Inclusive Cities: Transforming the Lives of Delhi’s Urban Poor


October 7, 2014


Kiran Martin and Rohit Patel


ASHA, India


Dr. Kiran Martin will talk about Asha, an NGO working to transform half a million lives in the slums of Delhi. Established twenty-six years ago, Asha’s work has found a resonance around the world. Her lecture will describe four aspects of Asha’s work.

  • How Asha delivers improved healthcare through an internationally acclaimed model of community health volunteers. These women from the slums have been trained to act as a trusted source of medical advice and a first line of defense against common health risks. Now respected leaders in their communities, the women have helped ensure that five times fewer babies die in Asha slums today, compared with 26 years ago.
  • How Asha also helps slum-dwellers join together into knowledgeable pressure groups to tackle local issues, build links with officials and ensure the community’s basic rights. Children’s groups organize sanitation drives, encourage parents to send their children to school, and run errands for elderly slum residents. Registered as charities, the women’s collectives are a formidable presence when they visit government offices in groups to press for improved conditions and utilities.
  • The third strand of Asha’s work is the groundbreaking financial inclusion scheme, which allows slum-dwellers for the first time to open savings accounts and take out bank loans. Devised by Asha with the Ministry of Finance and nine national banks in 2008, the venture has seen millions of rupees in loans put to good use: people have paid for their children’s education, and started or expanded a wide variety of businesses.
  • Finally, the lecture will cover how over a thousand talented students from the slums have benefitted from Asha’s program for Higher Education. Launched six years ago, the program includes intensive support and practical advice, scholarships, professional mentors, and work experience in some of Delhi’s elite organizations.


Kiran Martin and Rohit Patel

Dr. Kiran Martin, a Social Entrepreneur, is the Founder and Director of Asha Community Health and Development Society. In 1988, Dr Martin heard about a cholera outbreak in a south Delhi slum. Her Christian faith inspired her to use her talents to help the poor and marginalized, so she went to the slum, set up a borrowed table under a tree and began working to save lives. Now, more than 25 years later, Dr Martin is an influential figure in the field of slum development and Asha’s programs are benefiting more than 400,000 people in around 50 slum colonies of Delhi. In 2002, Dr Martin’s achievements were recognized by the Indian Government when she was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, by Mr. K R Narayanan, the President of India. In addition to appearances before the US House of Representatives and the British House of Commons, Dr Martin has been an international speaker for many years. She has lectured at prestigious universities such as Harvard, MIT and Cambridge, and spoken at numerous international conferences as well as given talks at hospitals, churches, and Friends of Asha events in various locations around the globe.