NGOs: A Holistic Approach towards All-round Development in India

By K Pankajam

While India is on the threshold of celebrating 70 years of independence, it is prudent to sneak a look into the agents that augment the economic development of the country in a variety of fields. Such an analysis will not be complete without an elaborate study on the role of NGOs. This article aims to explore the merits and demerits of NGOs in India, their role in nation building and ways and means to improve their efficacy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while dedicating the memorial of our late President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at Mantapam on July 27, 2017 to the nation said that the fitting tribute to the late president would be to make India a fully developed country by 2020 in all spheres which was his dream, his vision. ‘Stand up India, ‘Amrut’ or ‘Clean India’ are all projects launched by the centre for fulfillment of this vision (The Hindu, Jul 28, 2017).  The involvement of NGOs in achieving this objective could be significant.
An NGO (Non-governmental Organization) is an association of people or institutions formed primarily in the field of humanitarian assistance and poverty alleviation, registered or unregistered, intended to support development at local, national and international levels. NGOs registered with government authorities are eligible to get all kinds of support including financing.  They are engaged in a wide range of activities.
According to UN, any kind of private organization that is independent from government control can be termed as ‘NGO’, provided it is not-for-profit.  Some may have charitable status, while others may be registered for tax exemption based on recognition of social purposes (Wikipedia). 
The main objective of NGOs in India is to serve the poor, the marginalized, unprivileged, and under-privileged people, especially during natural calamities.  These are non-profit organizations and the services offered by the members are voluntary.  They serve the society without any self-interest.  Still they are supposed to comply with the rules and regulations formed by the Government of India from time to time.  They are mostly engaged in providing free education to the economically backward children, free medical facilities to the rural poor, women welfare activities, providing shelter to orphans, destitute and old aged, and the like.  It is not a trivial factor offering voluntary service and working for the uplift of people at the bottom of social stratum that gives one high mental satisfaction and a wonderful chance to work for the   benefit of the society.
Scope of NGOs in India
Service is the main motto of NGOs in India.  Social service has been an essential part of Indian culture since primordial times.  Through Five Year Plans rural development was given thrust soon after Independence. In India 65% of the population belongs to   rural areas. Development is not just economic but all-round covering various fronts like social, educational, women and child welfare, and quality of life.  Therefore, the scope of development is enormous and hence complex too.   Government machinery alone cannot achieve such a huge task; so private resource has to be geared enough to supplement governmental efforts.  In the Indian context, collaborative efforts are required to achieve all-round economic development. Various departments, agencies and NGOs in our country are involved in this task. Some NGOs are also involved in environment protection like afforestation, prevention of air and water pollution. The role of NGOs in human development has also been widely recognized and accepted in many countries.
Future of NGOs
Despite India being the fastest growing economy in the world, it is still a poor country and NGOs can play a critical role in helping the poor come out of poverty. As per the current guidelines of the government, corporate houses are supposed to allocate funds for social obligation like sponsoring villages, construction of schools, and community development in each financial year.    In discharging these obligations, the help of NGOs can be phenomenal in the future days and hence there is scope for increased involvement of NGOs in nation building.
As NGOs, which are flexible in administration, are closer to the target groups, they are quicker in decision making and plan execution, ensuring maximum participation in the process of development. Hence NGOs are a major economic and social force to bring about rapid development.  As per available statistics, the number of NGOs in India is rapidly increasing.  Rural development can be achieved through NGOs at low cost which is an important advantage, as these agencies are working in close connection with local people and help to mobilize local resources, which goes a long way in building sustainable development  and thereby a self-reliant society. Many NGOs in India also offer job opportunities to the people at various levels.
If we look at the governmental plans it can be observed that with every five year plan, the role of NGOs in rural development is increasing. Therefore NGOs in fact are the facilitators of development, playing the role of mediators between government and the beneficiaries.  
The number of NGOs worldwide is estimated to be 3.7 million. Russia has 2,77,000 NGOs.  India is estimated to have had around 2 million NGOs in 2009, just over one NGO per 600 Indians, and many times the number of primary schools and primary health centers in India.  China is estimated to have approximately 4,40,000 officially registered NGOs (Wikipedia).     
If the number of NGOs is any indicator of welfare measures, then we can be proud that India is not behind any other nation in safeguarding the economically backward people.  No doubt they are powerful tools in poverty alleviation and development.
