Simple solutions for complex problems

Sitaram Naik

Letter to NGOs

What is the difference between chess game and tic-tac-toe? Thinking about one step is enough for tic-tac-toe but we need to think about all steps till checkmate to succeed in chess game. Most of the NGOs and government policies are wearing thinking hat of a tic-tac-toe player while dealing with poverty and helping poor people though we need thinking hat of a chess player.

Every NGO should think what the end date of their project is. Whatever project you are doing whether it is improving lives of poor people or it is creating employment or developing country, whatever it is, what is the end date for this? The date, after which you need not spend money or time, you need not work anymore and you can confidently say that it is all done. How many years, you think, will it take for you to confidently say that your project is successful? Do you have clear idea of what will happen after you stop this project? What are you planning to achieve after so many years of your work? Can you mark an area on the country map that was completely improved with your service?

Government is spending lot of money every year for poor people. NGOs are also spending lot of money every year. With all this, if we have improved lives of a small percentage of population of poor people every year, by now the percentage should be reasonably high. When we got independence in India, we said 20% of population is poor. Today, after 65 years, we are still saying that 20% of our population is very poor. Where all this money has gone?
Let me do a simple calculation.

Government’s budget is more than 1 lakh crores every year. All NGOs together are also spending about 1 lakh crores (approximate assumption).

Total money spent is 2 lakh crores = 2,00,000,00,00,000 = 2×10^12

20% of Indian population is poor = 20,00,00,000 = 2×10^8

Money spent per head = 2×10^12 / 2×10^8 = 10^4 = 10,000

Average family size of poor people = 5

(Poor families usually have more than 5 people including parents and children)

So, money spent per poor family = 5 x 10,000 = 50,000
Ask any poor person what is the value of 50,000 rupees. Everybody says if they get 50,000 rupees, they can do small business and live happily forever without depending on others. That means with one year’s budget, we can make all poor people rich. We can improve their lives without spending anything further.

For last 65 years, independent Indian government has been spending so much money every year, still keeping the population of poor people constant. With so much money, India would have become super power long back. After so many years, some of the political parties are saying that they will get maximum majority because they are poor people’s party. They should feel shame to say that.

Why are we unable to reduce poverty? Corruption!? No. Corruption is not the only problem. I feel that corruption affects very small part of development. There is some major flaw in the way we are spending money. There is some major mistake in our plan.

Please don’t come to a conclusion that I am asking you to pay money directly. I know that won’t work. If you give money directly, the next day they will spend all the money and become poor again.

Problem: Distributed service

Distributed service is the problem. When we serve sparsely distributed few people of a large area, none of them get full affect or change in life. If we serve all people of a small area, everyone gets the impact and change in life.

Example: You open a school. Give everything required to students free of cost (food, books, cloths, accommodation, etc). You allow students to come from all over the state or a district. You have a limitation on number students you can have in that school. You provide all the facilities for all the students of that school. They get proper education and they may settle in life. What next? Every year new students come and get education. There is no end for this. You cannot say that after 20 years or after 50 years or after 100 years, you can close the school because your service is sparsely distributed.

Every company or organization is doing some level of charity work. Some companies have adopted few schools and supported financially. Assume that the school gives education from 1st to 5th standard. You give proper food and education to those students for 5 years. What is after that? If government can give proper education from 6th standard, then these students can join government schools and proceed further. But that is not the case. These poor students cannot afford to buy books or go to private schools. So they join government schools and they are same as other students from then. So there is no major change because of your charity work.

Assume that you extended your school for education up to 10th standard. Again same question, what is after that? If colleges give free and proper education, that will help students to grow further. Now college education is a major business. Assume that they completed college education. What is after that? Who will give jobs to them? Without proper employment opportunities and with lot of competition, can these poor students get reasonable income source? If they remain unemployed, what difference your charity work has made in their life?

Making few years of a child’s life better is great. Making a child learn more than what he/she can learn with current situation is great. Making a child understand his/her potential is great. But don’t stop there.

If you alone work, you can change few years of lives of few children. If you join hands with many others, you can change lives of few children completely. That is a permanent change.

Government has restrictions. Its financial plan should cover all sectors of the country. But you are free to decide where to spend your money. You have freedom to plan for results.

Solution: Adopt a village

Adopt a village. One organization may not be able to take care of all the problems of a village. If few organizations join hands and adopt a village, they can take care of all problems of the village including education, health, senior citizens, disability, training, employment and so on. Whatever they do, it should cover whole village. Only then, after a certain time, the whole village gets developed.

Regarding children, NGOs should adopt all children of one village. They need to take responsibility of education, food and employment. Children should get all the support for higher studies. They should get exposed to all job opportunities. If some of the children do not get job, training has to be provided in latest technologies till they get job with reasonable income. When a student gets job, automatically family of that student becomes rich.

After a generation (20 years), the new children who get ready for education are rich children because they are children of rich families. They need not go through the process of free food and free education. These rich children can have separate schools or they can join these schools with reasonable charges. Financial burden on organizations starts reducing. The process can be continued forever. But after another generation, the village (or the students) can support the process financially. So it will be self-sufficient or self-sustainable.

On the country map, you can show that this area (village) of the country is having 100% educated citizens and no poverty. In this process, after a certain time (it can be years or decades); whole country will have fully educated rich citizens.

After financial burden reduces on organizations, they can adopt another village. With this process, after 20 years or after 40 years, the children, their families and all future children will enjoy better life forever. These are exit criteria for organizations. After that, organization need not spend money or time for this process. They are free to take up other projects or stop charity. If the new management of organization is interested in some other type of charity in future, they should have exit criteria to come out of current charity work.

There is no guarantee that the charity work continues after the person who has started the work expires. So we should plan to make every project self-sustainable after a period of time.