Saturday, May 31, 2008

Super show by Super 30

Super-30 is a not-for-profit organisation running special coaching for 30 handpicked students in Bihar for the IIT joint entrance examination, presumably the toughest entrance examination in India for the intellectually enabled.
All the students picked by Super 30 are talented & meritorious but come from extremely backward families, both economically & socially. None of them can afford even coaching class fees. Super-30 provides free lodging , boarding, coaching during the program to the talented 30.

Super 30 generate funds for the program by teaching other students of intermediate schools and do not receive any funds from the government & private agencies.

Super 30- has been running the show for last five years and this year (2008)they have cracked 100% success with all students getting through the IIT entrance examination.

The superb show by this group goes to show the amount of value, a set of quality & committed faculty can add to a group of meritorious but economically deprived students.

Merit is geographically distributed across the country ( any 5 old year child will tell you that) but access to good faculty & coaching is not. Super 30 has set a precedence in filling this gap. Hats off to Mr. Anand Kumar (see picture) & Mr. Abhayanand , who presumably are the faculty and run Super 30, for such a sustained performance for last 5 years.

NGOs & donors working in education sector can take this lesson from Super 30 & focus on getting quality & committed faculty in order to generate effective outcomes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Indian soccer: High in crowd , low in rank

Yesterday, Salt Lake stadium in kolkata witnessed a rare soccer match between Bayern Munich,the bundesliga champions and Mcdowell Mohunbagan , the local soccer club from India. It was Bayern's last match in the Asian tour that they had undertaken. More importantly, it was the final match for the legendary German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, 38 as he retires from competitive soccer.

Salt Lake stadium was filled to a capacity of 120,000 people of soccer fans who had queued up two hours before the match started.

But the match was completely unequal. Oliver Kahn collected just two balls in his 54 minutes stay. Bayern players hardly exerted themselves in a match they won easily 3-0.
Indian soccer is ranked 158th in FIFA rankings and the difference in skill, speed was clearly painful to watch.

AIFF could have got the Indian national side (now practising in chennai) to play Bayern. Indonesia did the same in the previous match that Bayern played in Bali. Or IFA could have invited another top European club to play Bayern in Kolkata. In either of the situations, fans would have been treated to a high standard football. Watching Kahn doing nothing under the bar is regrettable to say the least. Oliver Kahn finally left the field , substituted in the 54th minute, amidst thunderous applause from 120,000 appreciating fans.

One last word about the organisation. It was a funny sight watching the commissioner of kolkata police rush on to the ground to protect some bayern players from getting mobbed by fence-jumping fans at the end of the match. While there were hundreds of policemen in the crowd eating peanuts and watching the match, there was none that came to the players rescue when the mob started invading the field. The commissioner was the sole uniformed man running on the pitch. The police force appeared as unprofessional as the organisers in effectively stationing their men around the stadium.

Nevertheless, this was a rare match, personally , for me to view.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

BJP wins in Karnataka. Nobody cares in Bengaluru.

The assembly elections in Karnataka has given BJP, a clear verdict of government formation. In a sense , it is a bit of justice delayed for the saffron party after being publicly ditched twice by its coalition partner, JD (S) in last one year on the issue of sharing of power. For JD(S), its never been worse as they are down to some 15% seats with Congress (I) taking around 30%.

Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka is probably one of the least politically-sensitised capital with its citizens displaying complete lack of interest in anything overtly political. Even dismissals of state government do not evoke either a street reaction or a discussion in public transport. The city thrives on continuous development and growth and the citizens are too busy to devote any time to anything else. The activities of smart politicians are devoted to spoils & gains from the development projects including liquor, real estate & mining. The city has largely a migrant population of which Tamils occupy the majority positions in government jobs. The population is largely young , middle class and well-to-do thanks to a thriving electronics, IT, BT, services sectors supported by large number of entrepreneurs & venture capitalists who have made the city their home.

So, whether it is BJP or JD(S) or Congress (I) in power, business will carry on as usual. The positive side is that the buffoonery of politicians displayed for last one year over sharing of power will hopefully come to a stop. The negative side is the possibility of Tamil-Kannada tension being stoked up by notorious elements that adorn BJP.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dada Culture in West Bengal & how it engulfed Sourav Ganguly: A playful attempt at a serious analysis to trace its roots to language.

