Sai Damodaran - Involve Everyone For Everyone's Growth (Founder and CEO of Gramalaya, Tiruchirappalli)

Through Health Empowerment, we can achieve Economic Empowerment and through Economic Empowerment, the women and youths will get social empowerment.

1. Tell us more about yourself and your life.    

My name is Sait Damodaran hailing from Tiruchirappalli City in Tamil Nadu, South India.  After my college education, I joined an organization called Antyodaya Sangh where I have got experience in the social development sector with 3 years of experience.  In 1987, three of my college friends including me started Gramalaya with the aim of women and child development and income generation activities for the rural poor.

When we started our fieldwork, we learned that more than economic development, women in rural areas were required to have safe drinking water and sanitary latrines. Since then, we have started working for water and sanitation facilities in the rural, urban, coastal and tribal areas. For more than 35 years, we have committed ourselves to the WASH Sector.

2. What led you to social activism? 

During my childhood, I have seen people affected in the flood-prone areas and often there were fire mishaps in my native place Woraiyur since those households were with thatched roofs and poor people. I used to rescue people from the flood-affected areas and prevent fire accidents through my friends where a youth group was formed by me. We have given them food, shelter, and clothes as a part of relief activities. 
On seeing my interest, one of my friends asked me to join the Antyodaya Sangh, a Gandhian organization where I learned to work for the downtrodden people.  

3. What is that one cause you care deeply about and why?
Providing accessible water and sanitation facilities to the needy is my favorite work where I am committed to the cause of promoting sanitation and water facilities to the poor and marginalized communities.  In this work, more than 3.5 decades were spent by me from 1985 - to 2022.  At the age of 60, still, I have been working for WASH, MHM, and Nutrition promotion.

4. If one wants to contribute and make a difference in social causes, how can one do it?

India is still facing problems with basic amenities like water, sanitation, menstrual hygiene promotion, nutrition for women, and child development.  As a contributor to India's development, everyone can work towards the betterment of women and children.  They can work at an individual-level, group-level, and organizational level so that India will become a developed country in the world.

Through Health Empowerment, we can achieve Economic Empowerment and through Economic Empowerment, the women and youths will get social empowerment.

5. Who is your role model and why?
My mentor Mr.C.Jagannathan, the Founder of Antyodaya is a role model for me.  He motivated me to work for the socially downtrodden people by involving in every phase of project implementation so that the community ownership of the program could be ensured. This will ensure people's participation and community take over of the program in a self-sufficient manner.

6. What are some of the challenges and roadblocks you have faced along your journey?

At the time of project implementation, we faced a lot of problems to achieve our goals.  However, with people's participation and through accountability and transparency, we were able to overcome all these problems.  Accountability and transparency in project implementation will ensure a people-centric approach which has made all our programs a great success with sustainability.

7. Your opinion about social media activism.

Social media are powerful in promoting successful case studies and role model projects.  By publishing successful stories on social media, we can motivate other like-minded people to work in similar models as a part of replication and scaling up.

- Sai Damodaran (LinkedIn)

- Interviewed by Deshna Jain