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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Ingrid Srinath, CRY CEO

'Giving up has a very high price'

October 20, 2006


Ingrid Srinath was living the high life as an advertising executive -- till she walked out on everything well-heeled and wonderful to take up a job at Child Relief and You in 1998.

Now the chief executive officer of the organisation, Srinath was awarded a three-year Synergos Fellowship in 2003 by Synergos, a non-profit dedicated to development of sustainable solutions to poverty. Srinath recently shared a platform in New York city with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Coca-Cola CEO E Neville Isdell and CNN founder Ted Turner.

She spoke to Special Correspondent Monika Joshi in New York.

Last year, CRY changed its name from Child Relief and You to Child Rights and You. How do you convey this rights-based approach to the people?

Essentially, the difference is in what you are asking people for. In the relief mode, you were only asking people for financial support. In the rights-based mode, you are asking, certainly, for that financial support but also for their active citizenship.

So you are asking them to look at child's rights when they decide whom to vote for in an election, or to get involved with, for example, the government school in their neighborhood and to ensure that it is functioning the way it is supposed to. And getting them to respond to send, say, petitions to the government, that advocate changes in policy and law.

The money is critical, but we need much more than it. We need you to be a pressure group for children as far as the State is concerned.

What inspired the change?

The learning over the 27 years that CRY has been in existence that the only sustainable change you can make is where you can -- 1. Have policies that are genuinely child-friendly and 2. That you can ensure that communities are mobilised to ensure that those policies are implemented.

Private philanthropy alone is not going to address the root causes of the problems. And it is certainly not going to be able to do it on the kind of scale that India's children need. Take all Mr (Bill) Gates's money and Mr (Warren) Buffet's money and put it together; you will still not have enough to get, say, 60 million children who are not in school back in school.

What have you done to drive home this message?

At the last parliamentary election, we ran a campaign across all our stakeholders -- donors, volunteers, children, and underprivileged communities where we got people to sign a manifesto for children, requesting politicians to include it in their election manifestos.

We had over a million petitions signed. It was also the first time you had multiple parties, including commitments like a minimum of 6 per cent of GDP on education, a minimum of 5 per cent of GDP on health -- some of the key elements in the manifesto that we asked people to sign.

We support, financially and otherwise, the National Alliance for the Fundamental Right to Education. It advocates for the fundamental right to education to be made a law. NAFRE was successful in terms of getting the Constitution amendment, but since then the government has failed to sign that into legislation, we continue to advocate for that legislation to be passed.

The other form is through media advocacy -- a constant editorial presence across all media, whether in terms of the child labour act or any policy or bill relating to children.

Last year, you had 17 projects in the United States, and one full-time employee...

We continue to fund about 17 projects, of which two are in the US. The US money in 2006 has gone mostly to Katrina relief programmes. We now have one additional employee, who is also based in Boston, focusing on foundations. Our revenues have increased. Last year we did about $700,000; this year we expect to close over a million (dollars).

How can Indians living in the US help?

There is a greater engagement with issues in India here than it is in many other parts of the world. I think the shift that we are going to make is similar to the one that we have asked people in India to make, particularly with dual citizenship being an option. The kind of influence that People of Indian Origin have here as well as in government circles in India -- to get them to use that power to ensure that we get the right policies and not just funding from NGOs.

For example, there is significant amount of pressure on the government to privatise education, and we know, globally wherever that has happened, that the poor then get excluded from any kind of quality education. To have US Indians advocate for State funding of primary and secondary education is something that we hope we will be able to get people here mobilised about.

What are your immediate goals?

Communicating the change of name and the change of approach is one key priority this year. In the next couple of months, we will be launching CRY in the UK. Once we are done with that, we will start exploring the possibility of launching CRY in the Middle East.

You've been with CRY since 1998. What do you consider your one big accomplishment?

Taking the original vision that Rippan (Rippan Kapur, the founder of CRY who died in 1994 at age 40) had, and taking a team of extremely passionate and idealistic people, but adding to that vision and passion and idealism a degree of strategic focus, a more business-like orientation that allowed us to become more efficient.

