Small grants go a long way

The Ashoka Fellowship is a small international foundation that bankrolls big ideas. Flavia D'Mello, for example, is an Indian woman struggling to boost the economic status of women in India.

After launching a counseling center for divorced women in Bombay, she decided to create a training program that would teach poor women the skills they need to get better jobs.

What made her work possible was a small grant from Ashoka, which allows her to work on the program full-time.

``We look for people who have a track record for being creative problem solvers,'' says William Drayton, president of the society. ``We try to find them before they've gained widespread recognition and support - that's when they need our help the most.''

Ashoka funds about 60 fellowships in India, Indonesia, and Brazil and hopes eventually to expand into Nigeria and Mexico. In these countries, a little bit goes a long way. The average size of a grant in India is $2,500 a year, in Indonesia $3,500, and in Brazil $7,000. Most grants last for three years. This gives the recipients financial independence.

The society supports a wide range of projects, including Indonesian Syamsuddin Nainggolan's project to help urban slum dwellers around Jakarta. Another Ashoka fellow, Sudhirendra Sharma, is working to develop environmental awareness in the Himalayan foothills.

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