The sounds of “I am Anna” reverberate even in the United States, even as images of Hazare surrounded by adoring Indian masses at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi linger on, days after Hazare’s 10-day fast in August 2011. Now Indians for Collective Action (ICA), an SF Bay Area non-profit organization, has taken the lead in giving due recognition to this humble and unassuming hero of the grassroots movement against corruption in India. Hazare will be felicitated at an award ceremony in October 2011 in Santa Clara, CA.

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This is not the first time that ICA has honored a person of such prominence as Hazare. In the past, they have honored the likes of Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Inderjit Khurana, D.R. Mehta, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, S.R. Hiremath amongst several others known for their developmental and social work in India. ICA has also honored Indian Americans like Rajiv Shah (USAID), Nipun Mehta (CharityFocus), and Nilima Sabharwal (Home of Hope), who have made a meaningful contribution to the world through their charities and social work.

This year in addition to Hazare, honorees include Paul Polak, who has worked extensively on developing effective solutions for poverty eradication and is founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE); and another “Team Anna” member Prashant Bhushan. Along with the award ceremony, ICA is hosting a Social Innovation Expo. In considering these events, it would be useful to highlight some of ICA’s work in the area of community service, both in India and the United States.

The History and Mission of ICA

Indians for Collective Action was first formed as a catalyst for rapid economic advancement of India by P.K. Mehta in Berkeley in 1965. In 1968 it was formally incorporated: a non-profit, charitable organization with the goal to serve the poorest in the Indian society. In fact, well-known non-profits such as Asha for Education (the largest U.S.-based organization supporting basic education in India) and Foundation for Excellence (the largest scholarship-awarding foundation to deserving Indian students) have their roots in ICA.

In the four decades of its existence, the organization has supported several developmental programs all over India. ICA supporters Ravi Chopra, a scientist who has done groundbreaking work in the area of water resource technology; Sandeep Pandey, co-founder of ASHA, and Srikanth Nadhamuni of eGovernment, have now moved to India in order to pursue full time social work. ICA volunteers have generously donated time and money in support of projects which aim to alleviate poverty, fight injustice and inequity in India, making it perhaps the oldest service organization in the United States working towards those goals.

Looking at ICA’s history, its initial goal of helping the poorest of India hasn’t changed much. Rather, it has evolved with time. Unmesh Sheth, the current president of ICA, elaborates, “Since its inception, ICA has believed that economic opportunity thrives best in a sustainable environment and a just society.” To achieve that goal, ICA supports innovative, community-based development projects in United States and India, which empower people to bring positive changes in their lives and be writers of their own destiny.

How ICA works

To achieve its mission, ICA has taken a multipronged approach. Giving recognition to agents of social change such as Hazare, Bedi, or Polak is one such approach that got its start in the 1990s. A more traditional approach is partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India through volunteering or funding their work. Most of ICA’s partner NGOs work in the areas of children and youth programs, special needs, women’s programs, healthcare, education, microfinance, etc. Some of these NGOs are SEWA, Apna Ghar, Vidya, Indian Vision Foundation, Utthan, One World children’s Fund, and People’s Science Institute.

Then there are programs like InSPIRE and the ICA Knowledge Network. InSPIRE is designed for youth who are 18-22 years old.  Under this program, groups of young people travel to India to work with NGOs focused on different sectors of integrated development such as education, rural development, environment, youth, and leadership. The program provides a real-life understanding of economics and development of the marginalized poor—an experience no institute of higher education could possibly offer. The ICA Knowledge Network, on the other hand, is made up of experts from the United States providing expertise in areas of development where that know-how is required.

More recently ICA has taken another step: to understand the social and economic problems of India better, the organization has instituted the Ambassador Program. This program gives anyone who is interested in seriously pursuing development work in India an opportunity to connect with the country at a much deeper level. The program forms an important part of ICA’s engagement campaign which aims to create opportunities for the Indian diaspora to engage more meaningfully with the motherland.

Apart from supporting projects in India, ICA is also engaged in serving the Indian community in the United States. Realizing that the expatriate community has specific needs, Sheth talks about ICA’s support in creating programs to that end, “Increasingly

we feel that empowering volunteers to find local community-oriented programs is extremely important.” Thus was born Pallium-India-USA, formed with the help of Jerina Kapoor, a pediatrician passionate about providing culturally sensitive care to those who need palliative care in the local Indian community. “ICA helped them (Pallium-India-USA) define a mission, build a structure, get a non-profit status, as well as commit some of its volunteers to expand their base. Pallium is only one year old and has grown from just one volunteer to over fifteen, providing services to the local community,” adds Sheth.

The Social Innovation Expo 2011

ICA has been organizing the Social Innovation Expo since 2005. It is an annual event where non-profits such as Association for India’s Development (AID), ASHA Silicon Valley, India Literacy Project (ILP), Foundation for Excellence (FFE), and CharityFocus are invited to showcase their work to the community.  Also featured are ICA programs: InSPIRE, the Ambassador Program, and the ICA Knowledge Network. This year the expo is expected to be much larger due to participation by many more non-profits. The event’s mission is to help prospective volunteers find a non-profit that works for a cause which is close to their heart.

ICA’s mark is evident in the founding and growth of many organizations that are working towards social development and progress. Detailed literature on its numerous projects and personal stories can be accessed on the ICA website, www.icaonline.org.

The Award Ceremony

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ICA has been active in supporting the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, and Prashant Bhushan. The organization’s goal here is to unite as many NGOs as possible in support of IAC. With its large base of volunteers and an extensive network of social activists and cultural organizations dedicated to the development of India, ICA has built a unified support for the movement from the United States. With encouragement from IAC leaders, ICA also has, in the works, the selection of an ambassador who would coordinate all U.S.-related IAC activities. Sheth reiterates ICA’s goal here, “In addition to honoring the people involved in the India Against Corruption movement, ICA has been instrumental in unifying the efforts of individuals and organizations such as People for Lok Satta and Association for India’s Development (AID).” His hope is to utilize the October 2011 event to, “bring more attention, educate people and unify efforts for IAC movement in India and the United States.”

The award ceremony for Anna Hazare will be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center on October 15, 2011. For more details on the program, please check ICA’s website or contact Unmesh Sheth, (usheth@gmail.com, 510-676-9502) or Abhay Bhushan (akbhushan@aol.com, 650-868-6645). Also see our calendar listing.

Smita Garg is a writer, educator, researcher. Her interests lie in the areas of social work, education, and the arts. Smita has worked extensively with corporations, non-profits, and community outreach programs. She also conducts art workshops and camps all over the SF Bay Area for kids and grown-ups.

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