|As a young man was walking down the road, hurriedly going to work, his eyes fell upon a very poor woman on the street, ill clad, old, tired and hungry. He was moved by the sight, he looked earnestly at the sky and asked ‘God, why don’t you do something to help her?’ To his amazement, a voice answered, ‘I did - I made you’.
I am not sure where I have heard this story before, but it was a while ago and the message in it has sort of become one of my personal dogmas, almost, since. Growing up and living in several parts of India, I have not been a stranger to what ails our nation and its people - there is suffering, poverty, hunger, corruption… so much of it around us, that it has ended up offering great conversation potential, and lent itself to a certain general apathy almost in most of us. We see it in the newspapers, on radio, on television and most of us cluck in sympathy, some quickly surf and move on to watch ‘more interesting’ stuff - serials, sports or news. We DO however, sit up and watch and follow stories of huge catastrophes with great interest and enthusiasm and often respond to requests for help as well. However, it needs a tragedy of the magnitude caused by a disaster to get our attention and focus on DOING what we can. Money pours in, things are donated, people offer their time; I’ve been intrigued by this actually. Why is that the hungry child at the traffic signal or a young woman being raped or a destitute man off the road cease to grab our attention? I’ve been told in response to my intrigue that it’s a belief that these people’s needs are supposed to be met by the government or is the work of NGOs in the city. The government and people have lost faith in NGOs, most are skeptical about their integrity and ability to handle situations professionally, so they stay away from participating with these bodies on bringing about a change that they would all welcome.
Well, let me focus a little on the latter response. Having worked in and with NGOs fairly closely over the past decade in various capacities, I have come to learn a few things about them:
- Most are founded and run by people with great conviction and passion. These are usually people who have the commitment and the determination to bring about a change.
- Many of these organisations do a fairly decent job of providing services to those that need them, while they continue to be challenged with how they will raise the support needed to do a good job.
- A majority of them are perceived as lacking professional competence required to function optimally, scale or sustain their efforts.
- There is an increasing trend among many NGOs, the desire to be able to be more professionally run. They want to have better systems, processes, policies; all of which costs money. If you want a resource who has the capability, he/she might be unaffordable for the NGO.
- The fact, though, is that most NGOs usually do not need such competencies 24/7, as a corporate might - they will not need a marketing person, a HR person or a communications person all the time, they will however need all of these competencies at varying degrees and for varying lengths of time, which will help them be far more effective and efficient in the way that they work and therefore the change that will be possible.
Now having described the problem and the context as it were, I’d like to leave you with some ideas of how you can be engaged.
Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend amongst corporate professionals to want to ‘give back’ yet, most end up cutting a cheque to a cause as a gesture. While this is equally valuable to an NGO, what’s perhaps a lot more useful are the time and skills an individual can share in a sustained manner to enable the organisation to become more effective and efficient.
Whiteboard India, an initiative set up with iVolunteer, India’s largest volunteering agency strives to provide NGOs in a city, access to high quality pro bono professional expertise across various functions such as marketing, finance, HR, communications, using technology. The program is now active in six locations across India - Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Delhi. The initiative works quite simply. It is constituted as a panel of people with diverse skills that meets once in six weeks, usually on a weekend morning for three to four hours. Two NGOs are invited to make a presentation of their work and their challenges. Members on the panel, volunteer to help meet those challenges by offering their time and expertise. For example, someone might volunteer to help with a strategic planning process for the top management of the NGO, another with setting up financial systems, or creating a HR policy, or helping with designing a communication strategy and so on. Outcomes have been interesting, panelists have roped in their own contacts and networks where they have been unable among the group to address a specific issue being faced by the NGO, some have joined these organisations on their legal boards, a couple have even quit their corporate jobs and moved on to the sector to work full time.
There are nearly three million NGOs in India. Granted that only a moderate proportion of these will seriously be doing good work, that’s a large enough number in itself. Yet, we don’t see the change of the kind that should have been possible. Clearly, help is needed! This is your opportunity to reach out and extend it. If you can commit the time, share your expertise and in the process meet and learn from some very passionate change makers, some of whom have been featured in this newsletter over the past year, then write in to us.
Be the change you want to see!
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