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Structure and Commitments

Sharana is comprised of a 7-member Governing Board, a team of about 50 staff members in the central office and at the rural centers, a community of volunteers who assist with specific projects and day-to-day activities as needed, and of course its beneficiaries.

Sharana’s Board was reconstituted in 2010, around the time that the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary, with the objective of drawing together more like-minded individuals and encourage their active participation in the running of projects. The Board meets three times a year.

The executive members of the Board are:

  1. Rajkala Partha: Founder of Sharana whose vision, academic training in a master’s programme in rural development and professional experience has propelled the organisation into social and economic development programmes in rural Pondicherry and TamilNadu. Presently in charge of all the activities and responsible for the funding and action of all Sharana’s programmes.
  2. Alo Sud: She is the treasurer of Sharana. She works closely with the donors of the organisation.
  3. Nalini Thakur: Mrs Nalini is a professor in the Pondicherry University, department of Social Work- she works with the social workers, and helps them with difficult cases on the field. She also trains the social workers on acquiring various skills sets.
  4. Sasi Somu: Entrepreneur and member of the Governing Body, he participates in annual meetings of the board and is responsible for the orientation of foreign volunteers to the organisation
  5. Murugan Sundarrassu: Translator in the law department in Pondicherry Government and a member of the Governing Body, he participates in annual meetings of the board.
  6. Venkatrayan Aadhinarayanan: Accountant employed at the Arryur Sugar Mill and a member of the Governing Body, he participates in annual meetings of the board. He assists Mr Murugaiyan in finalising the annual accounts of the association
  7. Deepa S. Reddy: Cultural anthropologist with the University of Houston whose research has focused on women’s NGOs in India and a member of the Governing Body, she participates in annual meetings of the board providing her expertise in the evolution of various development programmes, particularly the Bistro and the library project.

The “Sharana Team” is comprised of Social Workers, Administrative Assistants, Field Assistants, and Animators (staff who are involved in the hands-on implementation of Sharana’s initiatives).

More information on the members of the board and the team can be found in the Profiles section.

As an extension of Sharana’s fundamental commitment to grassroots social empowerment and respect for human dignity, members of the organization work daily to create a collegial, respectful, and happy office environment, fully acknowledging the distinct strengths and abilities that each person involved with Sharana contributes to the organization’s growth and success. In this same spirit, Sharana is also committed to maintaining complete transparency in our financial and other record-keeping, as affirmations of our accountability to its donors, staff, and beneficiaries.

Sharana is a non-ideological, non-sectarian organization that aspires to function without any distinctions of race, language, caste, or creed.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Sharana partners and collaborates with other local, national, and international organizations, to raise funds, identify sponsors for children, and to develop and/or implement its social programs. These organizations include (in alphabetical order):

  • Accounting for International Development (AFID), United Kingdom
  • Chemin d’enfances, France
  • Development in Action (DIA), UK
  • Fonds du Coeur, France
  • Mission Bambini, Italy
  • Pas sans toit, France
  • Sharana France, France: an independent but closely allied organization that assists with identifying donors for students, Sharana project financing, maintaining communication with donors in France etc.
  • Sharana Holland, Netherlands: also an independent organization like Sharana France, assisting with project financing
  • Souffle de l’Inde, France


Sharana was established in July 2000 by Rajkala Partha, a Chennai-trained social worker with a post graduate degree in Rural Development from Madras Christian College. After working for ten years at another major humanitarian NGO in Pondicherry, Rajkala was encouraged by Father Dominic of the Brothers of St. John to start her own organization. Sharana’s first beneficiaries were identified by her—school drop-outs working at local eateries, or washing clothes on neighborhood streets. The first 35 children so-identified were sponsored by funds gathered through the International Foundation for Hope, an organization which runs the Jeeva Nivas home for HIV-positive AIDS orphans in Pondicherry.

At the same time, recognizing the need to identify consistent methods to sponsor Sharana’s beneficiaries, Muriel Baube and a group of volunteers in France established Sharana France in 2000. Each of the volunteers of Sharana France had experience living in or visiting Pondicherry, and working with Rajkala. This independent, self-governing association then gradually began concerted efforts to build what is today Sharana’s sponsorship program.

Gerard was hired as an office assistant within the first year of Sharana’s establishment, though he served initially much as one of the organization’s first social workers. It was he who identified the slum of Kannadassan street, home to 70-80 families which became the first organized community targeted by Sharana. Murugaiyan, already on board as the office’s key administrator, took complete charge of Sharana’s organizational infrastructure so that Rajkala was freed to return to the field along with Vetri, Sharana’s first social worker next to Rajkala herself.

The “field” at this stage was Angalakuppam, a mainly agricultural village on the Cuddalore road, about 15 kilometers from Pondicherry town. The village was identified by Murugaiyan as a place with specific needs: situated close to the Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry border, it is positioned such that it cannot claim the benefits and facilities provided by either state.

The work at Angalakuppam, for nearly the first year and half, involved daily conversations with villagers in order to know their needs, and to enable them to generate ideas for their own collective empowerment. Among the first ideas proposed were the critical need for a dispensary (given the distance to the local Government hospital), a crèche to free older siblings from the responsibilities of childcare and enable them to return to school, and a center to house these activities. Other interactions, however, were neither straightforward nor always easy. During the first conversations about the possibilities of micro-credit loan schemes, for example, the village women began to pick up their bags to leave—complaining that they knew nothing of mathematics and loan-procurement, not even being responsible for purchasing vegetables for daily household consumption. So what, then, would they know about handling micro-credit funds to start businesses?

