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Corporates in social sector: NGOs to die?

September 12, 2007 10:55 IST

Wal-Mart is opening schools, Vodafone is helping flood victims, Coke is digging wells and recycling plastic... the list of the good things companies are doing is growing longer by the second. Where does that leave the NGO is the question many among the voluntary sector are asking.

As companies open the floodgates for corporate social responsibily projects, it means a new source of funds for many NGOs who are being hired to do the good things the companies want to show in their portfolios.

But many among the NGOs are worried about this new sense of financial well being. They feel that this is the beginning of the end of the voluntary sector.

About 70 social action groups are meeting in Bangalore next month to figure out exactly this: what exactly is an NGO supposed to be in the times of CSR.

Is it just a CSR arm of a corporate carrying out what it is funded to do or is it a people's watch dog, mobilising and voicing their grievancdes and fighting for their rights as organisers of the meet put it.

Delhi Forum one of the organisers of the introspective meet says that the NGO is definitely dying.

Not only are funds available for independent work, but more and more NGOs are turning into implementing agencies for corporates, says M V Vijayan coordinator of Delhi Forum which has been a platform for the coming together of several people's movements from across the country on land rights and displacement issues under the Action 2007 campaign.

The Forum which is itself facing a fund crunch says that the corporates have become an overwhelming presence in NGO sector also thanks to factors like the drying up of bilateral funds.

Jay John director of the NGO Centre for Education and Communication which runs projects on labour rights in four states says that the NGO is getting stronger and more secure, That is the worry. Earlier NGOs were political as they raised voices, mobilised people.

Now they are apolitical, and work in a framework of consensus. Corporates have been successful in de-activating the NGO. NGO agenda has moved from an activist mode to a professional mode, he says.

Mathew Cherian of Helpage India, however, denies that the CSR swamp would submerge the sector though he says that NGOs are going through a fund squeeze. Even otherwise only 30,000 of the 1.6 million NGOs are funded. And it is a city minority who does work for corporates.

In fact many people quit their jobs in NGOs to get better paying jobs in companies in their CSR programmes. But that does not finish off the voluntary sector. If at all some NGOs decline, others will come. They come and go, These trends dont affect groups and movements who continue to fight for causes,he says.

The left off centre movements and groups would anguish at these trends. But what is wrong with Pratham for example which is working with corporates but doing a great job, asks Cherian.

Groups who take up causes dont need money for that, adds Ashok Chaudhury of National Forum for Forest Workers and Forest People.

They will survive through all changes, he says. Maybe the need of the hour is to classify NGOs. Some are watchdog groups, others are charities, adds John.

Partners or rivals?

  • Vodafone: Oxfam (Orissa flood relief)
  • Wal-Mart: Hope Foundation (many states. schools)
  • RIL: Pratham (Haryana SEZ primary education)
  • Microsoft: Sewa, MS Swaminathan Foundation, Prayas (e-education)
  • HLL: Myrada (Karnataka: livelihood)
  • Godrej: Naz Foundation (HIV/AIDS prevention)
Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi
Source: source