The Need for Civil Society in Good Governance

Shobhit Mathur

As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without civil society’s engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs everyone’s participation and investment.

The socio-economic problems plaguing our nation are huge and need immediate attention. We rank at the bottom of the list on several human development indicators. Numerous NGOs have spawned to champion uncountable causes. It is reported that India has 31 lakh NGOs registered, i.e. one for every 400 people in the country.

This is twice the number of schools in the country and 250 times the number of government hospitals. However, NGOs in India have paid little attention to the larger issue of gaps in policy making and governance shortfalls.

Many problems we face today are a consequence of systemic problems and fixing them should be a topmost priority. In this article, we make a case for why more NGOs in India need to work with the government and why such NGOs need to be patiently supported by the citizens and philanthropy organisations.

Let’s take the issue of women’s empowerment in the country which has lately gained prominence. Several private and charitable organisations are working to address this at various levels. The issues being tackled range from declining sex-ratio, limited access to education, high school dropouts, early marriages, lack of access to healthcare, etc. Millions of rupees as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds are channelled to fund the above initiatives and thousands of volunteers are devoting millions of manhours towards it.

An entire private parallel NGO and funding structure has been created to address the problem and this involves a tremendous investment of resources. However, the role of the state is central to solving large scale complex problems in a sustainable way. Investing any amount of resources without taking policy and governance issues into consideration would not result in any sustainable solution.

Let us take an example of a policy intervention to address this issue. The government of Madhya Pradesh launched the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (ladlilaxmi.com) in 2007. Six other states have now replicated this scheme with some modifications. This scheme was launched in MP to address the declining sex ratio in the state, improve access to education and health for the girl child and reduce child marriages. Under the scheme the government purchases a National Savings Certificate worth Rs 6,000 on behalf of the girl child for five consecutive years – i.e. Rs 30,000 in total. Different amounts can be drawn when the girl reaches the sixth, ninth, eleventh and twelfth standards. If a registered girl reaches the age of 21 and was not married before the age of 18, the girl receives Rs 1 lakh.

Till 2013, 15 lakh ladlis benefitted from the scheme. In a study conducted by the Directorate for Women Empowerment in MP, it was found that 97 percent of the Ladlis of 2007 are enrolled in schools now. There was a marked difference in behaviour of families towards the girl child; increased instances of family planning, immunisation, enrolment in schools and reduced preference to child marriages.

Sameeksha_Gupta_and_Shivraj_Singh_Chouhan,_Nov_2013

A total of Rs 2,326 crore had been spent on the scheme in the first six years of implementation. The government has the machinery and resources to execute such multi-dimensional long-term projects. It needs fresh ideas, good people and technology most of the time.

Scale and sustainability of change can only be achieved with government involvement. However, it is a common experience that working with the government is challenging and frustrating. That is the reason civil society and businesses have avoided involving government in its developmental projects. But isolating the government will never result in long term sustained change.

NGOs in India have tried to substitute for the state and have been unable to scale or sustain their impact. Very often good hard work is done to undo the impact of the policy gaps of the government. Instead of working against each other, government, businesses and civil society need to collaborate to bring lasting change.

There is a need for more NGOs to work in building capacity in the government, to help it function more effectively and efficiently. There is a need to support organisations working in this space – i.e. policy research, policy advocacy and efficient policy implementation or good governance. Good governance creates the favourable environment for overall economic development and prosperity. Internationally, a few organisations have taken high impact steps in this regard and are engaging with the government in a positive way.

Let’s take the example of Liberia. In 2005 when Liberia came out of 14 years of civil war all its institutions were destroyed. The country had a budget of $149 million while it had debts of $3 billion. To address this, the Scott Family Fellows Program was founded with a generous $1,000,000 grant from the family of Ed Scott Jr.

Ed Scott JrEd Scott Jr
The fellowship programme recruited young professionals to support the government of Liberia, as ‘special assistants’ to senior Liberian government officials, primarily cabinet ministers. The programme placed a special emphasis on encouraging qualified Liberians to apply. The fellows worked with the goal of helping Liberia in its urgent reconstruction and development efforts.

In the Indian context as well, without investing in the human capital who would be future leaders, we cannot hope for governance to change. There are a few organisations which are making an effort in this direction, but given the huge need for fresh talent more such efforts are needed. We need fellowships which support such young talent in the public policy and governance space.

These efforts need to be recognised and supported through patient philanthropic support. They have undertaken a challenging path, but the results will be seen in the long run in a sustainable way. As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without our engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs our participation and investment. As the governments today are increasingly open to engagement and the citizens restless for change, it makes such efforts more relevant than ever before.

