The real thing
Non-governmental organisations (NGOS)are in danger of falling into disrepute in India. Not only are many of them acknowledged to be fake, a few years ago, several MPS were caught in a string operation by a TV channel, agreeing to divert their'Local area development scheme' funds to a fictitious NGO. As a result, several larger companies are groups prefer to do their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) exercises. It doesn't always work too well, because this is not their core competency, and people in board-rooms rarely have their ears to Ground Zero.
Amid the numerous NGOs that function principally as organisations to facillitate fund diversion or tx evasion, there are some that stand out for their yeoman and honest service. Last year saw one more win well-deserved accolades: Arbind Singh, founder of the Patna-centred Nidan, received the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the World Econimic Form's (WEF) India Economic Summit. The award is an initiative of the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation, the Schwab Foundation fot Entrepreneurship, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "The award has dramatially raised the image of the organisation," says Singh. "It has motivated our people. We are now even more committed to our mission of reaching the unreachable."
Nidan has the credentials to be a gem amidst the NGO wasteland
What is Nidan? "Founded by Arbind Singh in 1995, Nidan Builds profitable businesses and people's organisations that are led by asset-less, informal workers," explains the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation, "A range of co-operatives, self-help groups (SHGS), trade unions, and individual and community businesses launched by Nidan have positioned unorganised workers as legitimate competitors in the globalising markets of India. Nidan works in Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi and Rajasthan. It taps into the wealth of the poor - their numerical strength - and aggregates them into economies of scale. This process of
collectivising' generates soial capital, representation and 'voice' for the unorganised as wealth-creators."
In Patna, where Singh started after earning sociology and law degrees from Delhi University, Nidan has taken on many shapes. But the core in the organisation of waste workers. This has now also acquired a corporate structure - Nidan Swachdhara Private Ltd. (NSPL) - an urban waste management company. The initial capital - a humble Rs. 1.6 Lakh - was contributed by 1.606 waste workers chipping in Rs. 100 apiece. NSPL has won multi-crore contracts from the Patna and Jaipur municipal corporations. It has also recruited a professional chief executive.
Nidan has a full-time staff or afound 400 and many volunteers. "It reaches out to around 60,000 poor workers, an equal number of middle-class households for waste management and around 3,00,000 street vendors," says Singh. The donors include UNDP, UNICEF, the Ford Foundation, and the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. An imprtant supporter in the New Yord-based American India Foundation (AIF), which will be providing fresh loans and grants of close to $1 milliion shortly. Singh, however, feels that corporatisation and self-sustaining organisations are the future.
He is understandably proud of what Nidan has achieved. "The indiret benifits have been many," he says. "Nidan has emerged as a role model. We undertook many new and path-breaking activities in Bihar where no organisation wanted to tread - legal aid, workers rights, microfinance, insurance, working the poor, and policy advocacy on every issue of work. Policy Changes have brought lage indirect benefits to street vendors all over the country. This has influcenced the lives of more than 5,00,000 poor people."
On the agenda now are: consolidation of the Nidan Micro-Finance Foundation; coverage and presence in all the 38 districts of Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan and other states through NGO networking; increasing coverage to 2,50,000 members by