Gradually, however, women began to come forward, most typically for loans to procure cows. At this time, a woman by the name of Selvi, who had also submitted a request for a loan to obtain cow asked to change her plan—and for Sharana’s unconditional support of her alternative idea, which involved obtaining a loan of double the typical amounts given out. Surprised, the team asked her what she had in mind. She responded that she was seeking a loan for hay. “All the other women in the village are getting loans for cows,” the woman explained, “Will they not have a need for hay?”

Selvi’s enterprising spirit was matched by others, including a second woman, Devi, who decided to open an idli shop on the route that the villagers had to travel to get to their work in the fields. Within 15 months she obtained and paid back three loans: one to start her business, and two others to electrify her house so as to purchase an electric grinder, allowing her to produce the batter herself rather than being forced to purchase it.

The community centre that stands in Angalakuppam today not only addresses urgent local needs, but stands for the grassroots community empowerment Sharana ideally aims for in all its projects. Only funding for the micro-credit schemes and the Center’s activities have been procured from elsewhere [Association for India's Development of Health and Education (ADISE, France); Sharana France; Women of Europe and A Way With You (Belgium)]. Otherwise, each initiative implemented in Angalakuppam was developed from ideas and needs expressed autonomously by the villagers themselves. Residents formed an association in order to acquire land from a local farmer at reasonable cost. Local villagers participated in the construction of the physical building. Govindamma, who now serves as a caretaker and aid to teachers in the crèche, started working as part of the building crew, and the other three employees were from local families. Care was taken to ensure that the building matched the architectural style of other buildings in the village, allowing it to be seamlessly integrated both physically and conceptually into village life. It took much time, persistence, and effort develop the idea for the Center and its activities; it took time also for villagers to accept that one of their own and a woman at that, Lakshmi, could serve as paramedic. But today the crèche has nearly 30 children (ages 18 months to 5 years), a trained teacher (Tamil Selvi), the dispensary is rarely empty, and the Center at Angalakuppam is both run by women from the community and closely attentive to changing local needs.

Angalakuppam is important in Sharana’s history for another reason as well. As Sharana’s first full-fledged, successful rural development project, it helped the organization establish a sense of possibility for its subsequent undertakings. Angalakuppam was in some senses a model village: receptive to change and new ideas, the occasional resistance notwithstanding, and ultimately exuding a positively contagious feeling of solidarity and a spirit of self-reliance. Being a mono-caste village meant, too, that social hierarchy was not the obstacle it would be elsewhere. All told, the experience of working at Angalakuppam helped boost the morale of Sharana’s growing team, and gave them the confidence to reach out to other areas.

In the coming years, Sharana turned its attention to other neighboring villages—Chinnakalapet, Sodhanaikuppam, Aranganur, Mathur —similarly attempting to empower local communities at the grassroots level to identify both their needs and the methods by which they wish to address these, drawing on the community’s own strengths and human resources in order to implement educational, micro-credit, and other social development programs.

Rural development and educational projects remain at the center of Sharana’s activities to this day. Around this core, the organization has begun to build up other components directed at income-generation: Bistro Sharana aims to train women to run a food service operation that can then generate some income to cover rent or other costs, and a separate project trains women to produce recycled newspaper paper gift bags. Now an established and mature NGO, Sharana also tries to create opportunities for other local social service organizations to market their products by way of joint exhibitions and sales at its present office.


Sharana is a social and development organization based in Pondicherry, India. It was established in July 2000 to address the critical educational needs of socio-economically disadvantaged children and communities in urban Pondicherry and its surrounding villages.

Sharana’s foundational belief is that all human beings are equal in rights and dignity, and everyone is entitled to food, clothing, and shelter.

Sharana’s mission is twofold:

A.     To enable socio-economically disadvantaged children in the Pondicherry environs to fully claim their rights to education by developing social programs, building physical infrastructure, and identifying sources of financial support.

B.     To work for community development by supporting and increasing beneficiaries’ awareness of their own skills and capabilities, while respecting each individual’s self-worth and capacity to achieve full independence and self-reliance.

Sharana’s approach to addressing the educational needs of children and communities is thus integrative, comprehensive, and wholistic. Recognizing that:

1, addressing educational needs involves addressing health, nutrition, hygiene, housing, security, and other family and community needs in parallel;

2, educational development is most effective when it is addressed in the context of broader, social and economic development: support for individual children requires addressing family and community needs; and

3, development initiatives provide lasting social empowerment only when they enable individuals to become autonomous, active, contributing members of society;

Sharana’s various projects collectively aim to:

Provide access:

  • To education by identifying donors to sponsor individual children;
  • To employment via micro-credit lending and vocational training schemes;
  • To healthcare via a free dispensary and the organization of health camps;

Provide support:

  • To students by organizing homework help sessions, summer camps, literacy/reading sessions and so on;
  • To working parents by offering childcare in crèches, and nutritionally balanced meals and snacks in Sharana’s kitchens;

Provide opportunities:

  • For individuals to participate in income-generating projects that provide training and employment, while also off-setting the costs of Sharana’s other undertakings.