Having been born, bred & buttered in West Bengal , I had grown up believing Bengali to be a superior language to other Indian languages. Which Indian language, for example, had a noble laureate ? Which language has popularised so many novelists? Which language had given pre-independence India’s first national anthem, bande mataram?(i know,i know the anthem is in sanskrit but the poet was a bengali)etc. etc. Little did I know then that Bengali like Oriya, Maithili and Assameese were dialects that originated from the same source. Purvi Apabhramsa , a language that again came from Ardha Magadhi- a pali-based language at around sixth century. So , in essence, Bengali was no more superior to Oriya, Assameese or other Indian languages.

The interesting part of Bengali language , as often my elders would point out is the way we address strangers, elders, friends and acquaintances. Aapni, tumi & tui are different ways of using the second person pronoun while addressing someone either with reverence (aapni), distanced familiarity (tumi) or closeness/ condescension (tui). But in English , one has only “You” for a second person pronoun. That was a limitation of the English language, I was told.

Aapni-tumi-tui is somewhat similar to Erice Berne’s Transaction Analysis model of Parent-Adult-Child communication. Or for that matter, Freud’s Superego-Ego-Id theories of the subconscious.

The Bengali language thus gave its users (in their childhood) an inbuilt framework for doing a transaction analysis without even knowing the Berne’s framework. If two persons are communicating in Aapni & Tui , the transaction is between a parent & a child. Aapni –tumi is similarly a transaction between a parent & an adult. So on and so forth.

An offshoot of this Parent to Adult/Child transaction is the emergence of the salutation called “Dada”. Literally the word means “elder brother” . But its widespread use in everyday street-level transaction ( Dada, kota baje? Meaning , “Sir, Whats the time?” or Dada, Amherst stree-ta kothai? Meaning , “Sir, where is Amherst street?” etc) have obliterated the age factor between the asking and the asked. But it has retained the pedestal of knowledge , authority & power from which Dada has to answer those questions. Dada still remains the parent in Berne’s framework and generally like any parent he cannot do any wrong or abuse his authority. Whatever Dada says should be final and taken as gospel.

On the street, the person who poses the question to Dada , in a manner, submits himself before the authority of Dada without even transacting with him. The transaction is preordained to conclude as Parent to Child/Adult.

However, outside the street and in a more organised setting like a workplace , seniority of age (irrespective of hierarchical position ) presumes that a “da” ( a shortened form of Dada) is suffixed to the name of the senior individual. Sushil’da , Madan’da etc.

Madan’da , ak cup cha deben to (Madan’da, please make me a cup of tea) would be the bark that would go out from the office-manager to his peon, Madan, who is senior in age. Madan’da would make his tea and use other forms of body language to show reverence to his office-boss. He might bow a little or gently place the cup like a caring elder brother on the manager’s table knowing fully well that the authority for maintaining his job lies with the manager.

If the authority & age both converge then you have an easy situation . If the office manager is senior in age then he can bark, “Madan, tui taratri cha bana (Madan, hurry up with the tea) ”. Note the use of the condescending word “tui” instead of “aapni” (both meaning “you” though).

But as I said earlier, Dadas whether on street or in office can do no wrong and you should watch your mouth if you even dare criticise a “Dada”, publicly. Just not done. Give seniority the due respect!!

It was therefore quite a revelation when I went to work outside Kolkata for the first time in a leading software outfit. Everybody was calling everybody by first name. The sales executive to his boss and even the peon to the director. It was a clear case of adult to adult transactions everywhere. There was no “da” suffixed to any name. No presumptions that any Dada would know everything. Ample space to criticise a wrong decision of someone very senior to your age, publicly. And also ample scope for the junior colleague to display his matured ability. All these led to a greater transparency and productivity, I guessed.

Hence all Bengali Dadas (often also called “babus”) who also enjoy the authority of either power (Subhash’da, Buddha’da or Buddha’babu) or fame (Sourav “Dada” Ganguly, Barun’da alias Barun Sengupta) assume an automatic assignation of knowledge & ability without necessarily a commensurate effort or contribution from them. If people (specially bongs) around you start calling you “Dada” day in and day out then after a few months you start believing them and actually think that you cannot do any wrong. Your transaction with this set of people is always from the perspective of a parent (or adult-to-child) with you playing a dominant role. Arrogance, rigidity in thinking & loss of objectivity in analysis in such a situation are often natural by products.

