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Ugly truths of NGO funding: Helping hand vs Foreign hand

Leaning across the spotless coffee table in his office that overlooks a leafy street, The Donor lays his cards bare: “We support risks. For us, and our money, failure is not a deterrent. But Indians, corporates or individuals, haven’t quite fathomed the art of giving.” He should know. A grant-maker from one of the top foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that pump in money in India and abroad, The Donor avers that unless and until the corporate sector and the high networth individuals (HNIs) move out of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) comfort zones, civil society activity in India will have to depend on foreign funds.

Well, tell that to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, these days really wary of the “foreign hand that feeds dissent” against some of the key projects.

Fact & Fission

The spectre of “foreign hand”, an omnipresent, engaging shadow in Indian politics since the 1960s, was raised afresh last week when the generally soft-spoken Dr Singh put the heebie-jeebies into India’s bustling civil society sector through some casual remarks.

In one of his rare interviews, he told the US-based Science magazine that rich NGOs from the US and Scandinavian nations were behind the protests that are stalling the setting up of two more reactors at the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu.

“They are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces,” he said. “But we are a democracy, we are not like China,” the PM added for good measure. The official machinery took the cue, and Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) licences of four NGOs active in the Kudankulam area were promptly revoked. This raised fresh fears of a crackdown on NGOs that refuse to toe the government line.

As for the US, White House was quite unequivocal. “We are supportive as a government of India’s investment in civil nuclear power… Our NGO support goes for development and it goes for democracy programmes,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Thursday. The debate in India, as it stands, is on just how kosher the dollars are.

Land’s End

It’s ironical that Kudankulam, a sleepy fishing-village with a population of around 11,000, should find itself in the middle of a raging global debate on the future and safety of nuclear energy. For starters, it is also one of India’s petri dishes for wind energy projects, with a handful of wind turbines dotting even the nuclear plant compound.

To be fair, the village has been on the boil since 1988 when Samathuva Samudaya Iyakkam (Social Equality Movement) got people from three districts, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Tuticorin, to come together for a massive rally against the nuclear plant. But that was against the diversion of water from the local Pechiparai Dam, the only source of water in this arid landscape, to the nuclear plant.

Today, it’s the safety concerns that have the locals up in arms, safety of human lives, as well as their livelihood, the marine life, with the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan upping the fear quotient further.

We the People?

Well, the government of India wouldn’t buy that. It believes unsuspecting locals are being led on the Singur-Nandigram path by foreign hands with ideological, often ulterior, motives. It wants Indian civil society to behave, and not be carried away by the prejudices of those far-removed, and far more secure.

Yet, this forms an important component since most of that aid are not tied grants, unlike what corporates or HNIs give. That helps NGOs to prioritise work that suits local necessities, than cast a wider net on larger social goals with little local impact.




27 thoughts on “Ugly truths of NGO funding: Helping hand vs Foreign hand

  1. I enjoyed reading your article. Very interesting! American politicians don’t usually admit that they think somebody is planting ideas in our heads, but they do talk down to us, like we couldn’t possible understand the finer details of the complicated decisions they make on our behalf. That may be true, but we are learning, and discovering that politicians aren’t as good at their job as they want us to believe. I hope the people of India have the means to discover the facts, so they can draw their own conclusions, and have a voice in government.

    Posted by Brenda McCracken | March 5, 2012, 11:51 am
  2. Our report looking into the demand from investors for ESG disclosures shows a trend toward greater interest.The obvious way for shareholders to exercise influence is through their willingness (or otherwise) to provide capital. But companies have barely turned to the equity market for new finance in recent years.

    Posted by Stathis Gould | March 6, 2012, 7:16 am
  3. This should not happen. This is shame on development people. In this way who can u expect than make change in society

    Posted by Susil Kumar Rout | March 6, 2012, 3:15 pm
  4. The practical aspect is that this and many more things are happeing, which should not happen. Because of the greediness of the handful people, the whole lot of people suffer and everyone gets the bad name.

    Posted by Anima Sharma | March 6, 2012, 10:32 pm
  5. This is a big issue in Canada at the moment; our federal Natural Resources Minister recently criticized foreign funding of environmental groups who are opposing the development of a pipeline project from Alberta to Canada’s west coast (the Gateway project).

    A web search for “Canada foreign funding environmental radical” will net you more articles about the ensuing debate. At least one Member of Parliament has called for a ban on foreign funding of environmental groups in Canada.

    Posted by Celesa Horvath | March 7, 2012, 2:56 am
  6. In my view, this is bound to happen – funding is going down whatever excuse is given, it is happening… therefore, the solution according to me is not to rely on the CSR and corporates in India to support the Civil Society movement as they have their own agenda’s to fulfill – Vendanta’s creating happiness campaign while they slaughter people to mine.. therefore, the solution is for the Civil Society to evolve means and process to make the movements more self-reliant… it is only then it can get stronger…

    Posted by Pradeep Esteves | March 7, 2012, 7:42 am
  7. Now a days everything and everywhere is business and mentality of people changed into money making intensity….very sad this sort of attitude will bring very bad healthy environment.

