Civil Society Organisations, Governments and Trust

Excessive compliance norms are curbing the potential of philanthropy, says the founder of Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy

LILA: You are deeply concerned about civil society in India and work towards facilitating collaborative spaces for collective good. In a pluralistic country like India where different demographic sections have different cultural values and aspirations, how can mutual trust and shared vision be built? Could you offer some constructive steps towards this?

Noshir Dadrawala: Building mutual trust and shared vision is about proving trustworthiness through positive communication and actions. Effective communication however is very important. Also shared vision should go hand-in hand with happily and readily sharing resources – intellectual, human or financial.

Building trust is not a one-off. It is a daily commitment. Organisations must also learn (even take the risk) of putting trust in others in order to get trust in return.

Trust often results from consistency. We tend to have the most trust in institutions which remain consistent through good times and bad.

LILA: As we are a volunteer-run organisation, we understand the value of civil society volunteerism, which is priceless. At the moment there is no way to measure the impact of voluntary work – whether it is within domestic circles and families or within the larger civil society. Is there a way to organise efforts in this area? 

Noshir Dadrawala: Organisations like ivolunteer may be in a better position to provide at least some data in terms of impact.

Tool-Box India, is yet another Not for Profit Organisation started in 2007 with the purpose of offering consulting services on a pro bono basis to non-profits in change process management. Toolbox brings together volunteers with diverse experience in fields such as strategic and operations management, human resources, information technology, communications and marketing and impact measurement and coaches non-profits in Change Process Management.

In Ahmedabad there is an organisation called Indicorps, which does placements in India for international volunteers.

The Yuva Unstoppable movement is a movement of student volunteers who work on education and leadership grooming projects for underprivileged children and youth.

SEWA, the micro credit organisation based in Ahmedabad, under its SEWA Rural initiative, places its volunteers in rural areas to work on its rural self-help projects. There are many more such programs all over India.

Some of these organisations may have undertaken impact assessment of their work.

LILA: The government and the civil society activists very often work as though they belong to two camps. The former tries to exercise control and impose censorship, while the latter grows increasingly suspicious of the capacity of governmental machinery to ensure the welfare of the people. How can this growing gap be bridged?

Noshir Dadrawala: This gap has widened in recent years. Once again, in our opinion there is need for more interaction and communication. Organisations like VANI are trying hard to build bridges. But, more needs to be done.

When Industry bodies like CII or FICCI make a presentation to the government, the latter takes it very seriously, often diluting a proposed reform which could prove threatening to the corporate sector.

However, the Government does not appear to be taking the pleas of the voluntary sector seriously. In fact several laws, including the Income Tax Act 1961 and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010 are not enabling enough for the growth or advancement of philanthropy.

What the government fails to see, and what the voluntary sector is unable to prove, is the fact that voluntary organisations also aid and add to the GDP and provide livelihoods and fill major gaps in the government’s own delivery system.

Stereotypes must be erased from government’s misconceived perception. NGOs are not anti-government nor anti-development. In fact NGOs aid government as a program partner and ensure fair, equitable and accountable development.

Dialogue alone can reduce doubts, and trust may develop with more intimacy. Currently, neither government nor civil society organisations understand each other and about what they do.

Communication, Interaction and Dialogue may bridge the gap over time.

LILA: Why is it that while in the business sector collaborations and foreign investments are welcomed, any attempt by civil society organisations, though they follow all the regulations laid down for their existence and work, to expand their work or to invite partners is looked at with suspicion? How can discussions be initiated with everyone concerned about building trust and enabling growth in this sector?

Noshir Dadrawala: The general perception is that funds come into India from foreign sources to disrupt the economy or functioning of the government.

From the government’s perspective why should someone outside India fund an organisation in India to lobby against the Indian government or disrupt say a mining project or a project to build infrastructure.

On the other hand Foreign Indirect Investments and Foreign Direct Investments are welcome because they boost economy.

LILA: What is your perspective on this matter? Do you believe we need to make it easier for foreign aid to fund development projects, or do you think there is a need to mobilise domestic investors, or both?

Noshir Dadrawala: Yes FCRA laws should be more enabling. The government is pushing for ‘ease of doing business’. However, what about ‘ease of doing philanthropy’? The government’s role should be to regulate not control and stifle.

Yes, we should not create dependency on foreign contributions and tap into local resources. However, it is observed that foreign donors have more risk appetite in funding innovation than local sources that mostly seek safe avenues of funding.

LILA: In a situation where the state sees every dissenting act as a threat, how can we create the awareness that dissent could be looked at as a constructive intervention towards improving governance?

Noshir Dadrawala: This has more to do with mindset.

The Friends Peace Committee (1961) famously noted in their book ‘The Use of Force in International Affairs’: “If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?”

Informed and constructive dissent is the bedrock of democracy. Dissent may slow down progress, but, it does not (nor is it intended to) stop progress. Constructive Dissent leads to constructive progress.

LILA: Why is ‘doing good’ looked at with distrust while ‘doing business’ is not? Does this mean that if there is no guarantee of money, humanity at large cannot reliably engage in any exchange? While all religions and spiritual philosophies teach ‘doing good’ as essential for one’s wellbeing, why is the world, including religious establishments, not make any attempt to institutionally and sustainability acknowledge ‘goodness’?

Noshir Dadrawala: One reason could be, everyone knows and understands money and profits. Few understand what goodness is. One person’s idea of good may not be another’s idea of good. Good is contentious and subjective. Business is universal.

Feeding the poor or pigeons or stray dogs may be considered good by some and not so good by others.

There are even those who criticise the work of Mother Teresa and say she glorified and perpetuated poverty and human suffering.

People don’t judge business; they say “its business after all.” But doing good is always judged.

LILA: What in your view should be needed for the Civil Society Organisations in India to network effectively and collaborate among themselves?

Noshir Dadrawala: CSOs work in isolation. They are so caught up with their own struggles for validation and survival that they barely find the time or the inclination to collaborate. Some also feel that collaboration is a drain on their resources and every CSO wants to see what they get out of any collaboration. However, to get one must also learn to give and share. It goes back to building trust and shared vision.

LILA: What is the future of civil society volunteerism in India and the world at large? What will be the future platforms for this work? 

Noshir Dadrawala: The future seems challenging in India. The Government dislikes CSOs. Corporates and Corporate Foundations find it difficult to fund them or fear invoking wrath of the government. Their lifeline is mostly foreign funds and the government knows that and is therefore trying to cut it off as much as possible.

Even globally CSOs are hounded and disliked by autocratic regimes.

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