NGO is a very generic term given to something very noble and specific. There is more to it than just non- governmental organization. What are the problems that they face? Their challenges? Is anyone listening to them?
There are many NGOs in India working for the poor and needy. They try to enhance the lives of people in many ways. Not many people realize that these NGOs that try to help people also face many problems at various levels.
Last week the team from Innovation Alchemy returned from an eighteen day visit to the NGOs in Bihar, Orissa and Rajasthan who are the winners of the 2011 Development Marketplace. The visit was made to do needs assessment of the winners that will help them in the long run.
Bihar Development Trust( BDT), Saran Renewable Energy(SRE), Nidan in Bihar; Adhikar, Healing Heritage Producers Company, WOSCA (Women’s Organisation for Socio- Cultural Awareness) in Orissa; Rangsutra Craft’s India ltd. ,Sadhna, BAIF – Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation are a few of them. Each one of them is unique in their own way yet so similar. Their ideas, passion for their programmes and innovations make them unique. However the similarity can be attributed to various reasons, mainly because most NGOS face similar challenges.
Speaking to the top- management, middle management and field staff gave us insights on several issues. Many a time the problems the NGOs are facing are not only due to funding needs, their location or lack of resources. A lot of problems arise because of a certain element that is pulling them back. The element being ‘fear’. The fear to take it further, the fear that they might not succeed, What will happen to the three hundred other people who are dependent on them?
During the conversations that ensued, we noticed that none of them really put forward the fact that they were scared of anything in particular. Their fear could be detected when asked about their funding needs, exit strategy and how they plan on scaling up.
For e.g. one of the organization’s founder, when asked about his exit strategy went into a state of dilemma and finally said he hasn’t really given it much thought yet, due to lack of information. However one could decipher from the conversation with this gentleman that it is not due to lack of information but it is the fear of scaling up and utilizing the funds generated that is preventing him from planning out an exit strategy. How can he go ahead and use the funds? What if he doesn’t succeed and all the weavers who depended on him are made to starve? In such a scenario instead of helping the weavers and making them stand on their own feet, the weavers will be unemployed and homeless.
On the other hand a lot of confidence can be seen in many of the organizations. Rangsutra and Sadhna are two of them where one could see it being reflected.
Rangsutra is a company of a thousand artisans. They ensure sustainable livelihood for artisans and farmers by creating hand made products based on the principles of fair trade and a celebration of India’s rich craft heritage. It was founded by Sumita Ghose, an inspiring woman with more than 20 years of experience in producer groups. Probably Sumita’s expertise coupled with a branded customer like FAB India make Rangsutra’s staff and artisans feel secure and steady.
Sadhna is a fair trade organization committed to empowering rural and tribal women, both economically and socially. The organization works with over 40 producer groups of 30 – 35 members, helping in the production and marketing of the handicraft products. Sadhna too was started by a dynamic woman, Leela Vijayvergiya, a seasoned development professional with tremendous exposure in her field of expertise. Her experience coupled with a parent organization like Seva Mandir as their backbone sets Sadhna apart.
Many of the NGOSs probably do not have the luxury to take a risk at this very stage and that is what pulls them back. The irony among many of them is that most of their founders are well qualified and come from renowned institutions like IRMA( Institute of Rural Management Anand) and IIMs ( Indian Institute of Management). They have taken a risk, gone a step ahead to pursue what they firmly believe in but somewhere down the lane, they have come to a halt probably because they didn’t want to tarnish what they toiled so hard for all these years or probably because taking a risk would mean not only endangering themselves, but also families and their children who are dependent on them. Once this fear is eliminated and a little more confidence is imbibed, they will definitely succeed in their mission and one day their mission won’t just be a vision but an accomplishment. From what I observed in these eighteen days is that, that very day is not so far away.