Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration

First Advisor

Maureen A. Scully

Second Advisor

Chinnaiah Jangam

Third Advisor

Patricia Krueger-Henney


This research examines how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on rural development in Andhra are structured to challenge or reinforce existing hierarchies in the society based on caste and gender, by focusing on NGO leadership. The right to equality as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India recognizes forms of inequality based on caste and gender. This right is significant to note because while most studies on NGOs focus on poverty as the central problem in a neo-liberal state (Dempsey, 2009; Fisher, 1997; Mercer, 2002; Tembo, 2003), they remain incomplete without considering socio-economic factors. These factors not only affect the marginalized communities but also critically shape the change agency of leadership in NGOs. This dissertation emanates from my experiences of working in the NGO sector in India and is introduced through an autoethnography of these experiences. It follows a three-paper multi-manuscript model where each paper can be read independently while they are connected to a common research question. The first paper is a critical historical review of civil society organizing in Andhra. It is followed by two empirical studies of NGOs and their leadership in Andhra. These studies use an Ambedkarite framework to critically analyze interviews of leaders as well as field observations to uncover how hierarchies are challenged or reinforced in these spaces. The findings from this dissertation will contribute to leadership approaches and policy changes for organizations working on social change in the context of the historically persistent social hierarchies they operate in. Finally, an Ambedkarite framework for doing caste and anti-caste analyses is offered as a theoretical contribution to organization studies. While there is an emerging interest in the study of caste, there is very little work from a critical perspective and a surprising lack of attention to Ambedkar’s anchoring of caste analyses in history, culture, and political philosophy.