Skip to main content

As a consequence of chasing funds, NGOs shift their focus from their core mission, change their objectives to suit donor needs

By Moin Qazi*
India is now all set to frame a law to curb the wild growth of NGOs following a series of strict observations of the Supreme Court. The CBI has informed the Supreme Court that it has detected 32.97 lakh registered NGOs and voluntary organizations but less than 10% of them, 3.07 lakh, filed their audited accounts.
India has tens of thousands of NGOs, including local arms of global charities and homegrown groups, working on a wide range of issues, including poverty, gender rights, urban safety, human rights, microfinance, environmental protection, healthcare, agriculture and clean energy. They form the bulwark of India’s vibrant civil society, which is crucial to developing an effective interface of the government and the community.
But sadly not all NGOs are necessarily formed for altruistic reasons, and in a number of cases NGOs are promoted because they make good economic logic to the founders.
There is a growing tribe of NGOs which exists, metaphorically or literally, purely in files ,websites and documents and all their work is based on fictitious reports intelligently drawn up in their offices. They make huge money and are now euphemistically called brief case NGOs. They have expertise in drafting proposals and accessing western donors and most of the funding they receive goes into the pockets of the promoters. Many not-for-profits are known for money laundering, misusing funds and even funding anti-national activities.
This is no surprise .After all the NGO promoters come from the same society that all of us come from and there is no reason to believe that only the most honest will be involved. “NGO” is now a catchall term that covers agendas form mundane to sophisticated causes like “abolition of child labor", “promotion of good hygiene and sanitary practices,” “women’s rights, “ to international missions like “climate change “and “conflict resolution.” Many briefcase NGOs begin with noble intentions. But international funding agencies often set their own agendas and priorities, causing cash-strapped NGOs to chase funding and align their mission with donor objectives.
As a consequence of chasing funding, organizations shift their focus from their core mission, resulting in what is popularly called in NGO discourse as “mission drift”. It is this phenomenon that has given rise to briefcase NGOs.
While the large sized NGOs have become increasingly professionalized over the last two decades, the smaller ones are now deeply mired in dubious practices. Altruism and voluntarism no longer remain key defining characteristics of the sector. Sadly many of these NGO have been found to have anti-national motives and dubious sources of funds. NGOs have become a big cottage industry acting as conduits for flow of funds with little transparency and accountability.
it is not surprising that NGOs have rarely have a fixed objective or mission or expertise. They change their objectives to suit the need of donors. This is the reason why very few NGOs lack a track record of expertise because are driven by short term objectives that are framed primarily to fit into the funding criteria of the donors . Once a project is completed and a new has to be approached a total overhaul of the mission takes place . Thus the NGO is never able to internalize a permanent vision or philosophy.
The degeneration of NGOs is a recent phenomena and it should not deflect us from the worthwhile contribution it has made particularly in humanitarian work. Civil society as a whole, and NGOs as a major part of it, has successfully campaigned to make human rights discourse and environmental issues a part of mainstream political agendas. They have also been instrumental on drawing focus on issues such as gender-based and religiously-driven segregation and discrimination, besides creating public awareness on issues pertaining to health, education and sanitation. But most importantly, they have been leading public opinion on the need to hold public representatives and government officials accountable, and on demanding transparency in governance.
NGOs working in the humanitarian and development sectors won official approval in the 1980s and 1990s, but there are signs now that they are losing favor. The NGO sector stands accused by some of complacency and self-interest, on the one hand, and of being ineffectual and irrelevant on the other. NGOs are increasingly challenged to demonstrate their legitimacy as representative voices of civil society. NGOs themselves are taking a hard look at their mandates, their core values, and their role particularly when many of them have got embroiled in ideological controversies.
NGOs engaged in service delivery are taking up the role of the state and thus enabling the state to abdicate its responsibility towards its citizens. Several NGOs are playing a big role in delivering services such as health and education belie the distinction between voicing the concerns of citizens – which is the function of civil society – and taking care of citizens, which is the responsibility of the government. An active civil society and a responsible government are both features of a democratic and forward-looking society. When NGOs are seen to possess more resources to deliver services, while at the same time still claiming to be a part of civil society, they are mixing the two factors and produce outcomes which are not always helpful.
With some large NGOs having become heavily corporatized entities, where staffs earn above market-based salaries and where foreign money flows affluently, it is natural to expect some kind of transparency and accountability. This includes accountability for salaries being paid to the right people and for the right purposes as well as ensuring that foreign funds are spent on the projects they are meant for.
The burgeoning and unregulated NGO sector is certainly not a welcome sign. It signals continuing manifestation of corruption and misuse of scarce and precious grants and donor funds meant for charitable purpose. At a time when the world is desperately starved of funds for relief work in areas where local populations face abysmal conditions of health, sanitation ,sanitation ,water and in very many cases precarious living conditions verging on hunger we cannot afford such misappropriation of funds.
While transparency and stringent audits are key to ensuring proper utilization of funds, it is equally important that the objectives of funding are properly aligned with the need of end user groups. Funders need to work more with local communities to understand how capabilities, needs, and aspirations can be addressed in the funding mandate. While community partners sometimes have different priorities, this doesn't inherently have to be in conflict with the idea of doing well. Clarity on positive, mutually-beneficial relationships between local organizations and funders is key to putting scarce and precious funds to produce more lasting and productive impact.
---
*Contact: moinqazi123@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Amit Shah accused of inciting communal passion: Demand to postpone Gujarat polls

