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The silent army


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October 18, 2007
The Economic Times
Sanjay Gupta


There are more than 1 million Non Profit Organisations (NPOs) currently operating in this country. The majority are based or focused on rural India. More than 20 million people are actively engaged with these NPOs. Only a fifth of this workforce is on a paid basis!

These organizations are active in a number of areas that include community service, education, sport and health to name a few.

What fascinates me is that more than 40 % of Indian households give; many of these being in rural areas or from the lower income groups.

The problems we are faced with are mammoth. A large part of our billion plus population consumes less than a US Dollar a day. Levels of literacy though improving still leave much to be desired - we have the unfortunate distinction of having amongst the lowest levels of female literacy in Asia. I could go on but wouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know.

This paper is simply an appeal. It is a request to all of us who have a little more than the average to actively engage in giving back.

There are many ways to do so. But it is important for each of us to develop a social mission so that capability, skill and resource can be best utilized. This is something the corporate sector can lead. In fact, some companies already do this well. They have clearly articulated their areas of focus. Quite often this is complimentary to their core business; and that is a good thing. It enables them to leverage existing assets, which in turn ensures an efficient program.

Many companies encourage their employees to engage in social programs - these could range from company sponsored projects or simple payroll giving to approved charities with a matching contribution by the employer. Increasingly, activity of this nature is an important attribute that appeals to people looking for jobs. A big benefit of this is the impact on employees. There are many examples of great giving habits that people have formed at the workplace that have then influenced their actions in other arenas.

Many of the NPOs operating today are unregistered and small. They have limited access to talent with proven business acumen and leadership. They are ploughing ahead despite these handicaps often driven by the sheer energy and will of their founder members. These NPOs could do with help and it's not just money. They need people who can bring diverse skills beyond what the original promoters may possess.

There is much that isn't shining in our country. And we don't need the metrics of shame that talk of extreme poverty or of child mortality to galvanise us into action. Look around and there is a cause to fight for - the young ball picker at the tennis club who doesn't go to school or in the neighbourhood, the mistreated domestic worker.

There is a silent army out there. These are folks like you and me. They are fighting a tremendous battle every day. This is a call to sign up.

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