An example in hand is that of Sourav Ganguly. Dada to all his sycophant fans in Bengal & outside , Sourav would have probably still wanted to be referred as “Prince of Kolkata”. But “Dada” stuck along propelled by the all-pervading national media.

Sourav “Dada” Ganguly, was a talented cricketer in his prime, who used style and substance to establish his place in the Indian team with a century against England at Lord (1996) . Sourav was suddenly elevated to the post of Captain in 2000 when the-then captain, Azhar, was removed after the match-fixing scandal. Till then he was known as Sourav. But after a one year stint as captain of the new-look team India, he began to be called “Dada”. And he never looked back till “Et tu Dravid” filled his place. Sourav’s career as a cricketer was shaped by two powerful individuals, without whom Sourav would not have been able to continue for a decade. The first one is his father Chandi Ganguly, who was a CAB administrator. He ensured using his position that Sourav at least got a look-in by the selectors . Then later in Dada’s playing days , he was superbly backed by Jagmohan Dalmiya, CAB & ICC president from Kolkata. Dalmiya ensured that Sourav was retained as Captain for 5 years in row inspite of his fall in performances. (Jaggu’da lost his game later with Sharad Pawar but Sourav made a comeback thanks to “Somenath’da” and Sharad Pawar again.) The long stint as captain probably harmed Sourav more than anything else.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely! Specially for someone who relies on backing by powerful people to stay in the team .

Sourav was instrumental in losing the match for Kolkata Knight Riders yesterday because of his faulty arrogant leadership and his inability to gauge his own strengths & limitations . Click the link in the last sentence to read more.
Probably , his failure last night as a leader is a sign for more ominous things to come.

Dadas also age.Dadas also fail miserably. But more often than not , they are blind to these failings . Dadas do not seem to know when to stop till reality comes caving in & sycophants start deserting. Years after, when Sourav will be completely away from the game , he will have time to reflect and maybe blame it all on the Dada culture and the curious structure of the Bengali language .

I do not expect Sourav to find fault with himself. Because after all, neither the Bengali language is going to vanish nor the Dada culture is going to disappear.

Sourav “Dada” Ganguly : Time to go ?

Kolkata Knight Riders are out of IPL after losing the match by 6 wickets to Rajasthan Royals yesterday. As a Captain of the losing side & the highest paid cricketer in the team, Sourav Ganguly, must also bear the lion’s share of the responsibility. What went wrong not just yesterday but in all the matches that Kolkata Knight Riders lost? Analysts would point out some of the following;

• Batting failure in the top order.
• Faulty batting order
• Absence of Ponting & Mcculum from the side etc etc.

But finally it was the annoying “me-first” leadership of the Captain that should take the cake. A Captain, who refused to step down from his high horse and promote hard-hitting batsmen like Butt, Das, Shukla or Saha in the first 3 slots. Instead Dada himself opened the innings for the first few matches and then for the rest came at number 3 and apart from a 91 against lowly-placed Deccan Chargers , he had nothing worthwhile to show. The same captain , who did not play Salman Butt for seven matches or used Umar Gul inappropriately in earlier matches. And yesterday, when Sourav took the wicket of Shane Watson , his lonely celebration displayed this same “me-first” body language in abundance. Sure enough, he bowled the next over instead of getting Gul or Agarkar and got hammered all over the Eden gardens by man of the match, Yusuf Pathan. The match was sealed in that over.

Sourav’s cricketing brain refuses to click as far as T20 is concerned. Sourav thinks that “Class (read seniority ) is permanent and class alone will win matches” forgetting that younger players of potentially better “class” are showing up everywhere in the horizon . Most importantly, his decisions appear imposed on his reluctant team. His on-field vexations with “junior” team members display his frustration and inability to raise his self-esteem thereby de-motivating them further. Sourav’s reported clashes with the coach and the owner on the composition of the team display his lack of humility & inability to communicate with clarity.

