Role of civil society

Vibrant civil society can transform the social texture of a city

Each time I talk to my friends in other Indian cities, I realise that there are only a few cities that have a civil society sector as vibrant as Gurugram. To be sure, Gurugram has several well-intentioned citizen initiatives, a diverse set of social enterprises, NGOs and Foundations, well-oiled CSR wings of corporates and Fortune 500 companies and last but not the least motivated citizens that are continuously and selflessly doing their bit for the community. Together, they make a heady mix and with the greater synergy between them they can make a formidable force to transform the social texture of the city.

The millennium city has undergone an uncontrolled real estate explosion with the result that hardly any attention has been paid to develop it as a sustainable, empowered, inclusive and equitable city; sustainable enough to ensure that the city conservers its resources, empowered enough to be able to take its own governance decisions and inclusive and equitable enough to care for the poor and needy. The sizable migrant workforce that serve the city’s rich as helpers, drivers, maids and cooks have no access to low-cost housing, education and health facilities. The role of the social sector in filling this gap cannot be underestimated.

Let us look at what kind of entities comprise the social fabric of Gurugram. Citizen initiatives are largely campaigns led by a group of people. A few citizen initiatives of Gurugram are Green Gurgaon (cleaning and greening), Gurgaon Governance (city governance issues) Solid Waste Action and Awareness Forum (waste management), Gurgaon Water Forum (water sustainability), Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (citizen rights). These initiatives have informal and fluid structures, operate as per the availability of group members, but are quite effective in bringing together like-minded people together to improve awareness and action through workshops, PILs, appeals and sustained campaigns. Friends of Gurgaon is another citizen initiative that recently got formed for a sustained campaign against air pollution.

NGOs and Foundations in Gurugram are working in a wide variety of sectors including education, health care, care for the elderly, cancer awareness, environment, sanitation, senior citizens needs, skill development, training and vocational skills, tree plantation, women safety and empowerment, waste and water management, etc. The Lok Kalyan Hospital in Chakkarpur DLF Phase II provides health care facilities in the adjoining areas. The Happy School in DLF Phase I provides free education, books and clothing to over 400 students from the areas around Sikanderpur. The NGO Agrasar provides employability and livelihood opportunities to 7,50 youth every year through its three employability centres in Gurugram. There are several such shining stars making a positive difference.

Most of the NGOs are funded by international and national donor organisations or individuals, as also by the central ministries and government agencies. Besides, several corporates in Gurugram are doing commendable work under CSR through either their own foundations or by supporting NGOs. Social enterprises such as Safetipin (women safety app) and Gurgaon First (workshops and handbooks) are also making a mark. Lastly, some inspired residents are either working as volunteers with NGOs or simply making a quiet difference through good community deeds like distributing winter clothes to the needy or reading a story to children at a school for the underprivileged.   

How do we make Gurugram’s social sector more effective? One is by having regular interactions between different segments such as initiatives, NGOs, CSR heads so that they could not only compliment and supplement each other’s efforts but also learn from each other. Success stories and best practices in fund raising, maintaining transparency, operational management, attracting volunteers need to shared and showcased. Two is by improving the engagement of the civil society with apex authorities such as GDMA and MCG so that the former are fully on-boarded on the government-level social priorities. The authorities can set the city’s larger social agenda and goals. Take for instance, the goal of planting a certain amount of saplings in the next three years. This goal can be divided among the interested civil sector entities and the CSR departments and government can fund these projects. By such top-down integration, there can be greater confidence between the social sector and the government as also between funding and implementing agencies. Besides, united action can improve the impact and reach of interventions and there can also be better monitoring for evaluating the impact of these interventions.  

Gurugram has a substantial population of retired but active citizen force that can contribute their might to the city’s good. As per their experience and interest, they can contribute as sector experts on city’s development and sustainability aspects, or teach in schools for underprivileged citizens, or spend time with tenured citizens at old age homes. All we need is a mechanism to match their interest and availability with the requirements from various social quarters.

Besides, Gurugram is a city of start-ups and it would be great to see social enterprises succeed in this city. These enterprises could be consultants, think-tanks, IT-based service providers, research companies, event companies. There is no dearth of funding for a quality idea or intervention that plugs a large or complex social problem. If a few social enterprises succeed commercially, we will see more talent and innovation flowing in the social space. The use of IT and applications can also transform the scale of operations and the way of doing things.

So, as we head into 2019, here’s hoping to see more integration and collaborations within the civil society sector and with the authorities for the greater good of the city. Together, we can all make a positive difference.

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