What is this Marga Institute?
This was a question that most people asked when Marga was first established and became known to the public in 1972. What exactly was its raison d’etre – its mission and purpose. People were not easily able to give it a label and put it into a category of institutions with which they were familiar. Was it private or public? Was it a business enterprise? Why were persons leaving promising careers to join it? What were “development studies” – had they something to do with economics, urban planning, education etc? Persons with mindsets which were inclined to be cynical of actions which were concerned with the public interest – and there were many in those days as they are even now – asked what was the “catch” in all this?
When this problem of the identity of Marga was mentioned by Godfrey Gunatilleke (one of the founders of Marga Institute) to a UNCTAD colleague, Surendra Patel, whom he met when Marga had just begun work, Patel narrated his personal experience with his community back in Gujarat He had been successful in finding employment at the United Nations in New York in the 1950s. When he went back to his home town he was greeted by his family members, Uncles and Aunts who were both curious and proud about his achievements. He laboriously attempted to explain to his trader community, his job and what the UN was actually doing around the world. He started talking about the 1st World War, The League Of Nations, the 2nd World War, peace etc but he was stopped in his tracks by relatives, who had become quite confused and frustrated by this time, trying to comprehend the role of the UN. They asked, “But what are you selling?” The young man answered “Peace!”
Unfortunately, one cannot expect to satisfy the readers with a powerful one-word answer as Patel did. We hope to answer all the questions asked about Marga and more by narrating the full story of Marga- how it began, who were behind the initiative and what it did during the last five decades of its existence. Meanwhile, let us give you an introduction to the Marga Institute that would briefly define the identity and character of the institution.
The Marga Institute is a private multi-disciplinary research organization which has been registered under the Companies Act as an autonomous, non-profit making organization. Its main activity is the critical, non-partisan study of development issues in Sri Lanka and the Asian region and the dissemination of its findings to policymakers, scholars and research institutions locally as well as internationally.
The main studies of the institute have been value-oriented. They have been directed at identifying the development processes that combine growth with equity, participation and freedom.
The name “Marga” which is the plural form and signifies paths emphasizes the pluralistic and inclusive values that inform its approach to issues. The politically non-partisan outlook of the Institute has enabled it to provide a centre and offer an open forum that brings together persons with different ideologies and divergent political points of view for the study and analysis of various controversial national issues. The seminar programme of Marga Institute during the last five decades has contributed immensely in this respect.
During its brief history, the institute expanded its activities into many interconnected fields related to the development process. During the late 1970s and Eighties it organized its work under the following divisions and units:
-Social Development and Human Resources Studies.
-Law and development studies
– Macroeconomic studies
-Science and technology studies
– Implementation Projects and studies.
Marga has one of the best Libraries and documentation centres in the country covering a wide range of subjects relating to development studies.