Having twice made a comeback in his cricketing career, Sourav displayed a greediness to play T20 too and his painstaking effort to prove that he is still fit for T20 is actually,just only that. It is painstaking for the viewers too. Based on his performances in IPL, if he is contemplating to get a call for the ODI team led by Dhoni, he is sadly mistaken. It is sensible to select the younger performers who are knocking at the doors.

Sourav might get to play one series with backing from politicians and some sponsors but he is unlikely to retain his spot. The third comeback is not going to happen.

This probably is the last chance for Sourav to announce his retirement from Indian Cricket , depart gracefully & with applause from all quarters . He can choose to do so either at the end of IPL or at the end of next test series. This will also give him ample time to choose his next vocation .

Friday, May 16, 2008

West Bengal: A state of violent parasitic existence

Two reports in today’s edition of leading national dailies point out the precarious position that West Bengal is in today.

The first one reports the murder of a personal manager in a jute mill by union members bonded to extreme leftist ideology . The report goes on to talk about an attempt by rival CITU union (backed by the ruling party in power) to disrupt a rally by the Naxalite union . The resulting feud brought about the murder of the manager. Goes once again to prove that those investors & industrialists who think that keeping the ruling party in good humour would ensure peace in their premises are sadly mistaken. Mistakes in the form of a death of a management personnel would not only dissuade professional managers from taking up employment in state, it might also dissuade potential investors. Apurba Roychodhury, the manager who was murdered by the union members , will neither be hailed a martry by the policial parties nor be hailed by the management bodies as a courageous employee. Unfortunately, his death will leave a void in his family that they can least afford. Its sad and outrageous. The culture of use of violence to solve problems seems to escalate in West Bengal every passing day while the political parties seem to sidestep the issue by politicising every aspect of the states' functions. Who said that Bengalis are educated and cultured ? They seem to represent goons from the medieval ages, The government should make an attempt to book the culprits and completely ban the union from existence in this state.

The second article talks about a proposal to form an exclusive club of the progressive states of the southern & the western states to act as a pressure group for their developmental needs. .
It’s a well known fact that the growth in the Indian economy is being pulled up by these states while the laggards in the eastern and northern states (including West Bengal) seem to be getting a disproportionately larger share of the central taxes than they contribute to the national exchequer. West Bengal, once a prime state in industrialisation , now lives a parasitic existence and soon it may be sidelined by this exclusive club. This is not something that has happened today but has been going around for 2 decades. Why don’t the leaders of the state look at one of the industrially progressive states and copy their model of development? Wealth needs to be created & generated in the state by charting out good economic policies followed by labour reforms & a de-linking of politics from industrialisation & development activities.

But before that violence must end and for that law & order machinery has to be strictly enforced and all perpetuators of violence , irrespective of the political party they belong to, must be severely punished. Unless the culture of peace quickly returns to West Bengal, the situation will completely spin out of control.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Corruption in an NGO

Assume a situation when you are heading a division of an NGO, which is directly responsible for implementing programs based on the funds that you have received from the government, private donors, foundations and corporate.

Assume that you are in charge of organic farming and the cooperative of 1000 small & marginal farmers ,in a hilly village in your state, that has produced , after 3 years of seeding, 100 metric tonnes of coffee under the NGO’s guidance. Unfortunately, the quality of coffee is not very good due to various reasons (poor quality of seeds distributed by the state government, smaller size with low pH value & various mediocre cultivation practices followed etc.). Your NGO is responsible for aiding in marketing the unprocessed organic coffee beans so that farmers get their share of profit within 3 months of harvesting. Unfortunately the international price in the market is poor. Selling the beans at that price would mean incurring a loss for the cooperative.

So you start looking for buyers. Corporate agricultural dealers are quoting even lower prices. Samples send to international buyers get a negative response due to poor quality. Myriad other options are tried out. Then as a last resort you ask you marketing colleague: “Who bought coffee last year ..?”
Your colleague gives you a list of dealers of a nearby town. You ask him to contact the dealers and fix a better price.

Surprise, surprise. The colleague comes back from a 2 day tour and tells you no such dealers exist in the address indicated in the invoice. The phone numbers are incorrect too.

