About Voluntary Sector

It is increasingly being recognized that the voluntary sector has an important role to play in socio economic development and poverty eradication. The strength of the voluntary sector lies in the flexibility of its operations, its people sensitivity and ability to respond to field realities, its freedom from bureaucratic restrictions and its ability to attract committed people. The main weakness is the absence of support infrastructure and institutions. If the voluntary sector is to play its rightful role in the rural areas of the country there is need to put in place the support infrastructure. It is in realization of this that a group of visionary social workers set up the Society for Service to Voluntary Agencies (SOSVA).

Maharashtra has been on the forefront of social development for the last two centuries. Voluntarism and social action movements have originated in the State. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) represent the most familiar and well known form of civil society. NGOs are more flexible, people oriented and innovative. They have the ability to reach the root of the issue that plagues the poor. Over the last few years there has been an increasing feeling that NGOs have been under-delivering through their performance. Some of the reasons for this have been identified and include (1) lack of institutional infrastructure support that the other sectors enjoy, (2) erratic funding, (3) imbalance in the relation with government and (4) lack of access to good quality human resource.

In many spheres such as industrial development, transport and communication services, and the co-operative sector, Maharashtra is among the leading states in the country. The per capita income is the highest in India. However, as far as social development indicators are concerned, while the State performs well in comparison with other states it still has a long way to go.

Maharashtra has a long and illustrious tradition of voluntary service to society. Many of the social reform movements of the country in the 19th and 20th century came from Maharashtra. This include movements lead by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (women's education), Annasaheb Karve (widow remarriage), Justice Ranade (Prarthana Samaj), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (dalit rights and freedom from caste based bondage) and Acharya Vinoba Bhave (Bhoodan and removal of inequity). Other great contributions came from Vikhe-Patil and D N Gadgil (Co-operatives)

In the past few years the voluntary sector has emerged as a major force in the field of socio-economic development and today it carries a fair share of the State's welfare responsibilities. The advantages that this sector has are its flexibility, its people-sensitivity and the consequent ability to respond to field realities, its relative freedom from bureaucratic restrictions, easy accessibility and the capacity to attract committed people and funding from the community. Today, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are working in various fields of the economy such as health, rural development, environment, women's development, micro financing, water supply and sanitation and so on. Though their contribution to the economy is not fully recognised, the Government expects the sector to develop and play an increasingly larger role, particularly in the upliftment of socially and economically disadvantaged sections of rural and urban communities. their most important contribution is that they assist people, the beneficiaries, in taking charge of their own responsibilities and therefore their destinies.

The growing realisation that the Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) can play a major role in fulfilling the state's goals of development has come about due to the renewed emphasis on Panchayati Raj and democratic decentralization (for ensuring people's participation in decision making in matters of their immediate interest). The need for supporting local initiative in developmental activities particularly the anti-poverty programmes is also now well recognised. In all such programmes the need is to extend the State's support in flexible, people sensitive and innovative ways.

There are thousands of small and large NGOs registered in the state of Maharashtra. They work in the remotest corners of the State. NGOs also work on diverse issues. There is scarcely an issue in the development world that is not tackled by NGOs.

  1. Issues facing the sector
    Much of the true potential of the NGO sector overall has remained untapped because of the problems it faces, some of which are described below.

  2. Human Resource tapping is weak
    NGOs can rarely, if at all, match the private or public sector either in the pay scales or careers they offer; as such they face severe problems in getting suitable personnel. NGOs therefore tend to have poor management skills, which need substantial upgrading. Human Resource Development (HRD) is an acutely felt need in the voluntary sector. It flows from the lack of organised recruitment and other factors such as the scale of operation (most NGOs are small social enterprises). As a result, in this sector, often, personnel policy is either absent or is not clearly articulated. Only a few NGOs consciously promote staff development measures.

    Efforts made so far to provide training for professionals are mainly two fold. On the academic side, institutions like Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Nirmala Niketan and some of the Universities started degree and diploma courses in Social work as a career (There are 56 schools of social work in the country of which eight are in the State of Maharashtra). Most of the students passing out from these institutions, however, join the organised sector for managing its welfare programmes, very few of them join NGOs availed themselves of this academic opportunity in mild-career. Another effort is the non-academic training programmes started by some of the Governmental Organizations like NIPCID, New Delhi and NGOs like CHETNA, VHAI, RHUSA, IHM and Leslie Sawhney Training Centre. They organize workshops, seminars for orientation or formal Training Certificate, of duration ranging from a few days to two years. These courses are mostly residential courses, where the participants are required to come from all over the country. These courses do not seem to have the same standard as that of formal education in T.I.S.S. etc. The response to these courses from Voluntary Agencies is not very enthusiastic. Their capacities are under-utilized and because of the expense involved, very few voluntary agencies take advantage of these courses, except well established NGOs.

  3. Institutional Infrastructure support
    Unlike the three sectors namely : public, private and co- operative, the voluntary agency sector is singularly bereft of institutional infrastructure. There is no source of institutional finance or technical assistance, and no apex body for advocacy of the sector. Additionally, the legal and taxation environment for this sector are hostile to its growth.

    There is no reliable source of institutional finance (banks, financial institutions, the stock exchange), in private sector co-operative sector or public sector. NGOs for the most part depend excessively upon an inadequate and varying supply of grants from Government or donor agencies, which are painfully unreliable. The NGOs have neither systematically diversified fund raising to tap sources such as community participation, cost recovery, or asset management, nor have they built sizable corpuses whose income could fund their operations.

  4. Imbalanced Interaction with government
    Interacting with the Government and receiving grants poses a number of difficulties to NGOs, viz,(i) multiplicity of dealing departments (ii) lack of information about criteria of funding, availability of funds and procedures, (iii) rigidity of rules, (iv) lack of openness and transparency of project appraisal.

    There has been in general a tradition of collaboration between Government and NGOs. NGOs also find it difficult to reach out to government for advocating any policy change. The might and rigidity of the bureaucracy hinders all these efforts.

  5. Few new & professionally managed NGOs are coming up
    There is very little procedural support provided to the NGOs either through official or unofficial channels for their promotion and nurture. Simply exhorting the NGO sector does not promote it; only out-reach work can. This out-reach promotion has to be through strong objective identification of new NGOs and NGOs for expansion, nurturing through various support services and the removal of obstacles to their growth. Special training programs such as "How to start a NGO", coupled with seed capital provision focusing on creating new NGOs, could help in this promotion. Similarly, the diversification of small single purpose NGOs to diversified NGOs serving small communities would expand their scope of services. There is an understandable need for promoting large NGOs or expanding existing NGOs so as to meet the needs of service delivery. However we need simultaneously to pursue a strategy of promoting a large number of small NGOs because : (a) they constitute the basis from which the larger NGOs will be grown, and (b) they constitute a large decentralized sector, which would protect the growing NGO sector from a bureaucratic bias.

  6. Accountability in the sector is lacking
    6 NGOs are part of a system where accountability is relatively poor and the chances of misuse of funds can be high in some situation. A few such misuses or frauds can give the sector a bad name. There is a need for enhancement of Credibility of voluntary sector.