Purse opens as NGOs tell their tales

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  • Published 11.11.13

For a city well-worn to the idea of exhibitions, the Calcutta Gives event on Sunday was an unusual addition: the first ever coming together of philanthropists and NGOs under the same roof.

Some 800 successful achievers turned up at Park Plaza Calcutta Ballygunge to hear the stories of 22 NGOs engaged in philanthropic activity. Not just hear, applaud, whisper “shabash” and leave, but to reach into their pockets and make a grassroots difference.

It took all sorts of people to make the unprecedented Calcutta Gives concept an unqualified success. There was this industrialist who excused himself from work starting Friday to call no less than 80 prospective attendees; there was a wealthy businessman who inspired his friend to commit a crore of rupees “across five years”; there was the Alipore-based businessman who spent 30 minutes seeking out the good work being done by Sir Syed Schools in neighbouring Kidderpore and Ekbalpore; there was Hamari Muskan (running a day care centre in a red-light area) faced with the grim prospect of its Norwegian volunteer leaving within a month, now receiving an absolutely unexpected windfall of 10 volunteers registering at the event; there was the absolutely fascinating Ashabari (running a home for the mentally ill) struggling to make ends meet now having firm commitments from people interested in investing in its facility; there was Chhaya (running a professional animal welfare medical facility) who received handsome commitments from animal lovers among visitors; there was Vivekananda Vikas Kendra coming all the way from Purulia to “market” its story to an audience it could have never otherwise accessed; there was the amazing reality of NGOs networking with each other so that one NGO spending Rs 1,100 for the dialysis of a needy patient realised that just three stalls away was another willing to do it for Rs 500 per session; there was one NGO who felt queasy “behaving like a Kabuliwala” only to find that in this event people were coming to ask “What can we do for you?” instead; there was the instance of an affluent wife moved to tears when an NGO said, “We will put together your leftover soap suds and make then usable”.

So what makes a daringly different experiment like this work in a city conscious of counting its pennies? One, the evident reality that the event promoters had no money to make from the event (cheques will go direct from donors to NGOs). Two, an exhaustive brochure listing out the stories of NGOs so that prospective donors went to the event informed. Three, aggressive networking with peers, friends and relatives to attend and “listen to the stories and if you are impressed, then contribute”. Four, the handing of “play money” to each visitor, inviting the person to contribute to whichever NGO he or she wished with a provision that this would be matched rupee-to-rupee by the organisers. Five, no NGO canvassed for a donation; it merely explained its story and hoped for the best.

So where does Calcutta Gives go from here? Here are some possibilities. Network with each prominent Durga Puja committee to provide a stall for at least one NGO. Get each advertising agency to adopt an NGO with the objective to revamp marketing collateral. Engage professional chartered accountants to help NGOs cut costs. Connect NGOs with HR professionals to run voluntary training courses. Get schools to volunteer student time for NGOs. Create a year-end calendar to highlight individual success stories coming out of NGOs. Get corporates to “donate” outdoor hoarding time to celebrate NGO causes. Create the first encyclopedia of NGOs engaged in making Calcutta a better place.

For decades, Calcutta NGOs worked as silos. The time has come to aggregate them into a continent. Starting now.