Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: The old NGO model of solving specific problems with external funding is a dinosaur, and social sector initiatives should also work with an eye on the market, says Elizabeth K. Nitze, vice-president of the Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur Program, Ashoka–Innovators for the Public.

In an interaction with representatives of industry and NGOs here, Ms. Nitze said sustainability is a key to success in social service. “The world’s problems are fast outstripping our initiatives to solve them. But our resources are locked up in silos and cannot be used effectively to tackle the different issues,” she said, referring to industry, NGOs and governments cutting parallel paths instead of pooling their resources together.

Responding to complaints from the industry representatives that corruption was rampant in government, she pointed to Ashoka’s success in bringing together industry, universities, NGOs (citizen service organisations (CSO) as she chooses to call them) in solving the problems of public interest in the United States and elsewhere.

Patience was required to make people understand long-term benefits, and the key was to show the potential to make any initiative a successful and sustainable venture.

Seconding her views, Sriram V. Aiyer, founder and CEO, NalandaWay, a Chennai-based NGO, said research published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review showed that the most successful NGOs were those that concentrated their efforts in a particular direction with a single funding source.

Organisations working in very specific areas could come up with measurable indices of their performance. This, he said, helped them develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

The ethical element was indispensable, but accountability was rarely present in the social sector.

Most NGOs functioned in a feudal manner; it was important to shed this style to build a successful solution to some of the problems. Though some benefits like the care given to a mentally challenged child could not be directly measured, NGOs should strive to bring in professional attitudes, he said.

Representatives of more than 10 companies and 20 NGOs participated in the events organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Consul for Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, on Monday and Tuesday.

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