- Eco-Friendly Ganesha: We love the idea of these eco-friendly Ganpatis made of shaadu (natural clay). Not only is the material bio-degradable, but you can also immerse it at home. What's more, these beautiful idols are made by mentally challenged adults. You can order a Ganpati idol in a colour of your choice. Do contact them in advance to place your order. Get in touch with Kalpana from Social Services Enterprise at email@example.com.
- Rakhis, torans, chocolates and more!: Om Creations' chocolates are something of a legend in Mumbai. They've branched out to other products as well, so you can take your pick from Ganesha idols, paintings, colourful torans, rakhis, diyas and lots more. The products are made by students at their workshop for specially abled youth and adults. Each person in the workshop receives a small stipend for their work, so your purchases help them earn an income and some pride as well. See their website for full details.
A bake sale at your office!: If you're in Mumbai and want to earn some brownie points with your office, call Spring Street Bakery! This professionally run bakery trains and employs girls from underprivileged backgrounds, so every cookie you eat helpsmake their world a better place. They can organise a bake sale in your office (all items are pre-cooked) or you can order celebration cakes, gift hampers or have them run delicious team building activities for you. Don't forget to spread the word!
In our earlier piece we mentioned being struck by the fact that Mr. Mohandas Pai’s philosophy of giving was also a ‘philosophy of living’. It wasn’t a statement of how much money he gives to charity each year. It’s not about which NGOs he supports. It’s an expression of the values that govern his work and influence his actions towards others. Curious? Read on!
The principles of philanthropy:
- Duty: One got the sense that Mr. Pai believed that doing good towards others is a duty that he has to perform. Rather than CSR, he felt that individuals taking up responsibility would drive social change. He mentioned that one should consider donating 10-20% of one’s income to charity. There is a caveat – donations should not be made with the intention of seeing one’s name on a plaque somewhere, or cleaning off sins. A duty-bound donor is driven by a desire to pay off one’s debts to society and see everyone around him or her prosper. Mr. Pai expresses gratitude to the receiver who has provided Mr. Pai with an opportunity to give back to society. He never fails to he join his hands in front of the receiver and believes that ensuring that the recipient’s dignity is respected in the act of giving is paramount.
- Accountability: Pai mentioned that he, like millions of Indians went to a low-cost government school. Subsidised fees made it possible for him to get a good education and access to a job market. As he said ‘Somebody paid for me.’ This country has given a lot to many of us. It is therefore up to us in turn to pay for other people. Imagine if all of us operated with such a strong sense of accountability towards others! Many of our social problems would reduce immediately. He also mentioned that for every student who received a subsidised IIT education, a hundred have probably died of hunger. If we are part of this society and enjoy these privileges, we should also give back to our society. Mr. Pai even took this one step further. Our time on Earth is one thing, but what happens when we meet our maker? Should we not be able to answer the question – What did you do with your life? Did you leave the world better than what you found it?
- Giving back to one’s community (ies): Mr. Pai mentioned his personal philosophy of giving – first to the country you belong to, then the state, city and finally your own community. He mentioned various initiatives that he is part of that reflect this focus:
- Country: Founding team member of Akshaya Patra which currently works in 7 states
- State: Supports scholarships for deserving students through the Manipal group of colleges and a scholarships NGO in Karnataka
- City: Mr. Pai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and other prominent citizens have spearheaded the Bengaluru Political Action Committee (BPAC). Political Action Committees are popular outside India. They work as a vehicle through which citizens come together and advocate with governments and elected representatives for their common interests. The BPAC hopes to improve governance of the city of Bengaluru, create infrastructure of global standards and improve the image of the city.
- Community: Mr. Pai, a member of the Konkani community pointed out that his community numbers only 2.5 million in India’s population of 1.2 billion. He supports the provision of scholarships for students from the Konkani community.
This is a wonderful principle to follow indeed, as most of us have an identity of being citizens of India, live and work in a particular state and may belong to a community that is not part of that state. Each of these groups have different priorities, and it would be necessary to direct time, money and efforts towards each in a different way to achieve results. In this manner, we can work for the welfare of all the groups we are part of without neglecting a single one.
- Ownership: Yes, we may belong to different states and communities. Yet Mr. Pai emphasised that every time he sees a child in need on the street, he feels for him as if it were his own child. As he said, many of us are well-off because our parents took good care of us, and we in turn take good care of our children. This should not result in a world view where we are only concerned with the welfare of people who are related to us. As Indian citizens and members of society, it is upon us to look out for all those in need.
