Joe Madiath completed his studies in English literature from Madras University. He was elected as the President of Madras University Students’ Union and founded the Young Students’ Movement for Development (YSMD) to harness positively the student disenchantment prevailing during the period. In 1969, he journeyed across India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka on a bicycle for a year.
In 1971, Joe led 400 YSMD volunteers to manage a number of relief camps for refugees from Bangladesh. Later that year, 40 volunteers along with Joe, moved to Orissa, which had been ravaged by a cyclone and tidal waves. Joe and a few colleagues decided to stay on in the area after relief work to work as development activists. They moved to Ganjam District in southern Orissa in 1976 on invitation from Government, to initiate development activities among the indigenous communities. This resulted in the establishment of Gram Vikas in 1979.
Since its inception, till the end of June 2014 Joe has been the Executive Director of Gram Vikas and now the Chairman of Gram Vikas. Gram Vikas, today, is one of the largest NGOs in Orissa, reaching out to over 100,000 indigenous and poor families living in 1200 rural habitations with a population over 400,000. Some of the pioneering efforts of Gram Vikas have been in biogas promotion, community forestry, rural habitat development and education. Gram Vikas’ current approach to convergent community action with water and sanitation as the entry point is evolving into a movement influencing local democratic self-governance and poor people’s control over development processes.
Recipient of awards: Allan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Award; Global Development Network Award (1998); World Habitat Award (2002); Kyoto World Water Grand Prize (2006); Social Life Time Achievement Award by Godfrey Phillips Red and White Bravery Awards (2006); NGO of the Year (2006) by Resource Alliance; Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurs (2006) by Skoll Foundation, USA