May 19, 2005 Comments Off on Shramadana

Colombo, Sri Lanka

For Savodaya, networks run deep – deep between the hearts and souls of the villages where they have worked for 47 years.


Working in all parts of the country, Sarvodaya is Sri Lanka’s largest and oldest NGO. One of their biggest tasks in the past five months has, of course, been responding to the impact of the devastating tsunami that hit Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004. Initially, they provided relief – food, temporary shelter, solace. Now they are helping to rebuild homes, lives and local economies all around Sri Lanka’s coast.

When IDRC colleagues and I visited Sarvodaya’s head office south of Colombo, we toured a room with posters documenting this post-tsunami work. Each handmade poster illustrated a particular tsunami response program, or the nature of the damage in regions with Sarvodaya district offices. There was also a map. A very interesting map …


… the map had red pins for district offices in tsunami-affected areas, and green pins for offices located in Sri Lanka’s interior. Thick, coloured string connected pairs of green and red pins, representing the fact that offices were paired up immediately after the crisis. People from the interior offices quickly sprung into action to help people in the coast areas they were twinned with. And, now, they continue with rehabilitation efforts.

What stuck me in this was that, without the explanation we’d received, the pins and string could easily be mistaken for a network map. Backbones. Exchanges. Hubs. And, in a way, that’s exactly what it was. It was a map of the deep networks that Sarvodaya has been able to build within and between villages in Sri Lanka, even through a time of war. These networks run deep, and respond fast.


Like any good network, the map was built on one of Sarvodaya’s key principles —  shramadana, or sharing energy. Of course, I’d never heard the Sinhalese word shramadana before. But I’ve known for a long time that it’s exactly the thing that makes networks real … and impactful. People connecting to people – playing, helping, learning together. That’s what provides the fuel for most effective networks.

Out on the road, with the aim of building networks amongst telecentre operators, it was a real gift to learn this new word. For this I am very grateful to Sarvodaya.

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