Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Arbind Singh
Award Year: 2012
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Economic Opportunity, Peace and Human Rights

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“Years of experience have taught us that the solutions for the bottom billion in India and elsewhere in the world lie with the bottom billion themselves. Poverty in India will be solved by the people themselves – people getting organized, accessing the services of government and other social resources, people building and leading collectives. This is how they will change their lives.”

Sub-Issues: Human Rights; Livelihoods

The workers of India’s informal sector – street vendors, domestics, construction workers, waste pickers, farm workers – represent 93 percent of India’s workforce and 64 percent of its GDP. For the most part they are excluded from systems that protect workers’ rights and earnings.

The Skoll Awardee: As a child in northeastern Bihar, Arbind Singh was perplexed by the routine eviction of neighborhood vendors for what to him seemed no fault or crime. After studying sociology and law in New Delhi, he returned to Bihar and discovered a severe lack of social services for the urban poor, with most such organizations focused on improving conditions in rural areas. Arbind launched Nidan (the Hindi word for “solutions”) in 1996 in response to an eviction drive fueled by a new anti-encroachment law and government targeting of slum dwellers, who were unorganized and thus easy targets. Nidan embraces the achuta, or untouchable, and helps others see the invisible workforce that powers India’s economy. Nidan helps them organize, provides legal services, and promotes and incubates profit-making ventures governed and owned by the urban poor. These include Nidan Swachha Dhara Private Limited (NSPL), a nascent waste management collective enterprise owned and controlled by rag pickers and sweepers. Nidan also builds market committees that advocate for worker rights and protection, such as the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), now a major influence on policy with high-level access to decision makers. At the time of the Award, it had reached nearly half a million people, launched 20 enterprises, formed more than 5,000 collectives, and made $1 million in loans.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2012:

  • Cumulative impact since inception includes touching the lives of 300,000 urban poor; engaged 100,000 women in savings programs, home-based work, and cooperative initiatives.
  • Advocacy program for street vendors launched in 2013 ended a daily fee collected from street vendors from the Bhopal municipal government.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.