Mobilizing Sri Lankan Communities through the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

sarvodaya logoThe Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement was founded in 1958 by Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne and terms itself as the “largest people’s movement in Sri Lanka.” Based on Gandhian and Buddhist philosophy, the movement includes a network of almost 15,000 villages that espouse a mantra of self-governance through economic development and conflict resolution programs that seek to promote comprehensive and nonviolent social transformation. “Sarvodaya” translates to “awakening of all” in Sanskrit, and  “shramadana” means to share one’s effort for the benefit of all. Self-reliance, community participation and a holistic approach to community awakening are important pillars of the movement – this means not only is there an emphasis on economic development, but also on personal, spiritual and cultural awakening.  The movement strives to develop human potential and achieve widespread social effectiveness through a participatory approach in villages across Sri Lanka. Decentralized power and resources and active citizen participation in decision-making are key to Sarvodaya’s development strategy.

The movement has a village program that follows five stages of the evolution (or awakening) of a village. Each program is tailored to the social, cultural and religious conditions of a village.

  • In the first stage, villagers are convened in a shramadana camp to assess the problems and needs of the village.
  • In the second stage, various groups such as  childrens’ , mothers’ and farmers’ groups are established, child development centers are constructed and staff are trained.
  • The third stage includes creating a program for meeting basic needs and setting up institutions such as the Sarvodaya Shramadana Society, which oversees the village’s development initiatives.
  • In the fourth stage, the village takes measures to produce income and employment in order to become self-reliant and self-financed.
  • In the fifth and final stage, the village takes on support for other village communities.

The program is designed so that ten villages are grouped around a pioneering village that has already completed the five stages. The villages are linked at the district and national levels so they can cooperate on common regional issues. The five stages encourage villages to manage themselves as a community and “to be organized, self-reliant and able to act independently.”

Sarvodaya has mobilized thousands of individuals since its inception to motivate and organize people in their villages to meet basic needs, such as organizing initiatives on clean drinking water, housing, sanitation, communication facilities, energy supply, education, and ways to satisfy spiritual and cultural needs. Currently, the movement has also been engaging in resettlement, relief, reconstruction and reconciliation initiatives in war-torn areas of Sri Lanka.

Find out more about the movement here.

Watch a video of the movement’s approach to bottom-up economic development:

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