Lack of governmental interference and mismanagement of funds are serious set-backs observed in many NGOs in India.  It is a fact that some dishonest elements have made riches by floating NGOs and misappropriating governmental aids for private gains. Moreover, the functioning of NGOs has become bureaucratic in structure, which leads to inefficiency.  It is also observed that young professionals are not coming forward to take up social service. Monopoly in leadership is another serious impediment in many NGOs as same person is holding various positions in different organizations preventing fresh ideas and newer technologies to flow into the organization.
Even though the term ‘non-governmental organization’ implies independence from governments, many NGOs depend heavily on governments for their funding. These voluntary organizations are managed by the resources, besides the funds and support from Government, support from other agencies, private donations, grants and services offered by philanthropists, etc.   They collect goods, medicines, clothes, food etc. and distribute to the needy.  These include charitable and religious organizations as well. Some NGOs create and maintain their own funds.  They often collect contributions from the public, private business organizations and even international agencies.
In spite of the tremendous achievements of NGOs in various fields, they are facing different problems, which differ from region to region. Finding funds for developmental activities is the major hurdle faced by these agencies. As they depend upon government funds or sponsorship of corporate business houses, mobilizing sufficient funds for developmental activities becomes difficult.  One more challenge is that these organizations lack trained staff equipped with the knowledge and expertise to handle various activities.
Unlike ancient times, charity is not finding favour among the people.  Even people who come forward have the ulterior motive of making quick riches and staying in power and eventually enter into politics. The spirit of devotion and dedication is missing. 
Most people wish to serve in urban areas, while the services of the NGOs are by and large needed in the rural sector.
Remedial Measures  
Government can liberalize the rules and regulations on grants and aids and also appoint enquiry commissions to check and investigate misuse of such funds.
Opportunities for democratic participation to the citizen have to be provided to attract people who are genuinely dedicated in order to give a sense of partnership in developmental activities and at the same time to serve with a feeling of pride of performance.  To achieve this it is necessary to ensure a functioning that is free of political interference or vested interests in the functioning of NGOs.  It is also important that there is no over-emphasis on targets from the government side. 
Government can also reward those NGOs which are doing exemplary services.  This will be a motivation boosting the morale of those involved in social service.
New ideas, initiatives and innovation should bring in enormous changes and efficiency in the functioning of the NGOs, for which it is necessary to induct young people into the decision making functions.
NGOs in India
A large number of NGOs are operating in India.   Some of the most important NGOs operating in India are listed here.   We celebrate ‘Joy of Giving Week’ hosted by Give India Foundation, which was set up by an IIM-A alumnus.  This project has already gained wide media attention.  They have won many awards for their exceptional work in creating accountability in the area of donations.  Give India Foundation acts as an online and offline platform for donation for more than 200 NGOs that have been scrutinized through its scanner for their lucidity and integrity in operation.   If you donate through Give India, they will tell you where your money has gone and follow it up with a feedback report too. 
Smile Foundation is another agency engaged in promotion of education amongst underprivileged children, healthcare, women empowerment, etc.  On the eve of the second death anniversary (27th July) of the great scientist and missile man of India, it would not be out of place to mention here that  the famous award winning documentary ‘I am Kalam’ based on a cause for children was supported by  Smile Foundation.
HelpAge India is yet another great organization which provides support to destitute, elderly and the poor.  They also play a critical role in influencing government policy changes for the elderly and also give material and emotional support to the abandoned elderly. HelpAge India represents its cause in National Planning Commission of India.
Avenues are plenty in India to give away in kind or your time for community work, from a variety of transparent options and methods of giving.  What is required is the will and the determination to support the under-privileged. India is a vast country with a population of 125 crores.   Like the squirrel that helped to build Ram Setu, each one of us can do our bit for the welfare of the society.  
The World NGO day is observed on 27th February which was officially declared by twelve countries in the year 2010.   This was internationally marked and recognized on 27th February 2014 in Helsinki, Finland by Mr Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) (Wikipedia).   That is to say that NGOs are globally recognized by many third world countries as a machinery for economic development, since they can reach out to the grass root level.  In India they are playing crucial roles in the development of the country and their number has increased significantly.   If their governance can be improved, they can be highly successful and can play still vital role in the overall economic development of the country.  


  1. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article!

    It's the little changes which will make the largest changes.

    Many thanks for sharing!


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