"be fearless and be wonderful!"
ARUNA ROY is a socio-political activist and founding member of the Workers and Peasants Strength Union (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; MKSS), the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, and the School for Democracy in India. In 1975, after working in the Indian Administrative Service for seven years, Roy moved to Ajmer District and then Rajsamand District in Rajasthan to work with the rural poor. In 1990, Roy co-founded MKSS, an organization devoted to constitutional rights for the poor and government transparency. As an advocate for public access to information, Roy was instrumental in the passage of the 2005 national Right to Information Act, which guaranteed citizens' right to access government records. She continues to campaign for rights to employment, food security, social support, and more in underserved communities. Additionally, Roy has been a three-time member of the National Advisory Council and a steering committee member of the Open Government Partnership. She is also president of the National Federation of Indian Women. In 2016, Roy was named Professor of Practice at McGill University's Institute for the Study of International Development in Montreal, Canada, and the 2016 George Soros Visiting Practitioner Chair at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. Roy has received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia and Management, and the Nani Palkhivala Award. In 2011, Roy was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.
MICHAEL MAZGAONKAR was born and brought up in Mumbai and the Paunar ashram (founded by Vinoba Bhave, a colleague and spiritual heir of Gandhi). Early on, he left Mumbai to study engineering, and also participated in Gandhian youth camps to learn about issues such as the inequities between rural and urban India and how trained professionals tend to leave rural areas, concentrating skills in urban areas. He, along with his wife, decided to use their skills in rural communities. They travelled across India, meeting activists on issues in rural areas, and decided to live and work in an Adivasi community.
Mazgaonkar has been learning about community-driven development and activism for the past 30 years while living in Mozda village in the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat. He is a founding member of the Mozda Collective, a team of individuals dedicated to holistic rural development, and Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, an environmental advocacy group that challenges conventional growth-based development models. He uses his engineering expertise to train communities to use technology to improve living conditions and livelihoods through activities like watershed development, harvesting alternative energy, and supporting a local agricultural cooperative. His group has been making LED based solar lights since 2004 and installed a 1 kW wind electric turbine in 2005 to supply lighting to over 10 homes. His group has also made and used parabolic solar cookers since 2006. Since 2012, he has succeeded in going off the electricity grid, also using open-source solutions to overcome a lack of landline or mobile network coverage. Demystification of technologies and employing locally-appropriate solutions is the group's focus. Mazgaonkar is also committed to struggles against the corporate-centered development paradigm that has been disempowering families across Gujarat, particularly in relation to forest rights, industrial pollution, and governance.
SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN is the Luella LaMer Associate Professor of Women's Studies and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College. Her scholarship has used ethnographic methods to examine the institutional contexts of work, finance, and international development, in the geographical contexts of urban India, the U.S., and South Africa. Her first book Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a Transnational Class was a multi-sited ethnographic examination of transnational Indian information technology workers. Currently, Radhakrishnan is working on a book manuscript that examines for-profit microfinance in India. Through interviews and ethnographic work in India and the United States, this project investigates how global finance continues to expand its reach to new populations through small, uncollateralized loans that target women. At Wellesley, she teaches courses that examine globalization, race, gender, diaspora studies, and other topics.
RAHUL PANICKER is an entrepreneur, with a background in electrical engineering and design from Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Stanford University. He is known for his former role as president and co-founder of Embrace, a social enterprise startup that provides low-cost infant warmers to support the survival of premature and low-birth-weight babies. Currently, Panicker is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI), leading efforts to apply AI to problems in health, education, agriculture, finance, and more in underserved areas. Panicker has been named the World Economic Forum and Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as MIT Technology Review’s TR35 35-Innovators-Under-35 worldwide.
MURALI SHANMUGAVELAN has 20 years of experience working on research, policy, and development projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that seek to leverage media such as the internet and mobile phones to address social problems. He has worked with government actors in these regions, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Afghanistan and the Access to Information project in Bangladesh. In reaction to the time-bound nature of ICT and development projects, Shanmugavelan began his PhD at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, using ethnographic methods to study the communicative practices of a Dalit caste group in Tamil Nadu, known as Arunthathiyars. His thesis explores how the hierarchical nature of caste communication networks shapes and is shaped by modern digital networks. Shanmugavelan is also the director of Maple Consulting Services, a consulting firm that works with governments, NGOs, and private institutions in the United Kingdom and internationally to address social and economic challenges through media-related policies and practices.