- How to choose a cause: There is an old quote that states, ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’. This philosophical sentiment was also echoed by Mr. Pai when he spoke of his choice of causes: ‘Pick a problem that is so big that you cannot achieve it in a lifetime’. Wouldn’t it be easy to say ‘I donated at Diwali time, I have done my part’, or ‘I gave away all my old clothes, there’s nothing more I can do?’ Real generosity lies in taking a long-term view of a problem you cannot solve alone, and making a start anyway. At Akshaya Patra Foundation, they took the view that they would not shut down the programme if even one child was hungry. There were a lot of times when the organisation was short of money, or did not know how it would meet its expenses. They soldiered on anyway.
Having such a value-based philosophy ensures that you bring about the maximum good towards others and the most peace towards yourself. It is an approach well worth emulating!
2014 was a year of natural disasters and calamities for India. Various parts of the country were affected by cyclones, floods, overflowing rivers, landslides and more. How do NGOs working in this area prepare to deal with disaster situations? What does the situation on the ground look like? We spoke with Murali Kunduru, Senior Manager – Disaster Risk Management and Lead of Plan India Emergency Team (Roster) for a professional’s perspective.
How soon do you decide to intervene when a disaster hits an area?
Five years back it would take us 3-4 days to reach a disaster hit area. However, in the past couple of years we have been able to conduct a needs assessment on the ground and step in within 24 hours. When Cyclone Hudhud hit Orissa on the 12th of October, for example, we were able to intervene quickly.
What prompts your decision to start work?
We operate on a humanist principle – our aim is to reach affected and needy families/communities and provide them with what they need. We provide them with whatever support they need at the time – it is not necessarily always food. It could be rescue services, information, evacuation, medicines…whatever they require.
We follow a ‘no regrets approach’. If a disaster is predicted to hit an area within the next 72 hours, we are ‘in’ the field in advance with our teams ready. Whether the disaster strikes or not, we make sure we are prepared to respond immediately.
Technology plays a major role in our decisions. We are able to classify the nature of the disaster – Category 4 strength or Category 3. Cyclone Hudhud was Category 4. It was estimated to be travelling at 210 kmph (kilometers per hour), and was capable of causing devastation in half an hour’s time. Once we know the scale of possible damage, we can act as needed. With Hudhud, evacuation was a priority, not just food. After the cyclone has passed, people can go back to their homes. The important thing is to move them away from the storm.
How was the situation in Kashmir different from Uttarakhand or Orissa?
Kashmir’s level of preparedness was low, the area had not experienced such intensity of rains in over a hundred years. People were not evacuated in time. Our priority was to start evacuating people.
Can you describe the ground work you do before deciding to run an intervention? How do you assess what the most urgent need is?
Each situation varies. When Phailin hit, I was in Poonch myself. I deployed available staff to the area as soon I could.
We preposition stocks that could be distributed to people in the area. This includes non-food stocks like water and sanitation kits, wash kits, bed sheets, toothpaste, utensils, medicines and other supplies. We have supplies of water purifier tablets (one tablet can purify upto 10 litres of water), baby food and dry ration with us.
Timely Needs Assessment is essential to ensure that we have an accurate picture on the ground. Time accuracy is equally important. We conduct a Rapid Needs Assessment within the first 72 hours to determine the most pressing need. In coastal areas for example, people are better prepared for disaster situations like storms. Often they have their own supplies of water tablets which are urgently needed.
We also work with local populations, community groups and NGO partners on the ground to ensure that we deliver all required services to the nearest possible centres.
The needs could be related to shelter, nutrition and eventually livelihood options. Communities often need more support in the long-term when they are rebuilding their lives. We support them for three to six months after a disaster. Most people look to volunteer within the first 10-15 days.
Children’s issues come up in this period. Children tend to be the worst affected by disasters, especially those who have lost their parents or homes. We find that traffickers operate in these areas at the time, so protection of children becomes a priority. Children suffer from traumatic stress; we provide counselling and moral support to enable the children to articulate their fears and doubts. We provide help in fulfilling their needs for education, play areas and more.
Working with volunteers
We have to be careful in screening volunteers, also keeping in mind their own safety. Our volunteers are put through a rigorous training process and are accompanied by senior staff on their first few trips to the field.
What are the most useful donations and the least useful donations at the time of a disaster?
I’d like to start with some don’ts:
- (Heavily) Used clothes are not the best idea: We treat the beneficiaries with dignity and respect, so do ensure that the clothes sent are of a decent standard.
