For the greater cause

Kathmandu :

Grass-roots NGOs by Women for Women documents the growth of 20 women-lead NGOs operating in Pune, Maharashtra, in a five-year period between 1995 to 2001 and, in the process, looks into the reasons for their success. This study is unique in the sense that there has been very little research on women’s leadership in both for-profit and non-profit sectors in a third-world setting.

The book is the fruit of an interdisciplinary study conducted by the four authors, namely, Femida Handy, Meenaz Kassam, Suzanne Feeney and Bhagyashree Ranade, three of whom have spent most part of their lives in or around the area of research, with the fourth, who has never been to India, providing an outsider’s slant.

No less intriguing are the queries these enterprising women seek answers to: Why are some women-led NGOs more successful than others? What individual traits and backgrounds of the founders led to their success? How do the women-led NGOs develop and evolve over time? And in what ways do they help the cause of downtrodden women?

The study leads to some important conclusions. All the 20 heads of the NGOs under study are staunch feminists, who, at their personal initiatives, are driven by their desire to alleviate the suffering of women. Unsurprisingly then that most of the NGOs work towards women’s empowerment and safeguarding of their rights.

The women leaders hail from diverse backgrounds: some, dirt-poor, like Sindhutai, who came into the limelight after demanding that the female dung collectors, like their male counterparts in her village, be paid for their labours; others, like Medha Samant, bred in well-to-do families and inspired by their parents’ social engagements to take up social work themselves (both the Samant’s parents were revolutionaries who fought against the Portuguese rule in Goa in the 1940s).

The study concludes that, with time, most NGOs assume bureaucratic characteristics though first established on collectivist principals. This, primarily due to the ramifying of the functions of the NGOs with time. The accountability that big donors demand of these NGOs also forces them to develop some bureaucratic traits.

These non-profit, women-led organisations have been successful largely due to their participatory approach at the grass-roots level that directly engages the clients. As most programmes are tailored to the clients’ needs and build on the success of each other — microfinancing, for instance, empowering women to launch a drive against alcoholism — they contribute to the overall success of the organisation.