Philanthropy is about giving. That is the old paradigm: those with surpluses give to those with deficits. The new paradigm is: Bringing about a 5% shift in lakhs of people so that there is a huge contribution surplus in the society.

How? There is a need for a radical improvement in the quality of contribution across society. For example, how many NGOs can improve schooling? NGOs have to serve market failures, or institutional failures of society at one level, but NGOs cannot perform the function of the society itself. Institutional failures happen during the times of crisis, because the institutions and markets are not capable of dealing with the demand and the load; because they are not organized for that. So during floods, earthquakes, etc. a number of agencies need to come out and work aggressively and make a difference in that society, because none of the institutions are prepared to deal with those kinds of crises.

If, however, a society is working, but some of its sections need special support, e.g. there are basic institutional failures that do not support sick people: in addition to treatment, they may need care, somebody to talk to and spend quality time with them. As a society it may not be possible to ‘organize’ for something like that. It is possible to organize for medical help during emergency, but taking care and spending quality time is a function of the patient’s family. But if there is a breakdown of the institution of family in society, then it creates a completely new set of needs!

So, it is important to perceive that society is filled with a number of institutional and structural mechanisms to deal with a range of human needs. NGOs cannot voluntarily solve vast number of needs that the society tries to deal with. There are huge gaps. The problem in the Indian society is that there are development gaps. There are institutional gaps. And these gaps exist because the people working in those organizations are not doing their work. So the failure is of a different kind. It is not a failure of institutional design. It is not a design failure; it is an execution failure.

Large-scale societal change needs solutions that have to meet the fundamental mindset failures in a society. They have to deal with human failures which are at the heart of society, not at the gaps of society. Our problems are much bigger than what we realize. So we need to solve problems at that level. This cannot be accomplished with just giving the needy by taking from those who have excess!

What Baba Amte did was correct NGO work. It is important to understand what he did. There was a cultural and social failure, because people were not dealing with lepers. The institutional mechanisms of society could not deal with it. So, Baba Amte stepped in and did something for that community in a very specific way. That was a powerful institutional intervention. That was a powerful social and cultural intervention.

But if an NGO wants to address the problem of primary education in the country, it cannot do that. Of course it can make some difference, but that is not the right way. The right approach is to invoke the entire stakeholders do their work better. An NGO can take a stand that precisely because the stakeholders were not doing their work, it at least tried to do something positive. But that does not really solve the fundamental challenge!

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