WHAT IS NGO?

  • NGOs are legally constituted organizations, operate independently from the government and are generally considered to be “non-state, non-profit oriented groups who pursue purposes of public interest”.
  • According to the World Bank, “a Non-governmental Organization (NGO) is a private organization that pursues activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development”.
  • The primary objective of NGOs is to provide social justice, development and human rights. NGOs are generally funded totally or partly by governments and they maintain their non-governmental status by excluding government representatives from membership in the organization.
  • Governments are expected to perform three roles: provide law, order and stability; deliver public services and relief; and catalyse development of the society and the economy.
  • In a democratic society, it is the state that has the ultimate responsibility for ushering development to its citizens. In India, through the progressive interpretation of the Constitution and its laws and policies, the scope of development has been significantly broadened to include not just economic progress for citizens, but also promotion of social justice, gender equity, inclusion, citizen’s awareness, empowerment and improved quality of life.
  • Juxtaposed with this, civil society organisations perform three roles too. And just as political parties and governments need organisational structures to perform effectively, civil society organisations need appropriate organisational strategies too.
  • To achieve this holistic vision of development, the state requires the constructive and collaborative engagement of the civil society in its various developmental activities and programs. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as the operational arm of the civil society therefore have an important role in the development processes.

THEY BRING IN THE NECESSARY CHANGE THAT MASSES YEARN FOR!

  • Civil society movements form to advocate for causes and bring about change in established systems. They apply pressure on governments to change laws and re-allocate public resources. Gandhiji’s insight was that civil disobedience is effective only when (i) it is mass, and (ii) the participants are seen to suffer personally, not merely cause pain to others.
  • Actions by groups of motivated strikers to disrupt governments, which inconvenience the masses, are not effective in the long run because they diminish public support for the organisation and may even harm the cause.
  • Citizen-led upsurges bring about change, but the gains are lost in sheer organisational dynamics.
  • Objections to Greenpeace’s strategies by Extinction Rebellion (XR), the environmental movement whose supporters occupied Greenpeace’s offices, as well as its own successes, highlight contrasts between the strategies of organisations and citizens’ movements. Loose citizens’ movements are often more effective as advocates for change.
  • In the same vein, movements for the care of the environment are more effective when people are persuaded to change their own behaviours and consumption habits, not just demand actions by governments.
  • Whereas participative movements can be effective instruments for advocacy for change, they are generally unable to produce the coherence required for implementation. This was the fate of the Arab Spring movements.
  • A valuable role that civil society organisations play is advocacy for change in the established order. Advocacy strategies can be confrontational or persuasive. Confrontational strategies can be sharply disruptive like Greenpeace’s or peacefully persuasive like Gandhiji’s.
  • An alternate strategy for persuasion is thought leadership. An organisation must choose its strategy, and it must develop suitable competencies for execution of its strategy.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS?

  • Civil rights advocacy organizations: to promote human rights of specific social groups e.g. women, migrants, disabled, HIV, sex workers, Dalit people, tribal people, and the likes.
  • Civil liberties advocacy organizations: to promote individual civil liberties and human rights of all citizens, rather than focusing on particular social group.
  • Community based organizations, citizen’s groups, farmers’ cooperatives: to increase citizen’s participation on public policy issues so as to improve the quality of life in a particular community.
  • Business and industry chambers of commerce: to promotion policies and practices on business.
  • Labour unions: to promote the rights of employees and workers.
  • International peace and human rights organizations: to promote peace and human rights.
  • Media, communication organization: to produce, disseminate, or provide production facilities in one or more media forms; it includes television, printing and radio.
  • National resources conservation and protection organizations: to promote conservation of natural resources, including land, water, energy, wildlife and plant resources, for public use.
  • Private and public foundations: to promote development through grant- making and partnership.
  • Also the Civil society includes – Political Parties; Religious Organizations; Housing cooperatives, slum dwellers and resident welfare associations.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INDIAN STATE AND NGOS

