As a continuing subscriber to social change and a student of Social Entrepreneurship Outreach Program (SEOP) offered by CSIM (Hyd), I have come across a few important ideas for sustainability time and again.
Malcolm Warwick Chair, Resource Alliance shared his opinion on sustainability earlier this year when he visited India, which reemphasized during my coursework in CSIM. The traditional approach to NGO, though a commendable democratic movement has a lot of scope for improvement when it comes to sustainability and financial independence. Mr. Warwick said that this is mainly because of their "paternalistic top-down approach" which looks at the beneficiaries as passive receivers rather than making them active participants. The alternative is to trust the beneficiaries to knowing what they need and involving them in the process.
His idea definitely seems to be very sensible considering the success stories of various social enterprises. As suggested by Mr. Warwick, Rural Education and Development builds libraries in Nepal and India by involving the local rural community in planning, conception, construction and maintenance of the libraries. As a result, the local community seems to understand the need for the library and value in maintaining it. This shows from the fact that all the libraries thus constructed are not only functional, but also generate profit.
During one of the sessions held in CSIM by Mr. B. Ravi Shankar, project manager in Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, he quoted numerous success stories that resulted primarily because of involving the beneficiaries in running the project. For example, to get better profit for their produces, SERP convinced the female members of the farmers to form an organization to compete with middlemen to procure the produces of the farmer and selling it in the market, thus netting the profit that would otherwise have gone to the middlemen. Further, they also learned how to weigh the produces and measure the moisture content of a certain grain (which would determine the pricing of the grain) so that loop holes in ensuring profit is eliminated.
Finding examples that support the same point from totally independent sources convinces me that the only way to ensure maximum and sustained benefit to a beneficiary is to trust him/her to know what he/she wants and involve him/her in the process rather than just a passive recipient.