The word ‘focus’ is an oft repeated one in management and leadership circles and has even become a cliched one. Indeed a few books have been written about the value of being ‘focussed’. If the eighties and nineties were about expansion, scale, scope, diversification etc., for almost a decade now the focus is on ‘focus’.
But it appears that the NGO sector is yet to catch up with “Focus”, with exceptions of course. Since March last year, when we started the ShikshaDaan Yatra, we have virtually scanned the internet for a database of NGOs in India by state, district, city and town, to identify, shortlist and meet NGOs working in the higher education space, and possibly partner with them. Once we shortlist, we then mail, message and call them before meeting in person.
What struck me as very odd with almost 90% of the NGOs is the fact that they claim to work on almost every possible area under the Sun, and even in completely disconnected areas. For example, have observed some NGOs claiming to work on poverty, old age homes, sustainable water development, education, grass root awareness and the like. Out of curiosity we have tried to get in touch with some of these NGOs who claim to work in diverse areas but have either not been able to get in touch with them or have got the feedback that they will work in any area where they would get donors to support. Such NGOs definitely bring a bad name to the entire sector as they fritter away the few but precious resources of the donors, by not having the required expertise to deliver results in any of the areas.
While I understand and appreciate the need to respond to emergency situations such as the recent Chennai floods where everyone including NGOs had to chip in to provide immediate relief to the suffering, that alone cannot make you an expert in disaster management. Have met a few outstanding NGOs who focus on one core area and a specific target audience with resources and expertise, to make a real impact. Sevalaya in Chennai, APD in Bangalore, Vidya Poshak in Dharwad, OM Foundation in Noida are good examples of sharp focus leading to outstanding results. Am sure that there are scores of others too doing focussed work across India but in a country with about 2.2 million registered NGOs and just 2% of them filing returns annually, such NGOs are very few and far between. With an estimated ₹20,000 to ₹50,000 crores coming in every year as donations, with negligible accountability and transparency, the focus for most it appears, is on donors and donations, and not on delivery and impact! Perhaps those NGOs who do not have focus can learn from Steve Jobs.