  • In India the state policies have significantly influenced the formation of NGOs and their activities. The government sponsored and aided programmes provided financial assistance to NGOs either as grants or as matching grants to support the implementation of social development projects. The need for the involvement of voluntary organisations has been acknowledged by a number of official committees dealing with development.
  • Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, 1957: Today in the implementation of the various schemes of community development, more and more emphasis is laid on NGOs and workers and on the principle that ultimately people’s own local organisations should take over the entire work
  • Rural-Urban Relationship Committee, 1966: Local voluntary organisations can be very helpful in mobilizing popular support and assistance of the people in the activities of local body. It is possible to maintain constant and close contact with the people through these organisations
  • Ashok Mehta Committee: Of the several voluntary organisations engaged in rural welfare, a few have helped the PRIs in preparation of area development plans, conduct feasibility studies and cost/benefit analysis, explore ways and means to induce local participation in planning and implementation.
  • In the Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-1985), the government identified new areas in which NGOs as new actors could participate in development
  • The Seventh Five Year Plan (1985- 1990), envisioned a more active role for NGOs as primary actors in the efforts towards self-reliant communities. This was in tune with the participatory and empowerment ideologies, which was gaining currency in the developmental discourse at that time
  • Government support and encouragement for NGOs continued in the Eighth Five- year plan, where a nation-wide network of NGOs was sought to be created
  • The Ninth Five-year plan proposed that NGOs should play a role in development on the public-private partnership model. Also, the agricultural development policies of the government and its implementation mechanisms provided scope and space for NGOs. A case in point is the watershed development program, which has led to the growth of NGOs working for rural development
  • In March 2000, the Government declared Planning Commission as the nodal agency for GO-NGO interface. The message was clear- government has to and will work with the voluntary sector. A ‘Civil Society Window’ was started in 2004, in the hope that it would enable people to engage with the Planning Commission and offer the benefit of their field experiences
  • During the 11th Five Year Plan process a regional consultation was organised to get civil society feedback. Participation of Civil Society (CS) had thus already become a strong and robust element in the preparation of the Plan
  • Consultations with citizens on the Approach Paper to the 12th Plan began on many platforms, including the internet. Members of Planning Commission travelled across the country attending Public Meetings called by CS around various sectoral issues to gather inputs for the 12 Five Year Plan

NATIONAL POLICY ON THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR 2007

  • It recognizes the contribution of the voluntary sector and the need for Government- Voluntary Sector partnership and that project grants are a useful means for both the Government to promote its activities without its direct involvement and a valuable source of support to small and medium Voluntary Organizations.
  • It highlights the need for Government to encourage all Central and State Government agencies to introduce pre-service and in-service training modules on constructive relations with voluntary organizations.
  • It recognizes the difficulties faced by the voluntary sector in accessing government schemes and suggests ways to tackle this. The main objective of the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is to identify systems by which the Government may work together with the Voluntary Organizations on the basis of the principles of mutual trust, respect and shared responsibility.
  • It also recognizes the importance of independence of voluntary organizations, which allows them to explore alternative models of development.
  • The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is just the beginning of the process to evolve a new working relationship between the government and the voluntary sector without affecting its autonomy and identity.
  • There are many areas in which help of the voluntary sector is sought- for social audits, behaviour change, good governance and increasingly even for better service delivery.

