Charity… Stays At Home

Charity begins at home...& stays there, as NGOs' funding woes remain

tsi_05may2016_12A few months back I met a couple of my friends, who were running two separate NGOs. One of them has been working towards the differently-abled children – to help them acquire a skill-set and to ensure they are capable of entering mainstream businesses. It is a beautiful, small experiment that these people have been conducting over the past four years. The other friend of mine works with underprivileged children and trains them on the basics of computers, in one of the slums in Delhi.

Although they are doing some beautiful work, unfortunately both have had similar problems. And the problem lies in funding their operations. The fact is, it is not just about these two friends of mine, but this is the state of affairs for most small and micro cause driven NGOs. The irony is that most of these NGOs who are doing good work at a very micro level, are invariably short of funds.

I tried to find out the reason behind such universal reluctance and such secondary treatment towards such cause-centric organizations. To begin with, I browsed through some of the large, popular, global funding agencies or so called foundations. And what intrigued me was how their websites were structured. They were full of literature pointing out some thousand ways, by which they would not award a grant or fund. Though I understand that for any granting agency, caveats and disclaimers are extremely essential to create a system in place to ensure that they are able to sieve out only meritorious organizations. But then, I could easily make out two things. First, these foundations would fund primarily only those NGOs whose work aligned with the foundations’ objectives. Secondly, there is such a haze of information created that it seems that only people with the right ‘connections’ may actually influence the decision authorities of such foundations.

That was about grant-making agencies. The next in line is the Government, which makes huge allocations towards the underprivileged sections of the society. But when it comes to the Government funds, the least I say the better it is. There is unbridled corruption and the entire machinery runs on the basis of nepotism and ‘right connections’. There are touts and agents who have made a living out of government grants. Not that all the departments are the same, but yes, proximity to the decision makers definitely helps. Merit holds the last priority, in most cases. It is unfortunate that if the right kind of support could come from the government to the right kind of NGOs, then the socio-economic landscape of the nation could be transformed radically.

Now, when it comes to the rich and wealthy, it is so interesting to observe that they are so used to returns on their investments, that they are completely alien to the concept of just giving. They would not mind giving to their maids, drivers, or any other help, and in return would expect their continuing services. They would not mind donating to religious institutions, because somewhere they expect a return from their respective Gods too. At best they might feed a few poor, or might cover them with blankets, but then in return they expect renunciation. So whenever it comes to cause based charity, the biggest challenge is, what is it that they get back in return? A board position? A media release? An image makeover? A social endorsement? Worse, at times, they even talk about transfer of ownership, as if money can also buy a philanthropist tag.

Finally, when it comes to the salaried class, who probably do not expect much in return, they suffer from other challenges. The first is with respect to the size of their respective pockets, which is never deep enough to sustain a meaningful contribution, and even with their best intentions, they might not be able to sustain contributions over a period of time. However, the bigger challenge is the prevalence of a huge trust deficit that most people have towards most NGOs. The popular perception that prevails is that most NGOs are a means to siphon funds and thus it is better to stay away from them. Needless to state that there are NGOs who adopt unethical means, but then not all of them are like that. There are many doing commendable work, and they are the ones who suffer the most on account of such popular perceptions.

Whatever be the reason, the most unfortunate bit is, in this process, the people who suffer are those who have made cause based work a mission of their life, and more than them, the very people for whom NGOs have come into existence. At the end, what remain are spurts of individual based good work, which happens in patches, hugely compromising on the potential impact and outcomes. Given the scenario, and given the challenges, I salute my friends and each and everyone who has taken this journey to change the world into a better place, in their own small way. No wonder, charity begins at home, but unfortunately, it just stays there!