growth of the non-profit sector in India, in the last two
decades, has been phenomenal. But accelerated development
soon reaches a stagnant point if it is not sustainable. As
the demand for NGOs is rising in the country, owing to the
slow pace of poverty reduction and a backlog of social deprivation;
it is combated by a plethora of challenges that have reared
their head in the past few years.
From relief services to educational initiatives,
from healthcare projects to housing organizations, grassroots
NGOs work in different spheres that touch the daily lives
of marginalized communities across the country. Engaging directly
with the people, these NGOs are able to participate in the
thought-making process of the communities they work with,
and thus have the capacity to bring about positive changes.
Realizing this potential, many genuine
grassroots NGOs have been doing commendable work with the
underserved communities. However, despite this many stand
on the verge of shutting down. Their good intentions and hard
work are stymied by tough internal obstacles – from
unprepared leadership to organisational anomalies, from inadequate
resources to an inability to communicate effectively with
their target audience.
Funding being the blood that pumps life
into their operations, resource crunch is one of the biggest
challenges faced by grassroots organizations. Resources by
NGOs are garnered from various sources – international
grant, government schemes, corporate support and individual
donation. It is believed that the first of these is the major
contributor to the resource pool of the development sector,
but this might not be today’s reality.
In November 2009, at a forum in New York,
Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University,
predicted that “at a minimum” more than 100,000
non-profit organizations would be wiped out in the next couple
of years, due to the budget deficits of the American government,
what with the nine billion dollar non-profit sector in USA
shrinking to a four billion one, in just an year. In 2010,
the European Union fell short of its development aid targets
by 15 billion Euros, according to a report released by the
CONCORD coalition of advocacy organizations.
True, the last decade witnessed the growth
of many NGOs with support from international organizations
and various governments. This period however is already in
the receding stage, with most of these countries like the
US and UK busy addressing their own economic woes since the
economic downturn of 2008-09.
Due to weaning political influence, in
the face of the rise of the Eastern and Southern resource-rich
nations, these countries no longer have the same ability or
priority to support NGOs by providing core funding to tackle
global sustainability issues.
Moreover, owing to the worldwide success
of Indian companies and the double digit GDP growth of past
years, the global perception about India has changed considerably.
India is no longer viewed merely as a developing country,
but rather as an emerging market leader. As major donors concentrate
more on dealing with countries in states of emergency; India
no longer makes it to the priority list.
Around 24 international funding agencies
have upgraded India from ‘poor’ or ‘developing’
country to a ‘developed nation’ on the basis of
the projections of the Central and State governments. The
ground reality however is different. Business growth has been
substantial in the country in the recent past being demonstrated
by the acquisition of big companies, dependable global footprints
in the service sector and empowered human resources. But the
wealth being earned has not proportionally contributed to
the development ecosystem. The trickling down process is gradual,
as has been the case with numerous other countries.
Private sector companies, one of the biggest donors in the
developed world, are yet to wake up to the phenomenon of charity
and philanthropy in India. Indian companies spend less than
1% of their annual profits on such activities against 1.5%
to over 2% spent by their UK and the US-based counterparts,
says a 2009 study by an international NGO. As such, the grassroots
NGOs are left languishing, as resources from both outside
and within the country dry up.
The society should understand how much community-based nonprofits
can achieve, but also how vulnerable they are to any number
of economic and policy-related obstacles occurring from the
organizational level all the way up to macro variations in
national and international economies.
It is imperative that grassroots NGOs recognize these possibilities
and diversify their sources of funding accordingly, to strive
for their sustainability. They must begin to develop at least
some degree of self sufficiency if they are to have any longterm
plans and bring about any lasting change. These NGOs require
innovations at the core strategic and organizational levels
to sustain their activities. Unexplored avenues need to be
discovered with a new mind set and approach.
But unfortunately, most grassroots organizations are unable
to adapt themselves to prevailing trends in development and
in public spending when planning for the future and have thus
developed a dependency syndrome towards external aid. Most
NGOs have volunteers with good intentions, but poor management
expertise. Size, scale and structure are other areas of concern
for them. Also, very little is done to support and encourage
genuine grassroots initiatives in our country, especially
in making them self-sustainable.
Smile Foundation, believing in the ability of grassroots
NGOs to bring real change in the community, works towards
empowering and enabling them, through its national level capacity
building programme, Empowering Grassroots. Genuine grassroots
NGOs are identified from all over the country and trained
to bring excellence, good governance, accountability and sustainability
at the community level.
Many tailor-made methods on various aspects of capacity building
and empowerment such as effective leadership for development
& strengthening, 5-C Model of building organizational
competencies, involving local support for sustainability,
better fund utilization, meeting the expectations of donors,
good fundraising practices and effective communication with
the stakeholders are deployed as part of the programme. Capacities
of 500 grassroots NGOs have been built under Empowering Grassroots
in the last two years.
The way ahead is not easy. There is no doubt that the international
funding will slow down substantially in the coming days. It
is always inversely proportional to the relative growth of
a country. Innovative planning and building an understanding
with the development stakeholders is the way forward for the
non-profit sector. Large-scale organizations have already
welcomed the birth of social ventures.
As the new Companies Act, 2013 comes into force; a step forward
has been taken towards encouraging the corporate to share
a part of their profits for development. An imperative ally
in achieving the developmental objectives, NGOs must realize
that the need of the hour is not campaigning against but collaborating
with companies—and this hybrid approach is likely to
intensify. Grassroots NGOs need to form the key bridge between
business, government, and society to be able to stand strong
and bring real, sustainable change.