Are NGOs the answer to development?

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Anvi Mehta spent a year working with an NGO, and realised that we still have a long way to go when it comes to development, especially in rural India.

A S of 2016, India had 31 lakh NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) registered and counting; the numbers had startled the Supreme Court and procedures of registration had been made more stringent. As per media reports, a legal framework to monitor the activities of these NGOs was to be framed.
It is not as if the report card of NGOs is bad or they have failed to deliver. According to studies, there has been substantial decrease in mortality rates, death of pregnant women, polio cases, etc., thanks to NGOs working in rural areas, but the slow pace of growth needs to be accelerated.
A country which has NGOs more than the number of schools or hospitals is still low on its social indices, and a majority of its region is backward. This makes me think of the gaps that the development sector has when it comes to NGOs and their working pattern. Speaking to a few active members in the development sector, I have come across three issues that have delayed processes and development as a whole.

Improving social indices to show impact

It is not that India has not developed in any of its social indices or NGOs have not contributed to its growth. The problem observed is our social indices are not clear and updated. NGOs have contributed in making improvements in various fields: health, education and other sectors, but our country being large with a lot of challenges, makes the task difficult. Sharing his views, social entrepreneur Liju George says, “A substantial challenge for India is that there are no clear indicators for social indices and neither is there ownership amongst its practitioners. For example, India was widely appreciated for its performance in Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) – where it achieved a lot in the above mentioned areas. MDGs was a narrower focus and India worked towards it. Now, where Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are concerned, the focus is very broad. During discussion of the topics at United Nations (UN), India clearly expressed its displeasure on number of themes (of the 17 mentioned). India is not concerned beyond SDG 11. And even within 11, there is no clear ownership among governments (for various reasons) and neither are SDGs layman-friendly for adopters to work with it.

Bridging the gap between government and society

There is our government and their policies which need external bodies like the NGOs to implement the schemes on the ground and monitor the performance of the policies. Unfortunately, in most cases, I have observed this does not happen in synchrony, which often leads to a haphazard and delayed working of the government agencies, as well as the NGOs.
“It is a difference of opinion between the administration and the civil society. The societies are struggling to bring innovative solutions for developmental problems and the government is looking for the scale. The need is for both these bodies to come together to create a new India,” opined Naman Bansal, Fellow at Vision India Foundation. This is a problem that is area specific, some states have NGOs performing better than others because of the support provided. Agreeing to Naman, I believe there is a need for everyone to keep differences aside and work together for a better India.

Impetus on community-based NGOs

Change begins from within, and charity begins at home – following these two phrases, I believe that instead of the national and international level NGOs working across larger areas, it is a benefit to increase community and city-based and city NGOs. “For any society to exist we need a government, socialist or capitalist. However, for the welfare of the society, only governments are not enough. There are many gaps that governments are not able to fill, and this is where the role of an NGO begins. NGOs that help the government irrespective of the political party, are the need of the hour and this usually happens in community driven NGOs where citizens volunteer to improve their surroundings. Such NGOs serve the purpose of faster devel- opment in all sectors,” says Pankaj Joshi, core team member of ‘Manav Uthal Manch’, a community driven NGO in Nashik. Even with my experience, I have realised that as the NGO grows, the principles and vision of the founder dilutes over time. It is not necessary that the NGO staff working on a certain project in a remote field location shares the same vision of the founder to be a change-maker. He/She could probably be having different aspirations, and that does not augur well for the community’s development.
The best example of a community driven programme is the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. It has brought residents and societies together on one platform. We also have the famous beach clean-up in Mumbai started by an individual Afroz Shah. The community driven initiative had such an impact that the Versova beach which was infamous for the dirt has seen turtles come to the beach to lay eggs.
This is an incredible achievement according to me and I think community driven NGOs are the way forward to achieve better growth and development of our country. These initiatives ensure development and implementation of policies at micro level. Once the ground work is done successfully, it gets easier for the holistic progress of a scheme.

Working on self-dependency of NGOs

Liju George explains how NGOs are critical for social development as the government cannot be present everywhere. “But I see challenges faced by NGOs as a straight forward case of ‘chicken or egg’. Since the NGOs are dependent on donor’s money, it is torn between donor and beneficiary. And in maintaining a balancing act, neither stakeholder reaps the entire benefit,” he says. It is very difficult to maintain the balance between the end beneficiary and the donor, as the donor expects change as quickly as possible but every beneficiary has a different mind-set. They may or may not accept the change and despite the money from the donor, the projects implemented will not take the shape as expected.
Speaking of the path forward for NGOs, it is important to have a clear objective spelled out. They need to achieve some level of independence to generate cash for operational costs, and NGOs have to be more participatory and bring all the stakeholders together at all stages of planning and implementation of the project. Monetary independence can also serve as a motivation to work better.


Anvi Mehta

After completing her engineering, Anvi Mehta interned for a newspaper and was freelancing. She worked in Uttarakhand as a SBI Fellow for a year. She loves to travel and document different cultures and arts.

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