We all want positive change. Today, we demand solutions in 240 characters to issues that years of social and political reform and dialogue could not resolve. If everyone is asking for change, who should actually make it? How can it start?
I always believe it best to look beyond government, any government, for change. Our civilization, like others, accords great weight to a larger identity, one that comes from the community. An African word, Ubuntu, roughly translates into “I am because we are”. In the collective lies the well-being of the individual, so individual progress can flow from a larger good.
Volunteering is a natural outcome of this way of thinking. And, clearly, the need of the day. However, it is important to note that volunteering is neither a novel nor a modern construct. Cultures across the world have long encouraged individuals to contribute to society. In India, from kar-seva to shramdaan, there have been many calls for people to help shape a happier and more sensitive society.
However, volunteering needs to move out of the realm of charity and social good and become more structured. What would this look like? Structured volunteering would encourage and sustain volunteering, bringing together many groups in a larger whole. Civil society and government could work together to make volunteering an integral part of India’s school curriculum; credits earned during volunteering would count during college admissions or while applying for jobs. Corporates could play a big role here by conveying how desirable it is for candidates to have volunteering experience. Industry should also have welldefined volunteering policies that reflect their business ethos.
Which brings up the question I did not answer before: why do we need structured volunteering?
We are all full of good intentions, but action must follow intent. Structured volunteering integrates opportunities into our daily lives. The young go to school and colleges daily. Making volunteering a part of the curriculum is a smart thing to do, especially for a young country. The students of today are the leaders and decision makers of tomorrow. Volunteering is an opportunity for them to understand the diversity of this country, its unique challenges and what development really means. Its importance in shaping an informed mindset cannot be overstated.
And volunteering can benefit the national development agenda. Our inability to deliver routine services have long been pointed out by development experts; Lant Pritchett even called us a flailing state. Much has been written on what needs to be done. Volunteering seldom figures.
NGOs can provide a critical last-mile link in delivering services. Most grassroots organisations score very high on domain knowledge. They struggle to scale. If we help them build capacity, their impact can multiply. Industry is uniquely placed to help NGOs scale.
The India@75 Foundation (I am privileged to be a trustee) is working to facilitate this critical link by leveraging technology. It has created an online platform called the National Volunteering Grid (NVG). Over 5000 NGOs, corporates and corporate foundations connect with each other on this platform. NVG is just one example of what can be done. There is a need for many more interventions in this space.
Each person has the power to make a difference. Let’s give them every opportunity to do so.
The article by Dr Naushad Forbes, Past President, CII & Chairman, India@75 Foundation and Co-Chairman, Forbes Marshall, first appeared in the August 2021 issue of CII Policy Watch. Click here to read the issue.