Fr M. A. Windey’s seven principles (Saptashila) for rural development

Here is an example of a Jesuit missionary involvement that has important bearing on the future of rural development in India. But what sustains this project are the links that its founder was able to establish between the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and evangelical values. A source of inspiration that can instigate similar projects elsewhere in the world.

By S. Emmanuel, SJ and K. Velangani Raj, SJ

Late Fr Michael Antony Windey, the founder of Village Reconstruction Organization (VRO), India, was born on 28 April 1921 in Buggenhout, Belgium. He dedicated his life to rural development in India. Inspired by Gandhi’s Sarvodaya and Anthyodaya philosophy (a non-violent movement of resistance to oppression) and motivated by Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution (a programme of social transformation that affects both individuals and society), he founded the Village Reconstruction Organization, a non-governmental organization with the motto, “Better Villages for a Better World”. Since its establishment in 1971, VRO has constructed 100 villages and 28,000 houses for tribals, Dalits, and the poor, regardless of their religion. Today, VRO operates in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu. Fr Windey’s work, based on seven Gandhian principles for rural development, continues to inspire community development workers.

The first principle is that the community should be the agent of development, aiming to arouse them from poverty and take responsibility for their future. It can be considered that progress is a shared process, emphasizing cultural liberation, societal change, and partnership in ownership. These principles underscore community empowerment and qualitative change in rural development.


The second principle: development as a qualitative challenge. In Fr Windey’s own words, development is defined as “doing things together better than before, so we can all share”. Quality of life encompasses health, education, employment, social relations, security, environment, landscape, and cultural heritage. Villagers should take into account their local resources, such as agricultural land, forests, and livestock. These resources play a crucial role in shaping rural livelihoods and well-being. Rural quality of life extends beyond physical amenities.

The third principle, authentic community development, focuses on inclusivity, participation, and sustainability. This approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of various aspects of community life and celebrates diversity. The VRO also emphasizes community participation and qualitative well-being in rural development, moving beyond mere material progress.

The fourth principle emphasizes the importance of indigenous and integral development in rural areas. Villagers must consider local resources, environmental context, and social needs, avoiding imitating urban standards.

The fifth principle states that development is growth. Social growth is analogous to biological growth, emerging organically and spreading in various directions. The VRO program consists of three fluid stages: physical, socioeconomic, and community-building. Key initiatives include tree-planting festivals, comprehensive community health programs, learning estates, cooperative federations, and leadership training.


The sixth principle is that the development process is a chain reaction. Cluster formation: Initially, two or three nuclei villages are developed, preferably located within walking distance (approximately 5.5 km) from each other. These clusters are strategically situated near central villages or smaller towns to attract attention. Cluster formation enhances operational efficiency and reduces costs. Over time, nearly all villages attract other communities to adjoining sites. Gradually, these communities merge into larger and more viable units. Forming an inter-village federation.

Finally, social service needs presence and identification. The VRO animator and change agent reside in the community continuously and share their living conditions. The evidence of commitment is greater since the villager feels that the animator himself is affected by the success or failure of the community. Thus, they become partners in development.

In conclusion, this approach advocated by the Village Reconstruction Organization represents a paradigm shift in rural development philosophy. The VRO’s holistic approach to rural development serves as a potent reminder that true progress is not measured solely by economic indicators but by the richness of community life, the preservation of cultural heritage, and the empowerment of individuals to shape their own destinies.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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