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Do NGOs play a useful role in India? Why? Would you work in an NGO in India? Why?

As part of the "Pay it Forward" Scholarship, we asked students planning to study for a master's degree at any university outside India to write an essay on the following topic "Do NGOs Play a useful role in India? Why? Would you work in an NGO in India? Why?)". This is what Kaustubh Hakim had to say...

In a highly populated country like India, the State is overburdened with the responsibility of ensuring the reach of development initiatives to all its citizens. The scope of development majorly includes economic progress, promotion of social justice, gender equality, empowerment and improved quality of life. For achieving this directive, the State requires constructive and collaborative engagement of the civil society in its various developmental activities. Therefore, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are set up to act as the operational arm of civil society.

Moreover, Governmental Organizations are not structurally designed well to fulfil all needs of society.Constraints like bureaucratic hurdles, fixed budgets, red tapism, vested political interests, etc. stand in the way of equal development that is a fundamental right ensued to all citizens of the country. Historyof the 20th century exposes inability of the State to create just, fair, equal and sustainable societies as envisioned by the Constitution of India. Prompted by inadequacies of the State and the market, citizens have set up NGOs to help address wide variety of social needs of the society. Thus, gaps in the market, the state and the civil society are best filled by NGOs.
In India, NGOs have become prominent in the post-independence era, especially after 1970s.Development practitioners, Government officials and foreign donors have stressed that Non-Governmental Organizations by virtue of being non-rigid, locality specific, need-based, innovative and through committed nature of service, have successfully reached the poor and helped in poverty alleviation. This consideration has resulted in rapid growth of NGOs involved in initiating and implementing developmental programs.
The Eight Millennium Development Goals, that the United Nations member states wish to achieve by 2015, provide guidelines NGOs in India can refer to. India, unlike other democratic setups is a multi-cultural and geographically diverse country. It also faces strong issues like low literacy rate and high rural population, which adds to the tasks of NGOs in India compared to their global counterparts. NGOs in this arena have performed their duties well, which has been fruitful for the country. Although the scope of the
roles of NGOs is vast, I have tried to summarize most relevant roles below:
A. Self-organization of society
1. Promote social awareness
2. Upliftment of the poor
3. Educate rural people and ensure primary education
4. Improve maternal health and nutrition and combat diseases
5. Promote leadership and representation of rural people
6. Ensure people’s participation in the activities of NGOs
7. Promote appropriate and affordable technologies
B. Maintain an essential space between for-profit sector and government
1. Supplement government efforts
2. Serve as watchdog of both government and business
3. Disseminate information
C. Enable experimentation and social change
1. Build models and experiment
2. Act as innovators
3. Mobilize resources
4. Provide training
Soon after independence, the Planning Commission realized that the task of development was so large and complex that the State alone would not be able to accomplish it. Accordingly, Rs. 4 crore were allocated in the First Five Year Plan and voluntary organisations were asked to become involved in the task of development. In the Eighth Five Year Plan, where creation of a nation-wide network of NGOs was sought, the allocation rose upto Rs. 750 crore which multiplied in subsequent plans. The Ninth FYP proposed that NGOs should play a role in development on the public-private partnership (PPP) model.State Governments have partnered with NGOs such as Akshaya Patra and Naandi in order to increase the number of children they reach out to. This PPP model has proved instrumental in improving the quality and reach the goal of development of the program. The involvement of a number of private bodies in implementation of the Mid-Day Meal scheme has resulted in visibly better performance. Nearly 120 million (12 crore) children are so far covered under the scheme, making this school lunch program largest in the world. The Government’s multi-faceted approach has therefore shown tremendous results.Most NGOs focus on one of the many developmental goals such as poverty alleviation, community health, education, housing, human rights, child rights, women’s rights, natural resource management, water and sanitation. Many of them have worked hard to include children with disability in schools, end caste-based stigma and discrimination, prevent child labour and promote gender equality resulting in equal wages for women as received by men for the same work.
During natural calamities they have played an active role in relief and rehabilitation efforts. Goonj's Vastra Samman and Rahat Floods campaigns have performed noteworthy work in that respect. NGOs have been vocal in bringing focus on capacity building of farmers, producers’ cooperatives and women’s self-help groups. Gram Vikas started by Joe Madiath in Orissa has set an ideal example for other State Governments in India to follow similar models. Baba Amte's Anandwan successfully contributed to the leprosy eradication program.
On another front, NGOs have also significantly influenced the development of laws and policies on several important social and developmental issues such as juvenile justice, right to information, anti-trafficking, forests and environment, women, elderly people, people with disability, rehabilitation of development induced displaced people, etc. Teach India, a Times Group initiative, is a Corporate Social Resposibility (CSR) project to improve employability of youth from underprivileged background by training them in spoken English. The Confederation of Indian Industries has also been raising CSR issues. The emphasis of industrial policies on the promotion and development of small, cottage and village industries has also lead to the formation of agencies such as the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Small Industries Associations, etc.
In summary, the existence of NGOs is proving to be a necessity rather than a luxury. NGOs have played an essential role in post-independence Indian society and will have to play even more instrumental role to achieve a developed nation status for India by 2050.
I have always felt an inherent zeal for upliftment of education sector. In education, there has been sustained government intervention through programs like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (mass literacy movement) that aim to put every child in school. Several NGOs have worked hand in hand with the Government to ensure that millions of out of school children are enrolled and continue their school education. Bodh Shiksha Samiti has advocated a model of appropriate education for the urban deprived, by drawing attention to the size of the problem of the unschooled among the urban poor in Rajasthan.Pratham has established a partnership with the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai on the importance of universal pre-school education as a gateway to universalizing primary education. It also helped in the built up of people’s movement and an NGO Alliance for actualizing the 83rd Constitution Amendment Bill to make Elementary Education a fundamental right. On the contrast, a survey conducted by Pratham says that the percentage of children in the country who can read nothing and those who can read only the alphabet is about 52%, 40% drop out before completing primary school and 11% of the children do not enter school.
Although lot of NGOs have been working in the education sector for decades and though there are instances of remarkable achievements by individual NGOs, observers say these efforts have yet to translate into a significant nationwide impact. There is a growing recognition of the importance of ensuring quality and contextuality in education to curb drop-outs and increase enrolments. NGOs’ research show that school-based initiatives are required to improve the quality of education. The key agents of change that need enhanced professional support, training and motivation are the school stakeholders, mainly teachers, Principals and School Management. A strong and sustained investment in teachers and teacher education/training is a crucial area for action by the Government. An institutional reform in both pre and in-service teacher training is required. Fellowships provided by Teach for India to bright students and young professionals is one such example where the fellows are first trained and then they take up the task of teaching full-time in under resourced or low-income schools. The State Councils for Education Research and Training (SCERTs) and the District Institutes of Training (DIETs) also need to develop institution development plans to increase the professionalization of these institutes.
Thus, education sector provides tremendous scope for individuals as well as organizations to do their bit and contribute to the society. Educational NGOs like Teach for India and Pratham attract me the most. As full-time commitment to the cause requires immense dedication and a deep sense of purpose which for me presently lies in higher studies of Astrophysics, I would like to work in NGOs on a voluntary basis and contribute to the cause in every way I can.
By Kaustubh Hakim.

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