    Posted by Rajamohan | March 13, 2012, 3:34 am
  8. It seems that we still have a lot to do in the area of governance reform and I feel that little is likely to change until people feel empowered to hold their elected officials accountable.
    For me, the ugly truth of this story’s headline lies not in some paranoid delusion about evil foreign agendas and innocent local NGOs being lead astray, but somewhere between:
    * The desire of the government to pursue its own interests and tell its electors only half the story;
    * The right of the population likely to be affected by a development project, to fully understand the benefits and the risks it brings?

    Posted by Chris Wardle | March 13, 2012, 11:09 pm
  9. Sustainable Assistance – which most lead NGOs try to establish – but Beneficiaries also have to accept the principle of Sustainable Assistance for it to truly work

    Posted by Mike Barcroft | March 18, 2012, 11:02 am
  10. Do you know that most of the foreign NGOs want to to work in KPK, old NWFP, if you just try to calculate the amount which has been spent in that province for the last ten years, by now this province should have become Paris, but still most of the public of the province is still living lower the poverty line. Have ever some body has realize this?

    Posted by Maj (R) Kh Faheem Arshad | March 18, 2012, 11:03 am
  11. Situation in KPK is another indicator as to how poor is the impact on lives of so called beneficiaries. It’s not the huge amounts of money which matters, its all around concept of working and approach towards development.

    Posted by G. Abbas | March 18, 2012, 11:03 am
  12. You are perfect right G. Abba.

    The key objectives/roles of communities development are to help local communities to help themselves, therefore to help local communities to drive, to dispose, to promote sustainable basic socio-cultural infrastructures for their social, cultural, economics, environmental well-being that promotes local sustainable development innovation, that promotes youth career development innovation, that promotes local sustainable capacity building and innovation with good adequate basic socio-cultural infrastructures (agriculture, education, logement, culture, water, ICT, public , energy, administration, transports, economics and medicine etc.) and that respond better to the need for basic well-being support and emergency support of the local communities with local good structures, and with good political management of local resources and development aid…

    Without those socio-cultural infrastructures foundations, the local/global communities sustainable development system will not work and it will stay the same..

    Posted by Amouzou Bedi | March 18, 2012, 11:04 am
  13. Perfection – per se – may be an impossible dream, but should always be something we strive for. One of the missing factors, where inefficiencies or bad things happen, may be lack of honest open communication between ALL parties involved.

    No person has the monopoly on intellect and we should ALWAYS be willing to learn – both from others and from our own mistakes.

    There may be long rocky roads ahead with many obstacles to surmount but if we ALL keep moving forward together, WE will get there in the end.

    Posted by Mike Barcroft | March 21, 2012, 6:50 am
  14. I am still asking myself how can we promote local sustainable developement, local sustainable capacity building and innovation without good adequate basic socio-cultural infrastructures (agriculture, education, logement, culture, water, ICT, public , energy, administration, transports, economics and medicine etc.) without good structures, and with good political management of local/global groupe resources and development aid….and if we do not involve live at all stage of development programme local beneficiaries erc…

    Posted by Amouzou Bedi | March 21, 2012, 6:51 am
  15. In the light of my eleven years working experince we cant bring positive change in the life of the common man as well as in the communities. For positive social change we can only organize people politicaly and this is the last solution

    Posted by Murad Khan | March 21, 2012, 6:52 am
  16. Dears sorry to say i have very closely seen these NGOs, no 1, there is no audit system by the government there is no cheek by the government. the audit is done but by the local auditors who take the huge amount of money just to correct their fig rs. there are bundle of examples but as its said beggars are not the choosers. Most of our people are working on the same line. Taliban are at one point right, they bring RS 100, out of which50 will be consumed by the downer on advise and so called monitoring. left 50 so you can well imagine ? what we need to do is legislation. for which our NA do not have time, So either take the things in own hand or wait for some one to come.GOD bless PAKISTAN

    Posted by Maj (R) Kh Faheem Arshad | March 21, 2012, 6:52 am
  17. While there are weaknesses and shortcommings in the way NGOs and the local communities do their business but governments hijacked by narrow vestede interests and oligarchies, that is usually a case in most third world countries, are a bigger disappointment. Comming to the issue of sustainable resource base for NGOs and the local communities. Donors obviously have their own priorities which usually are driven by their foreign policy goals. What the local NGOs need to do perhaps to make alliances and find out areas of common interests with their own priorities. I am not advocating confrontation but it should be clear where are the common grounds and how we can work together but retain independence of thought and action.

    As for instances of corruption and fictitious accounts pointed out we need to develop ethical standards as well as performance standards (say for financial management) and systems.