You know you have stumbled on to a fraud & corruption in the NGO, you have just joined. You check for audited accounts of the preceding year. As expected you find nothing. You have now a bigger frown on your face than the old lady ( in the photograph)whose family has toiled hard for last 3 years to get better incomes.

You start digging for more and more evidences . You search for invoices , signed vouchers , stock statements etc. Surprise, surprise! All such documents seem to have evaporated in the thin year or were not present in the first place. Just one number innocent invoice ,that you found in the first instant, is all that you have to show. And that does not match up with the stock sold last year.

Dig, dig, dig and keep thinking.

Unverified stories of corruption in other divisions of the NGO start surfacing from your memory. Of large-value (more than a crore) equipment deals for a mid-day-meal programme going to an ex-employee and close associate of the top management on a single-tender basis at a rate much higher than the market price. Of contracts for interior decoration going similarly to another “close” architect. Of real-estate rental deals being signed in a hush-hush manner. And so on and so forth….

Then. Voila! Everything falls into place.

You suddenly realise that the NGO sector is no different from other sectors of the industry. Corruption & fraud are just natural by-products of fund management in an NGO like anywhere else. But more so in an NGO, because the “cause” is so noble that you can operate with a cloak of non-transparency & nepotism in a system where the “image-hungry” trustees do not hold you accountable in their quarterly board meetings.

The cause of an NGO overshadows your actual work so much that walking in naked inside an NGO office can also be justified to be worthy of the cause. Just about anything goes .

You realise that there is a chain of internal beneficiaries that may or may not extend to the top.

But then you feel cheated.

You had joined here expecting this to be an island of honesty doing meaningful work for the society. And now that you realise that its not, you start suspecting everybody. Who else is in the chain ?
You assign corrupt motives to your junior colleague who has a one-on-one talk with the house-owners , immediately after you have finished a joint meeting with the same owners for buying/leasing the place. You suddenly figure out that some of your juniors ,who have been fighting with you to have absolute control over the deal or on signing of the program certificates, were not doing it because they wanted complete independence of work but only because they intended to make a wrongful gain of that power.

Finally it dawns on you that an NGO is a strong club of old members who have built their carreer in an NGO & will never leave you space to work. The reason they have recruited you is because the funders & donors insist on having qualified professional managers in place for implementing the programs. Once the fund is in, your utility is that much diminished as there are plenty of such fools like you who are queuing up to join the place with dreamy eyes of doing “something worthwhile” for the society.

You can go on digging and maybe get close to the name of beneficiaries of corruption in an NGO. But that will just waste your time & effort. The other option is to live with such imperfections in the organisation and continue to do your work without losing your sanity on the “false motives” of your colleagues.

The last option is of course to give it all up as you know that your value system will not permit you to continue in such a shady organisation.

That’s exactly what I did. I quit after working just about 2 quarters in an Indian corporate NGO and have vowed never to join another without a due diligence done beforehand on program implementation,background of top management and quality of personnel.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

IPLT20- Can Kolkata Knight riders raise the tempo today?

The IPL T20 league has crossed the midway mark and here is a list of some completely unexpected outcomes.

1. Rajasthan Royals , a rank outsider , is at the top. Captained by the legendary leg spin bowler Shane Warne, the side is full of young talents. Asnodkar, Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan . Was the cheapest side to buy in the auctions.
2. Royal Challengers was the second highest expensive side and boasts of names like Dravid, Kallis, Boucher. Its now scraping the bottom of the table with negligible hope of moving up. The side has already got his second CEO in less than a month as the owner decided to dump the first one after a string of poor performances. High return entails high risk too.
3. Sachin Tendulkar is yet to play a single match due to his groin injury. Mumbai Indians possibly be one venture Ambanis, the owners, will find difficult to manipulate it to success.
4. Shaun Marsh of the Kings XI Punjab has scored 4 fifties on the trot and heads the lists of highest average.
5. B.Mcculum (see picture) of Kolkata Knight riders still heads the strike-rate list logging over 200. Of course he played only 2 matches but his opening match 155 n.o was a treat which destroyed Royal Challengers, set the tempo of slam-bang cricket & got IPL rolling.

