Sunday, March 18, 2007

Profits from charity

Dump the hypocrisy of charity & create a profitable society

Ioften wonder as to why even after 60 years of Independence, India still houses around 300 million people below the poverty line, another 350 million illiterate and 700 million people without sanitation facilities. Why is it that after concerted efforts from the governments both at the State and the Centre, institutions and civil societies, there has not been any noteworthy change in the social landscape of our country? Why is it that even after spending billions on charities and social initiatives, we could not achieve any concrete result in uplifting the poor? Whereas in the same 60 years and some concentrated efforts by some individuals and with fewer billions, Indian businesses have yielded unprecedented results. It is amazing that Indian businesses had made televisions to reach places where education or sanitation is yet to reach.

The difference in performance is on account of the fact that unlike in a business enterprise where profits are its biggest success indicator, charities have always been devoid of any such performance indicators. Though the conventional idea is that profits and charity are mutually exclusive (and lies deep in our general ethics), for a minute if we keep our conventions aside and contemplate the fact that why can’t charities be for profits. For profit is not a sin. On the contrary, it is the only indicator of the success of an enterprise.

In India, currently thousands of small medium and large NGOs are operational. But unlike Indian business, very few Indian NGOs are national players and aspire to be global. And why should they? They are content in handling in one micro social issue in some micro region of the country. They by no means have the incentive to grow beyond their services and region. The day they profit from their services they would have the incentive to go beyond.

Consider this: A year ago, an NGO conducted an experiment in one of the poorest villages in Haryana. On an experimental basis they started a camp for elementary computer training for a period of three months, charging fees of Rs 100 per month. Even after running three shifts in a day, this experiment was so successful among the village kids that they fell short of seats from day one. Each and every parent shelled out Rs 100 for their wards, abstained their kids from attending the free government schools and literally motivated them to take the training. The retained earnings of this experiment also incentivised the NGO to expand this training to other villages as well.

Likewise, it is needless to state that it is only profit that forces businesses to expand markets, scout for newer markets and thus reach every corner of the country. Why can’t the same happen for charities? Why can’t charities run like businesses? Why can’t charities scout for newer regions of poverty, illiteracy, health and sanitation? The day this happens the outlook towards charities would change, changing the entire social landscape of the country as then no one would remain poor, or illiterate. Moralities and ethics, to be honest, have not been able to feed the hungry stomachs of millions. So lets dump this hypocrisy of charity and create a profitable society.


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