 

Originally written by Shobhit Mathur for Swarajya.

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Learning, Unlearning, Relearning: Good Governance Yatra’15

Anuva S. Agarwal

To stare at the window, to see the roads pass by
Amidst the constant and excited banter inside, to watch a different side of the country hitherto unexplored, we try.
When journeys became destinations and destinations become journeys,
Where the minds resonated each thought with a selflessness unknown.
Projects that were once mere facts on paper have now each become that open door we’d never thought, existed.
The insights into the VIF machinery, strung chords deep within,
To watch those eyes that burned with the passion, charisma and conviction of an idea that was meant to change.

 

I had a simple wish. It began as a passing thought and I didn’t know how it’d be fulfilled.
It was, to be amongst a culture that had no inhibitions and was outright ready to do something to change the world.
Moving beyond the confines of our comfort zones, Realising my personal limits in respect of staying hungry, minimising sleep and yet not feeling the lethargy creep in, the sheer joy felt at that moment of a ‘connect’ with a fellow yatri;
Singing on the besides highways, when the bus petrol got over, dancing like the bus corridor was the dance floor, listening to poetry recited by fellow yatris, respecting idiosyncrasies, laughing till the throat went sore.
This yatra has undoubtedly reinstilled a belief in the change that is possible, via visits and ‘jumping into’ a system that truly bothers.
I have a major weakness in me – I become indifferent to situations very easily even if they is important, say, a certain activist movement or an exam result or an exam and I always wondered why.
“Indifference is an outcome of apathy, which in turn is born out of disconnect”.
This revelation hit me almost as if the impact was physical, just yesterday! I suppose it was merely the last straw.
I don’t need say anymore about how this Yatra has helped rid us all of the supposed set of ‘disconnects’ we had in our minds.
I thought it would be impossible to find a bunch of people, in one place, one for whom the word ‘ego’ doesn’t exist.
Where humour is the only language and iridescent bonhomie, a trademark.
Well, I was proved wrong, for, these 8 days have given me nothing but this.
We came as individuals but depart as a team.
Fathom the complexity, embrace with integrity. Make your life your own finger print.

#governspired

 

Anuva S. Agarwal was a yatri at Good Governance Yatra 2015. She studied masters in economics at Shiv Nadar University, Noida. The views expressed are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Vision India Foundation.

One Year of Nation Building

 

1 year of VIF

Twelve months ago, VIF started its journey with a policy workshop at IIT Delhi. As we complete one year of nation-building, we feel proud to share our story so far.

On 6th November 2014, the day that marked VIF’s launch, we had asked the participants about their career choices. The average age of respondents was just over twenty years. Coming from some of the best institutes of the country, more than 22% said they want to go for politics / bureaucracy / and related careers. A similar number chose entrepreneurship.

This could be the most passionate and fortunate generation in India for centuries. This is the youth for which we are building the nation of our dreams, and this is also the youth which will realize this dream. Young India wants to make a difference. We keep working to ignite this spirit.

Over the last year, we built a strong advisory board and mentor panel consisting of academicians, industry leaders and professionals. Our network of ambassadors reaches three continents, and our 6-member executive team is as excited as ever. Soon, we will also have ten fellows join us for different projects.

We hosted the nation’s first Policy BootCamp which was appreciated by politicians cutting across party lines, reputed bureaucrats, grassroots workers, academicians and social leaders alike. Delegates spent 21 energetic days with us, many of whom regard this as a transformational experience.

15 summer interns worked in stressful climate to bring changes. Some worked in remote tribal villages, some with top-level governance agencies and policy makers. From these experiences, it is clear that the system can involve young talent to bring unforeseen progress.

To further train aspiring change agents, we have planned programs like the Good Governance Yatra. We are also about to roll out an advanced policy research camp in partnership with one of the world’s best university and a reputed grassroots organization.

With a strong technology background, our team has developed products which can transform the way democracy functions in India. These technology products will make democracy truly participative and help elected representatives improve their efficiency and effectiveness in managing the constituency.

In addition to this, we have co-published a book on citizen engagement, worked with government agencies and political parties for research, and conducted Hangouts with renowned personalities in this space. While doing all this, we partnered with state governments, academic institutions, members of the parliament, non-governmental organizations and more. Moving forward in creating this ecosystem where we train young people for nation-building, we are consolidating our programs and working on specific reforms needed for the country.

A detailed description of the journey so far and the roadmap of the organization is here.

India needs a critical mass of change agents. Once it crosses that tipping point, there will be no looking back. The youth is craving to be a part of the change. Will we, as a nation, provide the right opportunity and mentorship?