BENEFITS ACCRUED FROM NGOS

  • History abounds with examples: such as the Arab Spring citizens’ movements in 2011 which upturned dictatorships; the nation-wide anti-corruption movement in India in 2013 which led to the downfall of the Congress-party led government; and the mass civil disobedience movement with which Mahatma Gandhi wore down the British Empire in India, and whose methods for changing public attitudes and government policies have been adopted by civil rights movements in the US and elsewhere.
  • In fact, Mahatma Gandhi had convened a meeting of India’s Congress Party immediately after India got its independence. He suggested that, with a change in its role, from an oppositional advocate against an established power to responsibility for bringing about structural change within India, the Party must change its strategies and structure.
  • Venerable international NGOs are facing an existential moment of truth now, with the UK Charity Commissioner indicting Oxfam and its investigations into Save the Children, and XR’s challenge to Greenpeace mentioned before.
  • India has a long history of civil society based on the concepts of “daana” means giving and “seva” means service. Voluntary organizations were active in cultural promotion, education, health, and natural disaster relief as early as the medieval period. During the second half of the 19th century, nationalist consciousness spread across India and self-help emerged as the primary focus of socio-political movements. The early examples of such attempts are Friend-in-Need Society (1858), PrathanaSamaj (1864), Satya ShodhanSamaj (1873), Arya Samaj (1875), the National Council for Women in India (1875), the Indian National Conference (1887) etc.
  • The NGOs focus on the search for alternatives to development thinking and practiceit creates an atmosphere ofparticipatory research, community capacity building and creation of demonstrable models.
  • Most NGOs have created their respective thematic, social group and geographical priorities such as poverty alleviation, community health, education, housing, human rights, child rights, women’s rights, natural resource management, water and sanitation; and to these ends they put to practice a wide range of strategies and approaches.
  • Many NGOs 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 women receiving equal wages for the same work compared to men.
  • During natural calamities they have played an active role in relief and rehabilitation efforts, in particular, providing psycho-social care and support to the disaster affected children, women and men.
  • NGOs have been instrumental in the formation and capacity building offarmers and producers’ cooperatives and women’s self- help groups.
  • NGOs have implemented the Jeevan Dhara programme for creation of wells for safe drinking water; promoted community toilets for total sanitation, and supported the public health programs on immunisation and for eliminating tuberculosis and malaria.
  • NGOs have significantly influenced the development of laws and policies on several important social and developmental issues such as the right to information, juvenile justice, ending corporal punishment in schools, anti-trafficking, forests and environment, wildlife conservation, women, elderly people, people with disability, rehabilitation and resettlement of development induced displaced people to name a few.
  • NGOs can and should play the “game changer” to pro-poor development through leadership on participatory research, community empowerment and search for development alternatives.
  • Further, the industrial policies have influenced the formation and relations between the businesses and NGOs.
  • 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 and likes.
  • During natural calamities they have played an active role in relief and rehabilitation efforts, in particular, providing psycho-social care and support to the disaster affected children, women and men. NGOs have been instrumental in the formation and capacity building of farmers and producers’ cooperatives and women’s self- help groups.
  • 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, thus making the right to education a reality.The leprosy eradication programme was spearheaded by NGOs and today only residual leprosy remains in our country.
  • The much celebrated NREGA, ICDS, ICPS, Nirmal Gram and SwasthyaBima of the government have their roots in the work of many NGOs.
  • NGOs have significantly influenced the development of laws and policies on several important social and developmental issues such as the right to information, juvenile justice, ending corporal punishment in schools, anti-trafficking, forests and environment, wildlife conservation, women, elderly people, people with disability, rehabilitation and resettlement of development induced displaced people.
  • Further, NGOs made their modest attempts to ensure the effective implementation of these laws and policies by conducting and disseminating findings from participatory research, budget analysis, public hearings, social audits, workshops, seminars and conferences.
  • It is now well established that NGOs have an important role to play in the development processes and that both the state and market need the collaboration of credible, active, and accountable NGOs. Given their connect with the grassroots realities, NGOs can and should play the “game changer” to pro-poor development through leadership on participatory research, community empowerment and search for development alternatives.
  • With the increasing role of the NGOs in development activities they are now attracting professionals from various other sectors, and capacities are being built in support areas such as financial management, resource mobilization, human resources, leadership development, governance procedures and practices and institutional development.
  • At another level NGOs have been addressing the social service issues and empowerment related advocacy efforts have been increasing. The study conducted by a New Delhi based NGO concluded that every fifth NGO in India works on the issues of community and social service. The favorable disposition of the governments and the political will to involve NGOs is more pronounced in implementation of the welfare schemes addressing causes of women and children.
  • Further, the industrial policies have influenced the formation and relations between the businesses and NGOs. The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), a leading organisation, has been raising the issues of corporate social responsibility. The emphasis of industrial policies on the promotion and development of small, cottage and village industries has also led to the formation of agencies such as the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Small Industries Associations and likes.
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