iCONGO Founding Concept Note

Albeit the founders had thought of a federation of NGOs in late 2003 when they pioneered the joy of giving movement, the idea actually took shape one night in 2004. Please note this founding concept note and introduction letter was written and completed by the founder of iCONGO late at night, when he reached his hotel in Bangalore. This was written after a long bus journey, prior to which he worked and interacted through the day with homeless youth and the community of commercial sex workers and street children in Chennai to help them create homeless shelters (His close interactions with the community and the fact that they were still not empowered after having been supported by Aid agencies for a few years, inspired and propelled him to ideate, formalise and create iCONGO). In order to retain authenticity, the note has been put up here in its original form without any edits or corrections of typos, grammar, etc.

The idea fired up as I thought it is time to form a people and citizen association to govern the GOVERNMENT and all sectors in our society including the people sector. Our mantra to people should be PLEASE, don’t just give money but get involved by practicing philanthropy for social justice i.e. by understanding issues and advocating for the cause.

What I dream and aspire to do is to build a movement, whose core endeavour is to build an ASSOCIATION/ UNION/ FEDERATION/ CO-OPERATIVE or COLLECTIVE of CITIZENS and PEOPLE who believe that they can be the change they want to see in the world.

These would be ethically and socially like-minded and spirited people who lead change by taking active stands and do not believe in impersonal or sporadic giving, but believe in PHILANTHROPY for SOCIAL JUSTICE and know that it is not mindless & arrogant charity but humble & involved social justice that are wanting in the world.

This basically means ensuring that NGOs (PEOPLE SECTOR as Gandhiji had called it) are efficiently managed to create impact, transparent and accountable in their reporting, keep records and document evidence, and make these available to one and all regularly. Donors should have the satisfaction of knowing that their money is EFFICIENTLY MANAGED & UTILISED and only then would Indian Citizens, who inherently believe in supporting social issues and causes, start practicing Philanthropy for social justice by making a social investment (this is the key word , we need to make an investment and monitor impact and outcomes for the cause as that is the return on our investment) for the cause dear to their heart (because I believe almost everyone has one).

While promoting Karm Mitra and THE JOY OF GIVING at ActionAid, I met various socially inclined people who wanted to make a change but did not know how. I met people who gave money to causes but were disgruntled as they felt that their money was not being effectively managed and used efficiently to create and impact for the cause. I met various people who wanted to support causes, but were cynical about the charity sector as they felt that most organisations were only showing the child’s face to evoke emotion and raise big funds.

And that’s’ when I realized a need for an organisation, which did not just indulge in fundraising just to meet targets like dealer agencies. I also realized that most people who had donated money and now become cynical still wanted to support causes if they knew where and whom to support.

I also got to know that there were several people who wanted to support causes and not only needed the guidance about where to invest, but also needed to understand the big picture as most of them had always just given to an emotionally provocative appeal with a child’s face and never heard of some communities that were dying of chronic hunger (like the Dalits, Tribals, homeless, commercial sex workers and other poorest of the poor communities that were mainstreamed in KARM MITRA) in our INDIA SHINING.

To begin with I felt a “collective or cooperative federation” was required with an unique positioning, a first in the world, where we as an organisation would never raise moneys for ourselves or keep any percentages of funds raised for charities registered with us after a stringent due diligence, pre-screening, audit and rating process.

This confederation should be the hallmark of trust, for people who wanted to support social causes, by helping them for getting involved holistically to lead the change for a cause dear to their heart. This confederation should be the Peoples’ or citizen’s forum & lobby to address SOCIAL JUSTICE Issues and “bring people together as ONE to RIGHT every WRONG”.

Thus germinated the concept in my mind and heart, of the Indian Confederation of NGOs (iCONGO), per se, but actually iCONGO shall be a “PUBLIC PRIVATE PEOPLE PARTNERSHIP” where people are at the core of the movement and Citizens get together to lead change, govern the people sector, businesses, media, government by practicing true democracy and come together to RIGHT every WRONG.

I have always thought to myself about how we get involved very intrinsically with our housing society’s governance or our golf club elections to ensure that we get maximum value for the moneys we pay as society or club fees. However, when it comes to the Country’s governance our zeal and enthusiasm is lackadaisical and thus the confederation should also have a greater purpose of nation building.

Now let’s try and compare the country to a housing society or a club. Yes to create a practical analogy the country is one colossal housing society or club. The taxes we pay are our monthly society or club fees. Hence it is our money and our government.

The people we choose to run the state as Chief Ministers or the Country as the Prime Minister are people we have helped put in office and are not rulers but public servants and thus are absolutely accountable to “we the people”.

The taxes we pay are not for them to scam for their personal benefit, but for the benefit of all our people and to ensure that every child is in school and every citizen of the country has their basic fundamental rights.

So why is it not happening???

