The Hidden Heroes: The Role of NGOs in Public Policy

A few years ago, while I was attending a legal workshop for budding social entrepreneurs, one of the speakers in the workshop clarified why Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were called so instead of being called non-profits or just other organizations in India. He stated that an NGO performs the duties that a government is traditionally supposed to perform but isn’t able to do so due to a lack of resources, logistical or monetary challenges. This definition informed my thoughts about the intricate and interdependent relationship between NGOs and the government in India. However, it was a work trip through my AIF Fellowship placement organization Dream a Dream to Dehradun, Uttarakhand, that made me see first-hand how NGOs are one of the primary drivers of policy in India.


The project brief was simple – produce a short film about the Uttarakhand government’s efforts to integrate socio-emotional learning in education policy. When I was given the assignment, my first thought was – why are we as an organization creating an impact video for a state government? But as soon as I reached Dehradun, from the very first interview I conducted, I realized that the video was not a reflection of solely the state government’s work but rather a documentation of how intricate the relationship between NGOs and the government is when it comes to policy making.


Dream a Dream is an NGO that works to empower at-risk youth using life skills. A majority of their work initially focused on interventions in schools in Bangalore, however more recently, they have been engaged in research and policy interventions that could be implemented on a larger scale. For example, in 2014, Dream a Dream in conjunction with clinical psychologists Dr. David Pearson and Dr. Fiona Kennedy, developed a one of a kind life skills assessment scale which has allowed individuals and organizations working in the socio-emotional learning space to measure life skills for the first time [1]. The best part about the scale is the fact that it is completely free for anyone, anywhere in the world to use. This approach of Dream a Dream of viewing their curriculum as an open book for other NGOs, individuals and governments has allowed them to move beyond their local external interventions as an organization and inform large scale policy.


In Uttarakhand, my interviews with local teachers, students, and state officials revealed the significance of Dream a Dream and other NGO’s like Blue Orb Foundation and Labhya Foundation in implementing the state’s Happiness curriculum. Like Delhi, another city where Dream a Dream had helped launch the happiness curriculum, the Uttarakhand government was looking to incorporate socio-emotional learning in their official curriculum. The curriculum is called “Anandam” which translates to happiness and revolves around increasing mindfulness amongst children and preparing them to be better citizens.

Key Uttarakhand state education department officials
Key Uttarakhand state education department officials.


My colleagues at Dream a Dream told me about the genesis of the Happiness curriculum in Uttarakhand. The rolling out of the curriculum was systematic and layered. The state government worked in conjunction with Dream a Dream to finalize the components of the curriculum. It was divided into mindfulness, activity and storytelling sessions that revolved around developing the values essential to thrive in a fast changing world and implementing those learnings in every day scenarios. The city then identified 15 blocks where teachers of all government schools had to attend a mandatory 2-day training conducted by Dream a Dream, Blue Orb Foundation, and Labhya Foundation. The training was led by Master Trainers, teachers from the District Institute of Education and Training who were also trained by the three NGOs involved. Teachers from the selected blocks have now begun implementing the curriculum in their respective schools over the past month.


An interview with one of the students from a local Dehradun school.
An interview with one of the students from a local Dehradun school.


Interviews with teachers and students revealed that the new curriculum has not only helped students concentrate better in classrooms and be mindful of this actions, but it has also equipped them with the skills required to tackle challenging situations at home. Most of the students attending public schools in Uttarakhand come from an underprivileged background and thus face several hardships at home. Uttarakhand’s new curriculum has helped these several of these students find effective ways of tackling such challenges, thereby increasing their happiness levels at school and home.


A fun outdoor activity being conducted as a part of the Anandam curriculum
A fun outdoor activity being conducted as a part of the Anandam curriculum.


The Anandam curriculum is a case study of how instrumental non-profits are in filling the gaps that governments face in policy implementation. They are an essential part of society and often don’t receive the credit that they deserve as policy drivers and implementors in India’s challenging developmental space. I hope that my video is able to capture just how integral their work is reforming the nation.


“Dream Life Skills Assessment Scale.” Dream a Dream, 19 April 2018.

Arya is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Dream a Dream in Bangalore, Karnataka. For her Fellowship project, she is creating videos to increase awareness about the importance of life skills in empowering young people from vulnerable backgrounds to flourish in today’s fast-changing world. Arya is a social entrepreneur who has worked with underprivileged communities in Pune to advocate for equal educational opportunity for all students. She is the founder and CEO of Jazz Hands Foundation, a nonprofit organization that teaches English using drama. Through her nonprofit, Arya has worked towards organizing more than 500 student volunteers to teach English to understaffed schools in Pune. Arya graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts as a double major in Digital Multimedia and Environmental Studies. She is the recipient of the Marlene Sanders Award for her documentary “Stray,” which reports on the issue of a growing population of stray dogs in developing nations. Arya has also worked with the national employment law firm Sanford Heisler Sharp in New York, where she assisted victims of gender, age, and race discrimination. She primarily focused on the Dartmouth case where she assisted the firm in representing nine plaintiffs with claims of sexual assault, harassment and gender discrimination against the university and its professors. As an AIF Clinton Fellow, Arya hopes to keep finding new avenues to empower youth in the country to serve marginalized communities.

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2 thoughts on “The Hidden Heroes: The Role of NGOs in Public Policy

  1. Jawahar Jyoti Bal Vikas Kendra is a registered organization working for livelihood, education, health, disaster, gender mainstreaming, women’s rights and employment, life skills for adolescents in Samastipur district of Bihar state in India. We want to partnership with your programming.

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