1. There are thousands of NGOs doing great work, but their impact is limited – Here is why

There are thousands of NGOs doing great work, but their impact is limited – Here is why

Heaven forbid we have to depend on Modi, Trump, Putin or other self-serving politicians to bring about any real change.

By: | New Delhi | Updated: February 13, 2018 4:34 AM
education, health, policing, ngo, india Praja, an NGO has been working for 20 years to collect information about the state of education, health, policing and civic issues in Mumbai. (Representative image)

Governments don’t change the world. People do.

Heaven forbid we have to depend on Modi, Trump, Putin or other self-serving politicians to bring about any real change. There’s only you and I to do the job and the good news is that there are tens—indeed, hundreds—of thousands of others in India (and all over the world) working alongside us. Most, but by no means all, of these efforts are driven through NGOs and non-profits, and just looking around, there are so many great people doing such wonderful work that I would bet that we have long ago crossed the critical mass of positive-change-agents, which should see the process accelerate from here on.

To catalyse this acceleration, I have joined as a founder member of IIT-IIT—IITians for Influencing India’s transformation—which was conceptualised by Kartik Kilachand, a high-energy IIT alumnus. The concept is simple. While there are, as we all know, thousands of NGOs doing great work on the ground, their impact in terms of really changing India (and the world) is limited, primarily because of their inability to scale. Touching 1 million lives is a lot, but in the context of India, just a drop in the bucket.

As an example, I am on the Board of Advisors of Praja, an NGO that has been working for 20 years to collect information about the state of education, health, policing and civic issues in Mumbai and also to produce report cards on the performance of elected representatives (both municipal councillors and MLA’s). Praja’s work is routinely applauded by the media and the elected representatives and, often, even by the administration. About two years ago, in partnership with a couple of other NGOs, Praja expanded its operations, which are fully RTI-driven, to Delhi, where it is already having impact. Now, Praja’s deliverables, which are very well structured—indeed, its processes are extremely strong—would be of value to citizens and governments in every city in the country but bandwidth (both people and resources) limits this geographical evolution.

So, too, there are other great initiatives like Sanctuary’s pilot project outside Nagpur where marginal farmers over a 100 acre area were paid a better-than-sustenance fee for three years not to farm; the land slowly recovered, plants regenerated and animals returned. Now, there is a safari lodge and tourism is replacing sustenance farming as the source of livelihood in the area. Again, a fantastic project and one that should be replicated a hundred fold.

At the launch of IIT-IIT, I heard about so many more, it almost made me dizzy. I was particularly impressed and delighted with the work being done by Agastya, an organisation that has been “sparking curiosity and nurturing creativity in rural India” for over a decade. While they have already touched well over a million lives, Thiagarajan, the CEO, says the founder feels this is nothing—his vision is to create a N(on) G(overnment) M(ovement) that accelerates on its own across the country. What I particularly liked is their tag line—AH… AHA…HAHAHAHA—confirming my long-held belief that to sustainably change the world you must have fun.

To return to IIT-IIT, it is set up to create a framework for replicating the myriad success stories in the social development sector. Its analysis has so far recognised that the constraints that most NGOs feel are: (1) limited connect with the government (whose participation is critical to enable scaling), (2) poor technology use, (3) virtually non-existent collaboration with other NGOs or organisations and (4) the inability to attract talent and capital.

The initiative will leverage the IIT brand, which is without doubt the best known brand in and from India, as well as the existing constituency of 300,000 alumni (many of whom have built businesses of significant scale) and 75,000 current students, to embolden the voice of the non-profit sector. Rather, as NASSCOM did it for the IT sector, IIT-IIT will be an advocate to the government (to direct them towards best practices interventions); to the corporate sector (to make CSR initiatives more efficient across the spectrum) and; of course, with foundations and social investors.

It will also, critically, leverage technology to generate acceleration, taking individual successes to new geographies, enable collaboration between individual NGOs, and create sectoral champions, which will give a further boost to the social change movement.

Of course, today IIT-IIT is just a baby and needs care and feeding. It already has a strong board (all ex-IITians), many of whom have their own NGOs that they are scaling up or trying to. It is looking for 250 founder members (I have joined up, of course), again IIT alumni, each of whom needs to put in a modest Rs 2 lakh to create a corpus that will fund the initial operations.

So, boys and girls, hop to it, reach for your cheque books—log on to www.iit-iit.org—and remember, the first step in changing the world is to go AH!…AHA!…HAHAHAHAHA!

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