Dr Kalpana Sankar
Chairperson and Managing Trustee, Hand in Hand India
Most Hand in Hand leaders have backgrounds in finance or development. Not Hand in Hand co-founder Dr Kalpana Sankar, who earned her PhD not in economics or development studies, but in nuclear physics.
“Right from the beginning, Hand in Hand presented a strong rationale for any funding we sought from donors,” says Kalpana, explaining the link between splitting atoms and splitting savings funds. “Scientific thinking underpins our work.”
Kalpana found her career in development during her husband’s tenure as a district collector in Coimbatore, where they were routinely approached for help by local residents. In 2004, while working for specialist UN agency the International Fund for Agricultural Development, she was approached by Swedish businessman and philanthropist Percy Barnevik to manage a small charity working to eradicate child labour in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Kalpana accepted, and Hand in Hand was born.
“Hand in Hand started as a small NGO struggling to eradicate child labour in Kancheepuram. We followed a child-centric approach, but quickly realised that broader social sensitisation was the key. In October 2004, the organisation shifted its focus to the community,” she says. Determined to attack child labour at its root – poverty – Kalpana helped develop the Hand in Hand job creation model, still the core of our work throughout the network.
In 2006, Kalpana Sankar was invited to provide advice to the South African government on a job creation initiative, ultimately leading to the establishment of Hand in Hand Southern Africa two years later. In 2007 she oversaw the launch of Hand in Hand Afghanistan. And in 2009, with financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, she advised on applying the Hand in Hand model in Brazil.
“I am immensely proud that we have been able to provide financial inclusion to one million poor people,” says Kalpana, who has been honored by the US Congress for her work as a social entrepreneur. “The fact that we have created 1.5 million jobs as validated by an external rating agency, M-CRIL, is a testimonial to the hard work of my colleagues.”
Dr Kalpana Sankar is available to discuss Hand in Hand India and practitioners’ perspectives. To arrange an interview, or to speak with another one of our experts, please contact Ann Dickinson.
- 2014 Mary Clubwala Jadhav Award for Humanitarian Service by Madras School of Social Work
- 2013 Outstanding Service to Society Award by the Institute of Directors, Tamil Nadu State Chapter
- 2012 Winner of UNEP’s World Environment Day Challenge
Dr Kalpana Sankar in the media
Dr Kalpana Sankar enjoys sharing her expertise on microfinance at conferences in India and beyond, including the 2014 European Microfinance Week. She has also spoken to Forbes magazine about Hand in Hand’s global ambitions, and staying humble.
Before co-founding Hand in Hand, Percy Barnevik ran some of the biggest companies in the world. These days he provides incalculable support – and near-daily working hours – as Honorary Chairman.
“This work with Kalpana and the team we have at Hand in Hand is my biggest project ever,” he says. “It’s my last, my biggest and my most important project.”