Three places in the semi-finals appear to be taken by the Rajasthan, Punjab & Chennai teams. The fourth seems to be a close gamble among Delhi, Kolkata & Mumbai.

If Kolkata can beat Delhi today at Eden Gardens , they will get the momentum necessary to take the spot. In spite of Ganguly getting 2 match winning fifties on the trot, he will have to get down from his high horse and promote Saha & Shukla up the batting order. Playing Shoaib could be a liability as he is prone to gifting extras in the form of no balls and wides . Delhi will depend on Gambhir, Sehwag & Mahroof to do the damage with Manoj Tiwary as the surprise element. May the best team win today.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Inflation in India

A great deal of argument is going on the genesis of inflation in food and commodity prices in India.

One theory doing the round is that cheap dollar , available from the US Fed through cuts in interest rate, is perhaps being channelled into speculation on global commodities prices and the response of the Indian government should be to follow a tighter monetary policy by hiking interest rate and lifting the ban on export of rice and allowing the farmer to make gains out of a global shortage.

If interest rate is hiked in India the substantial rate-differential (between India & the US) will only bring more short-term foreign investment to the market thereby fuelling inflation further. Secondly it will have an adverse effect on the cost of the capital for the local entrepreneur and effect medium-term growth prospects.

Lifting the ban on export of rice will definitely help a section of wealthy farmers in India but will leave the country with a shortage of essential commodity like food which will again fuel inflationary trend.

Staple food (like rice & wheat and not shrimps ) is an essential commodity and should be distinguished from the other agricultural commodity like coffee, tea ,potato etc. The role of the government should be to ensure that staple food items are available first for domestic consumption and surplus, if any, should be exported. It is of course , essential that the government adjusts the minimum reserve price to the farmers keeping into account the global price of such food items.

The problem is actually on the supply & distribution side. We have to take medium-term measures to increase farm productivity of food though better seeds (genetic or otherwise), fertilisers & allocate more forest land for food production (Al Gore, Pachauri and climate change can take a hike during that period). In the short-term, the public distribution system should be streamlined on war-footing to prevent leakages and food wastage. If necessary, special courts should be set up to convict government officials found guilty of sabotaging the PDS.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is it election time again? Why everybody suddenly hates Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India?

Of late, Manmohan Singh is under attack from various quarters.
From his allies in the government, the leftists, for poor leadership in winning state elections.
From free-market economic theorists for asking the steel & cement cartels to rein in their prices for bringing down inflation.
From venture capitalists who think that his rightful place is in the academies and not in leading the country. According to them he has failed in creating an incentive-laden environment for unleashing entrepreneurship.
From eight-figure salary earning CEOs for asking them to cut their wages and lead a more austere lifestyle.
From anti-reservation lobby for destroying meritocracy.
From free-market theorists again for waiving off 60000 crore rupees of farmers’ debts.
And obviously from the right-wing opposition for all kinds of trivial reasons too.

The good work done by him 17 years back in liberalising the economy and inviting foreign capital has been long forgotten. The benefits of growth in economy for the last 4 years in succession has been conveniently brushed under the diminishing carpet of inflationary pressures. Manmohan Singh’s excellent relations with international leaders (be it Bush, Brown, Jintao or Musharaf) were once heralded as beneficial to Indian economy but now they are construed as weakness in dealings (be it a nuclear deal or a gas pipeline or territorial dominance in the north-east).

Dr. Singh’s blatant obeisance to his party president, Sonia Gandhi ( a lady much less qualified than her ) has been treated as sycophancy to a dynastic family that only Congress leaders are capable of.

And now with a run-away inflation where producers & suppliers are skimming the cream off the market , everything seems to be leading to a crescendo.

What has gone wrong ? Looks like the harbinger of globalisation , Dr.Manmohan Singh , did not anticipate the effect that global crisis can have on the economy of an integrated country.

Too many global economic & financial crisis happened to coalesce. Sub-prime crisis in the financial sector, rising oil price, global food crisis, commodity crisis , the effect of US recession on the Indian economy, falling dollar etc, etc.