- We discourage people from sending us cooked food like rice, pulaos and dals. The reason for this is the fear of contamination – we have to transport the food and distribute it within the first 24 hours. The same applies for supplies like milk powder. We’re often not sure of the quality of water used to manufacture powdered milk, and don’t like to pass the risk on to the target population.
- Money: This enables us to purchase whatever the community might need at the time. We also communicate what your money was used to purchase and how many families it reached.
Some people complain about problems, while others spend their energy trying to solve them. We present heroes who have taken it upon themselves to bring food to those with limited means:
- The 1 rupee meal man: Mr Venkatraman of Shree AMV homes proves that you don’t have to be a billionaire to be a philanthropist. He was moved to start a 1-rupee meal scheme when a woman refused to spend her entire wealth of Rs10 on the food he served as she found she could not afford it. Since then he offers wholesome and healthy meals at a cost of 1 rupee each to those in need. His beneficiaries are mostly caregivers of patients admitted to a nearby government hospital. Medical and travel expenses alone leave the poor with no money in hand, and he realised that many of them were sleeping on the roadside or going hungry. Thanks to him, people in dire straits can count on one square meal in the day.
- The Robin Hood Army: Their motto is to take food from those with plenty and give it to those who have none. Not by force though! These kind-hearted Robin Hoods take leftover cooked food from restaurant kitchens and deliver it to the hungry and the poor. Started in Mumbai, this youth-led initiative has now been taken up by others in Delhi, Pune, Jaipur and Pakistan too. Now that’s a delivery service with a difference!
- Janta Meals: An F&B company that serves the poor? Yes, it could happen! Janta Meals supplies wholesome and healthy food to the urban and working poor who don’t have the time, money or space to prepare their own food. Their solution lies in providing cheap and hygienic meals at a reasonable price of Rs20 to Rs30. For blue collar workers who spend more than 10 hours a day away from home, Janta Meals is just what the doctor ordered. What’s more, their kitchens supply food to construction sites, government and NGO-run schools, and other offices.
There are plenty of people who will take advantage of the goodness of your heart. The U.S. is abuzz with news about cancer charities that embezzled over $187 million worth of funds which were earmarked for cancer care. Sadly, “the charities spent about 97% of donations they received either on private fundraisers or themselves. Only 3%… went to help actual cancer patients”. Closer to home, disaster-relief provider Goonj.. discovered that an entity not affiliated with them was collecting money and material using Goonj..’s name. In a different case, In Defense of Animals was surprised to find photos of their work being used by others.
On the street, you may have been accosted by individuals who claim to be working with NGOs. They show you patient or student details, medicines required or more. Hearing stories of people’s difficulties always puts us in a spot – how many of us can just walk away after hearing that a helpless 3 year-old needs a life-saving surgery? Yet are you sure that the cause you are opening your wallet for, is genuine? Do follow these steps to avoid falling victim to fraud:
- What’s in a name? Ask for the name of the organisation and look it up for yourself. As in the case of the US charity fraud, fraudsters adopt names that sound similar to legitimate well-recognised NGOs, and there’s nothing to stop them from claiming details of programmes as well. Every NGO will have a formally registered name mentioned on their website or elsewhere online. Ensure that the entity is original. Consider calling the listed number and speaking to someone in the organisation.
- Ask for details: Check if the organisation has a 12A and/or an 80G certificate. A 12A certificate exempts the NGO’s income from tax because of the charitable nature of its activities. An 80G certificate means that you can claim tax benefits for your donation. Watch out for NGOs that can’t offer you the 80G certificate, and can’t explain why. NGOs offer a receipt for your donation, be wary if you are being solicited for a donation without a receipt.
- Where is the money going? This is another important question to ask, especially if you are giving cash donations. Earnest volunteers may assure you that they are going directly to the beneficiary, but it could be very easy to route the money elsewhere. Find out about the organisation’s work – does it match what is stated by the telemarketers/fundraisers.
- Check an NGO’s financial history: HelpYourNGO has standardised the financial reports of over 550 NGOs, presented in an easy-to-read format. Use our website www.HelpYourNGO.com to see how much of an NGOs’ income is spent on beneficiaries. Anything above 70% is a healthy number. Similarly, you can check whether an NGO spends large sums of money on fundraising activities like telemarketing at the cost of beneficiaries.
- Check the NGO’s Financial Score: Our financial score represents an organisation’s financial efficiency and sustainability. What is the strength of the NGO’s balance sheet? What are the sources of income? How has the organisation’s growth been in the past few years? The Financial Score presents this information in a simple rating.
We want to make sure your money goes to organisations who will spend it in the most productive way. As we always say, don’t forget to evaluate before you donate!