Who are you working for?

I was once asked to undertake field visits for the assessment of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This was needed in order to make decision for funding them. I visited a number of NGOs, tried to know about their work and interacted with their staff. I was shown a number of documents, progress reports and photographs of the work done by them. I wondered if it is was necessary to have so many photographs which captured mainly the ‘important people’ at the events organized by organizations. One NGO mentioned that they had installed water hand pumps in a number of villages with funding from the state government. They were a bit surprised when I requested them to take me to one of the hand pumps installed by them. Reluctantly, they took me to one. The pump was dry and did not give out water. Local people said it stopped working after a few weeks. As per the scheme the NGO was supposed to  set up a local committee to oversee the functioning of the pump and do the needful for its maintenance. The committee existed but only on paper.  The purpose of the scheme to engage a local NGO was thoroughly defeated.

I am a believer in the potential of NGOs. There are several of them engaged in significant developmental efforts but this incident was disappointing. If the NGO was really committed to solving the water problem in the area, it would use the opportunity of using the available funds for the installation of hand pump, work with the community to ensure that it remains functional and the community learns to take care of it. The job does not end with mere installation of the pump and submission of the report.

An organization is nothing but the vision and commitment of people who work for it. Therefore, if there is one lesson I like to share with social work professionals, I would say: Always remember ‘who’ you are working for. It should be the ‘people’ you are meant to serve. It can also be the ‘cause’ that you have associated yourselves with. If this is the case, you would work differently. You would be internally-driven. You would see your work beyond the ‘project’ for which your organization receives funding.

Make sure that the hand pump you installed gives out water much after the project period is over!


4 Responses to Who are you working for?

  1. Fatima says:

    Dear Afsar,

    As usual, there is an interaction between professional and personal life in your blog, it is at least my reading.

    Who we are working for is a philosophical question. Beyond the basic occupational function, there are values, principles, guiding our work and we are not always aware of it. In any case we are working for a cause, linked or not to deliverable.

    To be more pragmatic, I share your point of view, NGOs have effective development roles and are critical to reach out populations. People who work for them must also have a vision of what they want to achieve. Engagement of both providers and receivers is the entry point to build bridges between needs and resources and realize performance that can impact positively the lives of disadvantaged people.

    Commitment might be the driving value to ensure that the pump always gives out water.


  2. S.Mohammad Afsar says:

    thank you very much Fatima for your comment. Your statement that “People who work for them must also have a vision of what they want to achieve” makes absolute sense.

  3. Mohd Nayyar Afaque says:

    Impress with the comments “People who work for them must also have a vision of what they want to achieve” but here comes the role of change agents, to make people realize what they want and how to achive them.
    The problem with NGOs is that the donors always ask for documentation, photographs etc and so the real grassroots NGO, which are making marks in life of people but do not have proper documentation could not get the assistance.

    So, I think the root cause is not with NGOs but with donor agencies, it is them who need to change their way of work.

    • Syed Mohammad Afsar says:

      thanks, Afaque, It is always good to see your comment. When people have a vision, and if they take it forward courageously, they become change agents.
      I agree that donors also need to change their ways, and know for sure that they are struggling to find better ways of assessing the real impact of their money.

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