Coming from a humble background, Francis is the eldest of six siblings and the only one who could afford to go to college. That too, only after his mother sold their small plot to moneylenders. After graduating, instead of looking for a well-paying job, he chose to work at an NGO. His stint there convinced him that he was cut out for this line of work.
In 1979, Francis founded the Integrated Village Development Programme (IVDP). The organization began small with a night school and a first-aid centre in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu. Over the years, IVDP has established over 8,200 self-help groups, built over 300 check-dams and empowered over 100,000 women, giving families a stable livelihood.