Interview: Social Sector

Sreerup Mitra Choudhary

“Main NRI funding to NGOs from US, UK and Sweden”

Ms Sreerupa Mitra Choudhary, a journalist-turned-social activist, has been running shelter homes for the women who are abandoned on the roadsides. Her organization Sudinalay does not accept foreign donations for any social activity. But she strongly feels that the Government should encourage NRI investments in the social sector. Talking to INDIA EMPIRE, Ms Choudhary expressed her views on how NRIs should be encouraged to invest in a big way in the social sector
Why NRI’s are not contributing in a big way in the social sector ?
There are multiple reasons for this. The main reason is that they cannot invest directly in any social scheme. That’s why they invest through NGOs. Another reason is that there is no platform wherefrom they could gather information on the issues where they could pitch in. That’s why many NRIs end up investing through middlemen only.

Which are the areas where the NRIs could contribute in a big way?
India has been witnessing a rise of about 1.2 per cent in the number of cancer patients annually. There are about 28 lakh cancer patients at any given point of time. But only a few NRIs are contributing towards cancer-related programmes. Now take a look at the statistics related to HIV/ AIDS patients. According to a recent study in the British Medical Journal, India has an HIV/ AIDS population of about 1.4—1.6 million. The United Nations 2011 AIDS report says there has been a 50 per cent decline in the number of new HIV infections in the last 10 years in India. But a large number of NRIs are contributing towards AIDS awareness programmes. This is only because there is no proper mechanism through which the NRIs could get to know about the compelling issues concerning the country.

Apart from the health sector, which are the other areas where they can contribute?
If Census 2001 figures are anything to go by, India has about 2 million homeless people. The NRIs should come forward and construct low-cost homes for the rural poor. They should also help in providing food and nutrition to the poor. Statistics ­­show that nearly 4 million people die prematurely every year due to malnutrition and related problems. The NRIs could also play a role in electrifying rural India. Once electricity reaches all the households in the country, it will automatically change the economic profile of the rural poor.

NRIs from which countries are actively contributing to the social sector?
So far, NRIs based in the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden had been funding a large number of NGOs in India. Now, many NRIs from South Asian countries have started funding them. It is a very positive sign for the social sector.

Are the funds provided to the NGOs utilized properly?
The NRIs should learn to monitor and supervise the funds they spent on various social schemes. In fact, they should do social audit on a regular basis.

Some NRIs feel that the politicians don’t encourage them to spend in the social sector?
Yes. Some politicians don’t encourage NRI funding in the social sector. If a NRI constructs a hospital in a particular area, he or she is bound to name it after him or her. That makes such politicians uncomfortable. Also, NRIs themselves should understand the political dynamics of a particular state where they want to invest.

So, how can we encourage NRI investment in the social sector?
We should first create a platform where NRIs, NGOs and Government agencies can have free and fair discussions. Also, NRIs should create a body and dedicate funds for common cause. This way there will be no monopoly of any NRI.

March 2012

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