Counterview Desk  In an email representation to the Election Commission of India (ECI), Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has objected to the statement reported to have been made by Union home minister Amit Shah, who allegedly justified the 2002 Gujarat riots stating that certain sections of people “taught a lesson” to the rioters. Noting that the statement, if correct, “in effect implies those other than the law enforcement authorities had taken law into their hands”, Sarma says, “Shah's statement needs to be viewed by the ECI in conjunction with the reported fact that it was the Union Home Ministry that cleared the release of the eleven rape convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, directly related to the infamous Godhra incidents in 2002, which triggered the shameful sequence of events that shook the nation's conscience.” According to Sarma, if the statement is true, “I am constrained to draw the inevitable inference that it would have already impacted th

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Diminishing returns: Hydro projects contribute less than 10% of India's power generation

Counterview Desk  Pointing out that India’s hydro generation remains around 10% for the last six years, the advocacy group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has said that power generation from hydropower projects continues to show diminishing returns, as has been the story close to three decades now. Yet, says SANDRP in a note, the Government of India continues to push large hydro by announcing a slew of additional subsidies for hydropower projects, more for political economy reason. In fact, attempts are being made to flog unviable hydropower projects with various kind of manipulations, illegalities and violations, it adds. Text : In last six years, from 2016-17 to 2021-22, India’s large hydropower projects (projects above 25 MW installed capacity) have contributed just around 10% of the total power generation, going as low as 9.68% in 2017-18. In fact, in three of these six years, large hydro contributed less than 10% and recovering only marginally in the rest,

Odisha survey reveals 56% children have not attended any classes post-pandemic

By Our Representative   The Learning Recovery Programme (LRP) has been taken up by the state government's Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA) to provide a learning opportunity to students to make up for losses in studies due to the closure of schools on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, lack of awareness among children and their parents and absence of robust monitoring have blocked its effective implementation, reveals a pilot fact-finding study conducted by the NGO Atmashakti Trust. The pilot study was conducted with school-going children in two blocks of the Nuapada district, where over 500 grassroots workers divided into 33 groups visited 68 schools in one day and interviewed 115 children to understand the implementation of LRP. The study was a part of its 26-day nationwide campaign, "Education Cannot Wait. Act Now!" which kickstarted on November 15, comprising Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where