A third-generation Christian in a predominantly Hindu country, Kulandei Francis has dedicated his life to serving the most underprivileged populations in southern India.
Through the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP), an NGO headquartered in the Tamil Nadu state, Francis’ community development efforts resist and reverse the ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divisions that persist in his country.
He joined the Fathers of the Holy Cross as a young man with the intention of becoming a priest. As part of his coursework, he became involved in relief work during the Bangladeshi War and a severe drought in Pune. Afterward, he shifted toward community development, ranging from watershed projects and scholarships for children to supplying clean toilets and sanitary pads.
Additionally, his organization launched a collective of rural women who create savings accounts and secure loans to fund energy, education, healthcare, and other necessities for their families. Through more than 10,000 savings home groups, comprising 184,000 women, the women have been able to access more than 45 billion rupees in capital.
“Jesus didn’t choose the qualified as his disciples; likewise, all the members of IVDP are poor and uneducated women in the society,” Francis says.
In 2012, Francis received the Roman Magsaysay Award, a prestigious honor nicknamed Asia’s Nobel Prize, for “his visionary zeal, his profound faith in community energies, and sustained programme in pursuing the holistic economic empowerment of thousands of women and their families in rural India.”