“The Dark side of Volunteerism”- 2 September 2018.
‘The Malala Fund suspended its grants to Sakhi and Nari Gunjan, two organisations named in the TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) social audit report of short stay homes across Bihar,’ says PTI reported in The Hitavada, on 23 August 2018. The reason mentioned by TISS was the prevalence of sexual abuse and physical violence of inmates in almost all shelter homes across Bihar. The report was submitted in April 2018 with terrible details. Although this is most unfortunate, it was not surprising as we have been hearing of corruption in NGOs that are dedicated to social work in various sectors since several years. NGOs run their business on public money which is generously donated by the do-gooders of society with charity and love in their hearts for the disadvantaged communities. We have reason to believe that some people actually think of starting an NGO as a life-time business proposition. ‘Open an NGO, collect funds from the government and public and live in peace’ was a statement heard from some quarters. This sector proliferated like mushrooms (20 odd lakhs are registered) after independence and needed some reckoning soon enough.
It took Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go all out to attack and cleanse the NGO sector in the last two years and put many of them in distress- for two reasons, one for the right reason and one for the wrong. The right reason was that roughly 20 crore Indians live in poverty and NGOs try to help in the programme for alleviation of suffering through donations and charity by public and corporate sector. Those who were distressed for the wrong reasons were the ones whose accounts had not been audited for years and hence the needle of suspicion rightly pointed at them. They were asked to put their house in order or lose their license and many did lose it.
Many believe that these 20 lakh odd NGO’s that operate in India actually do not do what they claim to do. Some have almost become like ‘contractors’ who garner and then pour corporate CSR funds into different projects and take their fees /profit for doing the work. We know NGOs have administrative costs and need to make some profit –how much is the question. We assume that many corporate offices do not have the time to inspect the authenticity of the work done by the appointed NGOs and only rely on the goodwill created by the organisation. But this may not be true always.
I have always believed in volunteering and have also dedicated a good decade of my youthful days to being a full-time volunteer (with subsistence money) with a wonderful NGO in a poor village in M.P. It was a great experience working with wonderfully enlightened scientists who taught me an ideological commitment and dedication towards a social cause. I continued my association with social volunteerism at some level or the other with some platform /NGO after starting my professional services. I have great regards for the genuine ones and pity/dislike for the fraudulent ones. Every citizen in civil society is duty bound to contribute to the betterment of the disadvantaged groups and society as a whole. The NGOs as a movement when they began did and continue to do a lot of good work in the field of education, health, nutrition and during natural disasters. Rotary International, for example, has done tremendous work in the eradication of polio from the global scene and enjoys a wonderful reputation- thus far.
Dr Nikita Sud, an Associate Professor at Oxford University, says, ‘there is a big question about accountability. If you are a company or business you are accountable to your shareholders, if you are a government you are accountable to your electorate, but you are an NGO there is a big question mark about who you are accountable to.’ She elaborates that a big NGO like Oxfam has built an accountability mechanism where the people who spend even 2 pounds a month get regular updates about how the money was spent. She adds that ‘for most of the 20 lakhs NGOs in India that self-imposed mechanism for accountability does not exist’. Bharat Vadukul of Sewa UK tells of his experience with unscrupulous Indian NGOs. “There are NGOs that make big claims about work they purport to do, and the lives they save, but when you look at it closely, sometimes it is very hard to verify. Often what they are saying and what they are doing are two very different things”.
What sort of a mind and character would like to divert resources from the poor to its own pocket? When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in society, over the course of time they create a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it. Not for profit becomes for profit and defeats the purpose of volunteerism and the spirit of non-profit. One might think a person would engage in social work because he/she wants to help the suffering and not to make business and commerce out of it. There are multiple avenues for money-making and why should someone make charity his business –seems strange. The answer lies in the corruption of the mind –a person with lowered morals and ethics who might not bother about stealing out of the plate of a beggar. Money does not corrupt a person, a person corrupts money. The character of a person reveals itself when it is in power with money at its disposal. That is when the greed element creeps in and temptation sets in. It requires a high moral character to walk the right path and do the right thing. If the worst disease of the mind is ‘corruption’, the best cure for it is ‘transparency and accountability’, which needs to be built into the system to check corrupt people and their practices.