Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

First NGO Visit

Posted by Chris on October 5, 2007

On Friday I made my first trip to a different NGO. I have decided to post some thoughts in detail but omit their name rather than give the name and superficial details you could find on their web site. Which is fitting I guess because they didn’t want to give me any information I could find on their web site. We (a staff at IITD and myself) were supposed to talk to the CEO (notice he’s a CEO) but were talking to someone from research. Which is fine with me. But she wasn’t very enthusiastic about speaking with us.

She answered my questions but was not as long-winded as I hoped. If I asked her to “tell me” something, I got very little, like “tell me about the process that led to you choosing to serve people who make such and such income and have this many assets or less.” Answer was: we have done research, we know who we define as poor. The end.

I am not faulting them on all of this. This NGO has only been around about five years but already has served hundreds of thousands of borrowers with microcredit. It is run in a very business-like, efficient manner. And that included with their time spent with me. Finally, I was able to speak with the CEO and he asked if I had specific questions. I asked about how one particular loan works that I had not read about on their web site. He directed me to their brochure. Then he spouted off the numbers citing their success and that was pretty much the end of the conversation.

What to learn from this? How do you evaluate a good NGO or good service to the poor? The attitudes (albeit in the office, not in the field) of this NGO might be on the “cold” side, but they reach many persons. Do you prefer warmth over numbers? Do these have to be mutually exclusive? These are certainly questions that are posed and debated in the US non-profit world.

The rumor, and I’ll say that I will withhold judgment, is that this place and others like it who are sustainable from the “profits” they receive from lending, engage or blindly allow some shady collection practices. In fact, there was a success story on a branch officer who faced some clients who would not repay but was able to get the money with no explanation as to how he did this. This too is a concern in America with credit unions who try to offer payday loan alternatives, how to balance doing business in an ethical way versus the need to not let people off the hook?

While I do not want every meeting to be like this, it was a valuable experience and another instance of a parallel I can see between the US and Indian contexts.

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