Will his government survive the attack & the inflation and last the full term? Or will the country face another election before the expiry of the full term? Or shall we have a change in guard in Congress and see a new prime minister before the term expires?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Join an NGO : CSR & global foundations give a new lease of life

A few months ago I heard a koorta-wearing CEO of a leading education NGO in India , explain to the host of a television show as to how the management of NGOs are becoming more businesslike . He informed that they are learning to wear business suits & ties to reflect the changes in attitude.
I was not surprised.

For too long the NGOs in India have been starved of funds. Basic necessities like decent office infrastructure, travel allowances, administrative costs, stationery have had to be curtailed to maximise the throughput of donor’s money to the beneficiaries the NGO was founded to serve. Passion & commitment were the main driving force of these die-hard social do-gooders and they were never in short supply.

However, the scenario changed when two things happened in this sector.

Plenty of foreign foundations started donating money to sub-saharan Africa and India and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) arms of Indian corporate were set up to channelise funds.
Often for both the foundations and CSR wings, direct intervention at the ground level were not possible for lack of experience, expertise and relevant manpower. So , existing NGOs were the preferred routes to park the funds.

Along with the funding, the management culture came completely free of cost and jargons like social ROI, per capita impact , professional approach etc became the order of the day. The standard of living of the CEOs and top management too improved . Their salaries were raised and budgeted in the fund . Frequent review meetings at the donor’s headquarters whether in India or abroad necessitated frequent air-travel. The travel costs too were budgeted. Professional managers (read MBAs) with and without experience were hired for execution of the program. The size of middle management too bloated as the top management were busy waking up in different hotels in different cities requiring middle-level managers free for execution. And somewhere in between the culture became businesslike. Ties and suits are no more passé in the NGOs.

However, at the field level, the community workers that were hired are still paid gruesome salaries (Rs. 1500/- p.m equivalent to 1.2 US dollar a day). Often their travel bills are held up for six months by the middle-level managers at the headquarters. They do not have any health insurance benefits . But ,only, the community workers are supposed to implement the complete program as envisioned by the donors and the top management of the NGOs with the bloated middle management acting as "file-passing & fund-approving" bureaucrats in their comfortable cabins in the cities. Obviously, the project suffers.

One of my ex-colleagues, Mr. A.K.Singh of Jamshedpur used to say that a perennially sick patient always needs sustained medical intervention for revival. Often the duration of the intervention can run into multiple years and the cost of treatment can be terribly high. If somebody expects that by spending funds worth 10 % of the actual cost in the first 6 months, the patient would start running & jumping about then he is living in a fool’s paradise.

Similar is the case of CSR intervention in social sectors like primary education, health and livelihood in the rural sectors. These sectors are perennially sick and expecting a quarterly turnaround to come; just because the MBA manager of the corporate CSR wing has coined a new jargon for “outcome predictor” or because he expects a visible and immediate return from the “patchwork intervention” implemented by his company’s funds ; is foolish to say the least. The concept of quarterly reviews over video-conferencing is thus a moronic concept. But most of the Indian managers of the foreign foundations seem satisfied with this . This saves them the trouble of visiting & staying for long duration in all the villages under the jurisdiction of the project and reviewing the projects themselves.

The smart CEOs of NGOs also know this for a fact. At the review meetings, CEOs are armed with unverified, lengthy quarterly reports about the “magic” that their donor funds have generated. “More needs to be done”, the CEO would say and more funds keep on pouring but at the ground level, the community worker is at his wits end to survive . Forget the survival of farmers. But then the donors have scarcely met a community worker during a review.

And the story goes on…… More funds are approved for new short-term projects. The CSR manager is happy having spent all his funds and having received a 100 page report that he can show to his company board for this financial year. The CEO of NGO is happy that his glib, one-hour talk during the review got him more money to fund his frequent jaunts to the continent and middle managers are happy that they can now purchase & wear their new business suits at the next review meeting with the foundations.

Corporatisation & MBA culture have arrived in Indian NGOs. Surely its good news for all the twenty- somethings who want to join a NGO armed with their MBA degrees, their torn jeans from the college hostels & a fashion for passion to work in the social sector.

Enjoy your stay in a NGO ! Because life now is a long song thanks to the CSR and the foundations.
Picture Description & Source: "Songs from the Wood" by Salty depicting a tribal village band in Araku , Andhra Pradesh, where a coopretaive coffee project funded by a NGO is under place.