Pratim Roy

Humphrey Fellowship class of 2011-2012

Home country: India

Current position: Founder and Director of Keystone Foundation

Patim Roy was instrumental in setting up the Keystone Foundation, which since 1993 has worked to enhance the quality of life and environment of indigenous communities using eco-development approaches. He is currently responsible for Keystone’s donor relationships and plans its programs and projects. In particular, his knowledge on bees and their ecosystem service to biodiversity in the mountains has been of immense value to the organization, as has his interest in water, which has led to wetlands projects in the Nilgiris, a mountainous district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Eight years have passed since Pratim participated in the Humphrey Fellowship Program, but the impact is still being realized. That experience with other likeminded professionals helped him conceptualize a distinguished collaboration that is still ongoing: the Nilgiris Field Learning Center (NFLC). 

Launched in 2014, this partnership between Keystone Foundation and Cornell helps students conceive our world anew through a field-based learning experience. The 15-week program aims to build conscious leadership among the youth of the Adivasi (indigenous tribal people) community and undergraduate students from Cornell. It is an opportunity for youngsters from opposite parts of the world to interact and learn from one another. 

"The primary focus of the course is to look at education through a different lens,” says Pratim. The NFLC is unique because of its curriculum – which has two aspects to it – theory and practice. During the first several weeks, theoretical models of research covering various topics are taught and demonstrated in a classroom setting. The remaining weeks are all about practical experience. Students are out practicing what was preached to them, continuously exchanging views with their fellow researchers and most importantly meeting diverse people. Themes in the course comprise community-based conservation, social-ecological systems, forest-based livelihoods, community wellness, indigenous worldviews, governance, urbanization, and trade & markets.

The course, as envisaged, is keen to build narratives that will make sense on a long-term basis. This ensures that the students who succeed the previous group are not initiating something that they cannot conclude at the end of the course but are rather picking up the baton from where it was left.

Up to the present, 27 graduates from Cornell and 29 Adivasi students have graduated from the NFLC. Many Cornell students have gone back to pursue Masters or Ph.D. programs. The Adivasi students have begun pursuing higher studies on topics varying from conservation to development studies; a handful have joined Keystone and are coordinating program implementation with communities across different regions.

Through NFLC, students and researchers are finding ways to have a shared understanding and, above all, cherish diversity and knowledge sharing.