Nivedita Narain

Nivedita Narain

Nationality: Indian

Lives in: New Delhi, India


Dr. Nivedita Narain works as an Integrator for PRADAN, and Indian-based NGO that works at grassroot level to remove mass poverty and challenge inequalities at multiple levels. She is also Senior Fellow at the Centre for Development Practice in Ambedkar University Delhi.

Nivedita joined PRADAN in 1987, and has held a variety of portfolios over the years. She began work in rural areas of Rajasthan as Executive in PRADAN, based in Kishangarh Bas in Rajasthan, organising the first self-help groups in the country. She has led PRADAN’s Human Resources Development Unit, and Research and Resource Centre. Since 2011 she has led PRADAN’s initiative to institutionalise development practice in the higher education sector, in collaboration with Ambedkar University Delhi. This entails working closely with field and university-based faculty; research and teaching; supervision of student dissertations; supporting graduates as they join the development sector; organising summer and winter courses blended with online webinars, with contributions from experienced practitioners undertaking action research; incubating new organisations; and overall programme development and management. Her current research projects include roles and competencies of social change professionals; unlocking the potential of non-timber forest produce, in particular lac and tasar; and intersecting inequalities in Adivasi communities.

Nivedita’s professional expertise includes rural development, organisation behaviour and human resource development, women’s empowerment, livelihoods development, and group processes. She has undertaken consulting assignments for organisation development.  She is a certified trainer in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, training of trainers, and entrepreneurial motivation trainer at NIESBUD (National Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development) and is currently undergoing certification as a group process facilitator.

Nivedita has a PhD in Management Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi; a master’s in Professional Studies in International Development Policy from Cornell University in the USA; a Post-graduate Diploma in Rural Management from the Institute of Rural Management Anand; and a BA (honours) in Mathematics from the Lady Shriram College at Delhi University. 

She was an Erasmus Mundus (NAMASTE) Fellow at Gottingen University last year, and has been an INLAKS Scholar while at Cornell University.  She is on the boards of non-profits and scholar programmes, and a founder member of the Institute for Group Facilitators.


Personal statement

The focus of our team’s project is to explore PRADANs experience of engaging with rural communities.

I have been with PRADAN for 30 years now. Our emphasis has been on working with, and among, excluded and marginalised communities, with a concentration on the central Indian heartland. These regions and communities are characterised by deficiencies in material conditions, and unacceptable absolute poverty.  More invisible, and much less understood and attended to, are the interlinked processes of exclusion, marginalisation, and the many intersecting inequalities. These contribute to certain groups - like the Adivasi, Dalit, and women in particular - bearing a hugely disproportionate burden of poverty and discrimination. They are also deeply entrenched - historically, psychologically, socially - and in the functioning of public institutions. 

An alternative view has emerged over my years of practice, suggesting that bottom-up solutions may rest upon an enhanced sense of agency among poor people and their collectives. We also acknowledge that empathy and humility are necessary for such engagement to stimulate positive changes in people’s lives. Knowledge and intellectual resources are similarly essential. As practitioners and researchers engaged with Adivasi women and their contexts, we are thus faced with at least two broad challenges:

  • A first is of jointly finding ways to negotiate inequality with the women’s groups we work with.
  • A second challenge is to build new knowledge and practice through our praxis.  

The aims of this research project stem from the challenges faced by practice, and shifts in development discourse and policy, at this point of time. The present study is an effort to contribute to the growing consensus on the need to bring inequality and injustice to the forefront of interventions with marginalized communities. This has not been foregrounded adequately in development initiatives and interventions.

Our project is built on three pivots:

  • Firstly, it seeks to explore how Adivasi women experience, understand and negotiate intersecting inequalities in their everyday, and to review the extent to which current interventions around self-help groups (SHGs) of women address the same.
  • Second, it examines practices of a non-profit civil society organisation and that of a Government-operated society. 
  • Thirdly, it draws on literature and research and a survey of action by others in relevant areas. 

I believe that these questions are simultaneously relevant to the women’s groups involved and to practitioners, researchers and policy makers in the Atlantic Fellows community.

We aim, eventually, to indicate emergent pathways to engender processes of change, to address these intersecting inequalities.  I would hope to build on this research and opportunity to learn from other Atlantic Fellows, to work further with communities, practitioners and students, and to build a body of practice and knowledge around negotiating absolute poverty and intersecting inequalities in difficult regions.