Strong village institutions are the nucleus for all of Seva Mandir’s work. For over 40 years, Seva Mandir has slowly built its alternative village governments into spaces where people are able to participate actively and ethically in the decisions which affect their lives. Our 532 Village Development Forums and 618 Village Development Funds manage local development projects, co-fund projects and act as pressure groups on the state. At a deeper level, they build community ownership of the development process, unite communities and ensure the long-term sustainability of Seva Mandir’s work.



The impoverished rural communities where Seva Mandir works lack the social cohesion and civic consciousness to work together on community issues. The institutions of the state, including the village-level panchayats, are weakened by corruption and dysfunction. When no one assumes responsibility, private interests are often left unchallenged to the detriment of the public good.

Seva Mandir’s Response

The first action Seva Mandir takes in a community is to form an elected Village Forum in which all citizens can regularly meet and act to address local challenges. Currently, 45% of elected members are women. Seva Mandir then helps create a Village Fund, managed by the Forum and audited by Seva Mandir, which collects financial contributions from the community.

In 2012-13, our 532 Forums and 618 Village Funds underwrote 121 development projects (including the partial salaries of 21 Seva Mandir employees working at the village level). The Forums filed 1,323 applications to different government schemes with an economic benefit to community members of Rs. 22 million ($375,000), and advanced 95 proposals to local panchayats for work on common resources, such as deepening water sources and protecting community pastureland. 13 new villages associated with Seva Mandir.



Nearly 90% of India’s settlements are small towns. Delwara, a town of 5,000 people just 28 km from Udaipur, is Seva Mandir’s experiment in peri-urban development. The town faces a mix of rural challenges, like access to clean drinking water, and peculiarly urban challenges, such as waste management and communal divides between 27 different caste and religious groups.

Seva Mandir’s Response

In 2004, Seva Mandir and the people of Delwara founded the Citizens’ Development Forum, a system of 18 neighborhood-based committees and a central Executive Committee charged with directing development across the town. Across ten years and three democratic elections, the Forum has transformed the town’s infrastructure and brought revolutionary social change. Its main accomplishments include: a system of town-wide waste management; clean drinking water for hundreds of the town’s poorest households; toilets for half the town’s residents; and a slow but revolutionary breakdown in caste and gender discrimination. Even as Seva Mandir begins to replicate the Delwara Project in another peri-urban settlement, major challenges remain such as inconsistent civic participation and underlying ties of dependency on politicians.

  • Live Mint Explores the Power of Village Forums (news article)
  • One Man’s Journey (video)