sports as part of a healthy lifestyle, good sportsmanship, improved nutrition, general health program, and basic hygiene lessons.

Paper Recycling Project: We aim to recycle used paper and help the youth to form environmentally-friendly habit of categorizing the garbage in their daily lives. We believe that your action will make a positive difference in the environment and your community as well.

Click here to view The Roots and Shoots, Shanghai Home Page
Click here to view the Jane Goodall Institute Home Page