It’s because of our apathy & indifference, our inability, fear and hesitance to question the people that we elect in government. We forget that we the people are we the power!!! iCONGO’s mission in a nutshell is to create an awakening amongst the people and build Citizen Action and a people’s union to lobby for our taxes to be utilized for the betterment of various “unserved & underserved” communities and also for the middle class.

Like in Europe or the USA the Government can match funds raised by audited and accredited charities, thus ensuring 100% transparency of taxes paid and the social investment made by supporters. This is a very workable and practical model as the people who have donated shall not only hold the charities accountable for their own contribution but also the matching contribution from the government.

This would also ensure governance of government by the Citizens and pave the way for people’s social justice and citizen action for creating a true democracy

So pray how then would an organisation like iCONGO survive and sustain itself if they do not raise funds for themselves or retain any percentages. Simple! iCONGO shall earn its money from consulting, cause related marketing ideas, campaigns, corporate social responsibility strategizing and social ventures on a business model for self sustainability.

iCONGO with other partners like Trade & Industry associations like NASSCOM, BCC & I., PHDCCI, RAI, NECCI, student federations, Civil society organisations, audit firms and the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment shall also create a "rating system" (like ISO or CRISIL, who rate bonds and stocks), to rate NGOs who are fund-recipients.

This rating system that we shall call TOR- THE OMEGA RATING should build such a high credibility for itself, that after 8-10 years, the government, UN, etc. should make it mandatory for a recipient NGO to meet its rating criteria.

iCONGO shall also selflessly (key word here) help raise funds for pre screened member NGOs through various methods including face 2 face fundraising, (The founders of iCONGO pioneered this in India with “Karm Mitra and the joy of giving movement”) fundraising programmes & events, marathons, through payroll, online philanthropy, retail outlets… and other such gateways and infrastructure that we shall create through unique ideas and implementation.

iCONGO shall always “raise the bar” and be above board and not ever raise funds for itself and thus work selflessly for bridging the gap between individual supporters and credible charity organisations thus helping citizens to practice “Philanthropy for social justice” with absolute trust and transparency

Jeroninio Almeida
14/9/2004 - 0230 hours, Bangalore

Thoughts in a nutshell: After having been in the corporate race for 14 years, I joined ActionAid in 2002. With Harsh Mander I felt we could create an organisation that practiced 100% transparency and courage of conviction to take stands and lead the change. While together at ActionAid, we did take strong stands actively and led the change against various wrongs, including the Gujarat pogrom, rights for marginalised Dalits, Tribals , Sex Workers, Manual Scavengers and also filed PILs against state governments to address the issue of homeless shelters.

However after Harsh’s exit a few months ago from ActionAid, the values we both stood for were not happening anymore within ActionAid and I felt I was just a part of another race to raise funds and meet targets. I continued taking my stands and refused to raise funds through Child Sponsorships which is the easiest emotive tool for fundraisers to provoke people to GIVE and one of the biggest fundraising scams. That’s not what I came into development for. I joined the development sector to contribute with my experience and learning towards creating caring communities by engaging them holistically after sensitizing them to the plight of people who are deprived of their basic rights.

And Harsh and I did so successfully through Karm Mitra where 100’s of thousands of people in India understood issues of communities like Dalits, Tribals, sex workers, homeless and street children, disabled, positive people, victims of communal violence.

With Karm Mitra we wanted to promote full transparency and accountability and introduced LIVE REPORTING where communities would tell supporters how their funds were utilized. However I realized that the organisation, I created Karm Mitra for did not like this idea of absolute transparency and forbade me from promoting this.

That’s when I realised that an organisation that works for people needs to go beyond funds and mundane office politics. During the audiovisual presentations of Karm Mitra I met various people who thanked me for opening their eyes and introducing them to “unserved & underserved” communities they never knew existed in our India and thus I realized the need for a selfless initiative led by the people and for the people. That would be iCONGO.

iCONGO shall be positioned as a people’s (your) organisation (and everyone of you citizens is a stakeholder) that shall never raise funds for itself, but facilitate the process selflessly to bridge the gap by sensitizing citizens to credible causes & social issues by mainstreaming the cause.

I also realised that the Direct selling process I had pioneered, was now being misused by other big brand fundraising charities and unscrupulous commercial Direct selling agencies (DSA’s) to raise big funds with false claims and without accountability (as 45-70% was being kept as commissions without informing donors) from people by evoking emotion and there was a need to address this problem and create some credible process for charities and DSA’s to adhere to. (Do also read my introduction letter that I passionately penned earlier today during my bus journey, to explain the formation of iCONGO. Its rather lengthy but shall give you the perspective if you browse through it).

iCONGO is your association, a people’s initiative to come together as ONE to RIGHT every WRONG. In India where everyone from taxi drivers to Auto Rickshaws and even Panwallahs have associations, I felt it was time to form people unions and associations and thus build a CITIZEN movement for achieving the vision of a just , humane and responsible society.