Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India have mixed lives. Sometimes, they are untouchables, but they are also the voice of the voiceless, the last mile infrastructure for many government programmes. Their existence is often directly proportional to the under-development of any society.
One of the most common criticisms NGOs face is on accountability and transparency, perhaps because as soon as one declares an intention to set up an NGO, he is expected to be no less than devoid of all desires in life and is supposed to do good and only good. The fact, however, remains that all the resources and finance that go into an NGO certainly belong to the cause and not to the organisation or the persons at its helm.
Recently, I was talking to some officials of a UN organization and mentioned that in India, there are about 3.3 million registered NGOs, out of which not more than one-third would be functional. One officer, however, said it may not be even a tenth. Incidentally, while the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MSPI) claims the number of non-profit institutions (NPIs) is 3.2 million as per a 2010 survey, an earlier estimate by PRIYA-Johns Hopkins study from 2002 put the figure at 1.2 million. A physical survey by the MSPI, while incomplete, indicated that not more than 15-30% of the NPIs were traceable.
NPIs and NGOs are expected to be visible, authentic, genuine, transparent, accountable, capable of skill and scale and, most importantly, adapting to a new communication medium, which is digital. The challenge is dual: one, whether you can adopt the digital tools and medium for your own existence and visibility; two, whether you can use them to create more impact. In my view, NPIs and NGOs are comprehensively challenged, and yet they are the best opportunity for all kinds of work that the government and private sector are trying to do help develop the nation.
For over three years, we have been working under our eNGO Programme to enable grassroots NPIs and NGOs to adopt digital tools and the Internet, and ensure that they must have a functional website. We have brought online about 3,000 NPIs across India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, South Africa and Kenya, and 80% of them pay to renew their web presence, after a first year free of charge.
The exercise is to bring visibility to the sector, help them share their knowledge and experience online, and be transparent and accountable. Incidentally, we have not come across even a single NPI which does not want to come online.
Our biggest challenge, however, is the resource required to help NPIs put up digital content and periodically update them. You may look up some of the best digitally enabled NGOs at http://engochallenge.org.
After corporate social responsibility (CSR) became mandatory under the new Companies Act, there is a new challenge to find suitable NPIs and NGOs to explore how their 2% of net income could be spent for public good. However, the real challenge for them is in quickly adopting digital tools like Internet, mobile, website, community radio and social media; judging and choosing their corporate partners in terms of ethics of the company and their willingness to understand communities; and turn credible, transparent and accountable.
Incidentally, from January 2015 onward, NPIs, NGOs, civil society organizations and the entire fraternity of non-profits would be able to get a new domain extension called .NGO (dotNGO). The .ngo domain would only be given to those who are found to be genuine. Perhaps it would be able to provide an opportunity for several government and corporates to work with easily available genuine non-profits across the globe and across sectors. Let me know if you want to know more about it.
Osama Manzar is founder & director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and Chair of Manthan Award. He is also a member of working group for IT for masses at the ministry of communication & IT. Tweet him @osamamanzar