    Posted by Muhammad Ajmal | March 21, 2012, 6:53 am
  18. Principles of Sustainable Assistance seems to suggest entrenchment of dependence on aid. I want to believe that NGOs work to empower or create capacity for self-propelled solution to whatever the NGOs are assisting to get over. Not looking for a sustainable assistance as the way forward.

    Posted by Shettima Ali | March 21, 2012, 6:54 am
  19. It seems “sustainable development” is being mixed up with sustainable assistance by some participants

    Posted by G. Abbas | March 21, 2012, 6:54 am
  20. While the article is about the work of NGOs in India and their influence–good or bad–there is a growing trend of many smaller NGOs that want to control the dissemination their aid assets and there in no place better to exemplify this than Haiti, where NGOs are administering aid directly to the population because the Haitian government hasn’t sufficiently recovered from the earthquake and those that are in government have their out-stretched palms extended with one hand and dangling aid authorization permits in the other. Could this be one of the reasons the Haitian recovery and rebuilding efforts are going so slowly three plus years after the earthquake and why NGO audits have uncovered millions in unaccounted for monies that were disbursed?

    Posted by John Salonich | March 21, 2012, 6:55 am
  21. As a matter of fact, the state itself is and should be the major development actor in any part of the world. The role of NGOs and CSOs is a complimentary one, and some times may act only on advocacy and lobbying with government to help protect some basic human rights.
    The comments from Pakistan and India from various members are really good and provide an insight in to some angles of the issue. We have to differentiate between Humanitarian assistance and long term development in operations, but in global perspective both should be led by local principles according to local priorities. With regard to energy sector, some times the local priorities are too narrow and compromise the environment conservation efforts. Environment deterioration is majorly caused by the developed nations but they want the poor countries to compensate for the damage they have caused.
    In context of Pakistan the way out is (1) Political will (from the government and politicians) for a real change, including elimination of inequalities in access to resources, use of state assetts and systems for political gains of their parties. (2) Pro-active and vigillant civil society. ( I mean civil society not only NGOs, Teachers, students, lawyers, journalists, professionals, environmentalists and a lot) This should also bring the accountability and transparency among NGOs and government funds utilization (3) Elimination of the so called experts and educated people from decision making ( Many times the decisions for poor are made by elite class, because they think the poor are not competent enough to decide for themselves, this attitude specially is dangerous in public officials/officers,etc) (4) a combination of Progressa Program of Mexico, Grameen Bank of bangla desh and ignition of self help basis desire in the poor through Social Mobilization ( I am saying Mobilization, not organization only) (5) More compassion and empathy from rich, upper middle and middle class citizens with poor and poorest, this compassion should not be in the sense of Charity, but should be in form of responsibility, eg. if i am helping some neibghour poor in treatment or education,, this should be my responsibility, i should not expect salutes in return, if one can not support financially they can at least help others learn some skills, the unemployed youth can bring a revolution in education if they volunteer just for one week every third month in the poor areas schools where there is shortage of teachers and so on..
    All these sound like a fantasy,,but we have to go for it

    Posted by Azmat Khan | March 22, 2012, 12:39 pm
  22. The impact”….. a broad word carrying lot of …. every participant is some how painting picture close to reality… In my personal opinion we all want to work for the suffering communities but what I found the lack of interest of local IP’s , and in this regard no one can Drag these mindsets to do the job forcefully,and hence iNGO’ s have intervene very carefully to get the job done by these local human resources..any how Its really important for iNGO’s have to stretch the local Human resources bluntly with own resources ,other wise I fear these assistance approach may not come up with expectations…

    Posted by Laiq Zaman Khan | March 22, 2012, 6:01 pm
  23. All these situation have to face due to non involvement of communities, which would be source of satisfaction for donor and implementer.

    Posted by Ch Zahid Ajmal | March 25, 2012, 4:57 pm
  24. I believe also we can quickly identify the positive/negative impact of the engagement on the well-being (social, economic, environment, culture.. ) and adjust the programme/engagement as soon as possible if we involve local beneficiaries/stakeholders live at all stage of each development programme

    Posted by Amouzou Bedi | March 25, 2012, 4:58 pm
  25. This is true to some extent NGOs are spending huge amount in the name of sustainable development, but there is no visible change, in my view the local NGOs working as IPs dancing on the tune of donors, similarly we are focusing on negative aspects of our society and on the base we apply for funds, that is a negative approach.

    Posted by Shaukat Khan | April 22, 2012, 8:56 pm
  26. Wrong practice in any sphere of life needs to be challenged, which does not mean that every one is wrong and just be condemned. We need very candid communication to bring out the weaknesses and solution there of.

    Posted by G. Abbas | April 22, 2012, 8:56 pm
  27. Most of the NGOs are formed just to earn Money. When they get some so called “Assistance”, most of the fund is swallowed by the NGO itself and remaining residue reaches the actual needy. For earning money, the NGOs make the ordinary people beggars. This attitude needs to be changed.

    Posted by Javaid Qadeer Qadeer | April 22, 2012, 8:57 pm

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