Even up to five years ago, we were wondering how the next month's budget was going to be met. Today, we are in a position where we can look three years, five years into the future and make plans, because we have a stable revenue stream.

Last year, CRY disbursed Rs 150 million ($3 million). How much will you do this year?

This year, we will do about 20 crore rupees (Rs 200 million/$4 million).

Who funds CRY?

Over 80 per cent of our revenues come from average middle class individuals, about 10 per cent comes from the corporate sector, and the balance comes from events, the sale of greeting cards, and interest income.

What is the Synergos Fellowship?

Synergos is an organisation based in New York. The Fellowship is a three-year programme where heads of nonprofits across the world receive scholarships. It is a peer-learning network. We meet once a year. The three years that I have been a Fellow, I have traveled to Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines. This year's meeting was in Delhi last month.

What happens at these meetings?

We do something called real-time consulting. A Fellow makes a presentation about a problem that they are facing in their organisation. Then a panel of Fellows apprises the problem, provides suggestions or ideas on how they could approach the problem.

What organisations have you worked with?

In the course of those real-time consulting cases, I have worked with organisations from Korea, from Taiwan, from Brazil. I also went to the Philippines specifically to work with an organisation called Children's Hour in helping them develop their strategies. I spent almost a week with them.

These are NGOs based in different countries. Do they have common problems?

There is an organisation in Brazil that also works with children. We found that we are almost perfectly complementary. While we had a very successful programme in fundraising from individuals, they had a very successful programme in fundraising from corporates and were not as successful with individuals. We were able to help them in individual fundraising programmes; they were able to help us with our corporate fundraising.

Similarly, with a Filipino organisation. They were part of a corporate foundation and were looking at scaling up. So being able to transfer some of the learning that CRY has in terms of developing an independent funding base was important for them.

Sometimes, all you are looking for is the reassurance that you are on the right track. I first took the idea of the rights approach and the name change, and presented it at Mexico in 2003.

Just being able to hear five people who combined had over 100 years experience in the nonprofit sector say 'Yes, you are on the right track and you don't need to worry about doing this' was a huge value add.

Are there other Indian fellows?

There are now two more Indian Fellows. There is Pushpa Aman Singh from the GIVE Foundation and there is Priya Vishwanath from the Charities Aid Foundation.

You spent 12 years in advertising. What inspired you to make the switch to the non-profit sector?

It was mostly just boredom. Advertising is a great business -- exciting, stimulating, a lot of variety and novelty. But I had the feeling after 12 years that I was just doing more of the same. Each year, I would have a new designation, and a better car to drive and more people reporting to me. But really I wasn't doing anything significantly new.

The other was the feeling of impermanence. In advertising, in a 12-year-span, you are lucky if you get it truly right five or six times. Even on those five or six occasions that you get it right, six months after that you are off the business, you have absolutely no way of ensuring that any of that stays in place.

The analogy I used was I felt like I was writing in the sand and the next wave that came along would wipe out whatever I had written. I just had the need for something a little more permanent.

How did CRY grant that?

Certainly, working at CRY gives you that because even if you affect the life of one child, the impact is not just on that child but on that child's family, on generations going forward. There is certainly a sense of leaving a more permanent mark.

Have you ever regretted the decision?

There are many days when I have been terribly frustrated and wanted to beat my head against a wall. (Laughs.) But one of the advantages of working in this sector is that you know that there is a very high price of failure, very high price of giving up. If you lose a client in advertising, that's bad, but makes no earth-shattering difference. Here, giving up has a very high price.

What exactly is your job?

There are three broad areas of focus. One is looking at the long-term organisation strategy. Each function has its own point of view, its own priorities; really combining those into one synergistic vision and strategy.

The second one is represent the organisation to the outside world, whether to the media or to the board or to partners of various kind. Being at least one of the public faces of the organisation. The third one is pretty much being the Jack of all trades. For example, just now, I don't have a director of business mobilisation.

Until very recently I did not have a director of finance, I have a part-time director of HR. That means, filling up whatever gaps there are.

How big is your core team?

The managing committee consists of seven people; there are three regional heads and four functional heads.

How big is CRY worldwide?

The total strength of CRY across the world is 174 people.


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