– Atam Dev, Chairman Prakashan 

NGOs are non-political, non-profit and non-governmental organisations. The term “non-government-organisation” is of recent origin. However, members of society have always been organising themselves to attend to social needs or such of the functions in which the governments of the day have been found wanting. Activities of NGOs could aim at charity, providing   much  needed  service or empowering  the society by creating  awareness about 

their own potential power to control their lives. Their area of work could be particular community, city, national or international.

NGO may initially be founded by a person or a group of persons with a missionary zeal and in due course it is joined by others. It has a mission to accomplish. In commercial terms, it is the society that is its “customer” and which it aims to serve. Does the role and skill-set of its leadership have to be different from that of a commercial or governmental organisation? What qualities or skills should its leaders posses or need to acquire? What is the role of professionalism in NGOs?

Role of Leadership
It is true that some may be born with leadership qualities. While it helps if one is born in a wealthy family, but one can still become affluent through his efforts. Similarly, aspiring leaders can work on their attitudes and gain knowledge to be successful leader.

We discuss below some of the important qualities which the leadership should possess for success of a non-government voluntary organisation. A leader has the capacity to influence others in the attainment of organizational goals and he is not just a manager simply concerned with organising and planning activities.

Shared Vision: A NGO is born in the vision of its founder(s). The leadership must share a clear vision of the organisation and a commitment to its cause. It should be able to inspire and motivate others to its goal. It must always be able to relate organisation’s activities to its overall vision, mission, and values. There has to be constant focus on the goal – clarity of objective – and it must be shared throughout the organisation.

Shared leadership: In a social organisation, the individuals join an association voluntarily and they can not be subject to such controls as in the case of for-profit organisation. The leadership in such an organisation has accountability without control. The compliance is the result of the inspiring or motivational leadership which gets extraordinary performance out of ordinary people. One could say that there are bosses but no bossism.

There is a wide variety in the way the NGOs are constituted. In the Indian context, the NGOs are normally registered societies having provision of Managing Committees or Boards to govern them. In such organisations, there is no single leader. There is collective leadership – a collegium which shares formulation of programmes, tasks and also the responsibilities for their implementation. All engaged in such an effort want the organisation where they work to continue to progress even when they are gone. Thus it is choosing service over self interest. It is sort of “stewardship” where we hold the organisation in trust for next generation by serving rather than controlling the people we work with.

Integrity and Mutual Trust: According to Kautilya who wrote “Arthashastra” for his King in the 4th century before Christ, the foundation of leadership consists of honesty, truthfulness and straight dealing. Self-discipline is the most important personal quality of a leader. Leadership must have absolute integrity and firm value set. This means having strong internal guiding principles that one does not compromise. Integrity promotes trust, and not much is accomplished without trust. Mutual trust is a shared belief that you can depend on each other to achieve a common purpose. It also means treating others as you would wish to be treated. Thus a leader must genuinely love and trust the people. Without a loving atmosphere, a voluntary organisation will simply wither away.

Effective Communication: The leadership needs to possess ability to communicate their vision to their colleagues, staff and volunteers. They must ensure smooth flow of communication both within the management team as well as throughout the organization. Communications have to be clear and unambiguous.

Within the leadership group, each one would be leading the group in one or other area of his specific responsibility. He needs to have skill to be both liked and respected. A leader can have influence only through relationship and the latter determines his effectiveness to lead the team and the organisation. A leader is more a listener than a talker. Listening to others’ views is rewarding investment which pays good dividends.

Partnership: Every organisation, more so a NGO, is a team work. All are active participants in the process of leadership. It is only through a collective effort that the organisation can succeed in its mission. The leadership must possess skills to attract and manage seemingly non-compatible persons with different skills and extract the best out of them for the organisational goal. It is similar to our body where it’s five constituents – air, vacuum, water, earth and fire – though non-compatible cannot function if anyone them is absent.

Leaders to be effective must adopt style best suited to the occasion. A good leader knows when to be a leader and when to be a follower. Leadership’s role is that of a facilitator. A leader leads by example and he should be more participative than directive. According to the Tao, the greatest leaders are unknown to their subjects. When a leader organises matters in complete harmony, the subjects go about their work and believe that their projects are accomplished entirely through their own efforts leading to contentment all round. A leader promotes the team, not himself.

Decision-making: In order to achieve success in its mission, there has to be adequate consultation and discussions at various levels of the organisation. There can be greater active implementation of decisions only when individuals act out of their own choices, as opposed to acting out of compliance. Leadership should not try to thrust its decision on the organisation. Decisions should be taken only after consultation with all stakeholders. However once decisions are taken, there should be no abrupt reversal. If changes are done, these should be made only after due deliberations and in complete transparency. Leadership should work for decentralisation of execution with careful monitoring.

Innovation: The leadership should have qualities to innovate and generate newer ideas for fulfillment of organisation’s goals through discussions within the organisation and also through consultations with outside experts in the relevant fields. It should be willing to introduce new technologies and try new ways of working. Without infusion of newer ideas, and the resultant measures, any organisation is likely to become dormant.

To sum up, leadership in a non-profit social organisation is essentially a collective leadership, imbued with a vision to change the society, generating mutual trust, organizing and motivating people through effective communication, creating comradeship, innovating and guiding to achieve the organisation’s goals in an efficient manner.

Role of Professionalism
Historically, the non-profit organisations in India have been founded by individuals or business families. There is always a dependence on the donors in absence of means to generate resources for their own. This results in adopting a non-corporate approach as distinct from the business sector. There is also danger of non-profit organizations being misused or mismanaged to serve other interests and could be subject to corruption. Further, inability to generate enough funds may force the non-profits to engage below par manpower and be unable to use modern technological tools.

The NGOs also face increasing pressure to satisfy their own members and the society which expects them to consistently meet the standards of transparency and accountability in their work.

Spread of Professionalism: Whatever their orientation or level of functioning, there is now growing awareness that NGOs can certainly benefit if these are professionally managed. Professionalism can help them achieve their targets more efficiently and effectively. This movement has been fueled by variety of reasons.

Recently there has been tremendous rise in the number of NGOs operating in India. The scale of their operation is also increasing necessitating large funding. Corporates funding the non-profit sector insist on accurate financial tools and measurement techniques. Secondly, more and more professionals, both serving and retired, are joining the NGOs to share their expertise. When senior citizens, who had professional careers, join non-profits to usefully utilize their spare time, they bring with them their professional expertise. Thirdly, many professionals themselves are coming forward to set up their own NGOs because they find it more rewarding and satisfying than a career in a company.

Fourthly, even where professionals are not part of NGOs, the organisations are recognizing the need to engage professionals or adopt professional practices to achieve their organisational goal more effectively. Fifthly, many non-resident Indians are coming forward to finance development of their own native villages and are insisting on professionalism in execution of the funded works and the reporting procedures.

Lastly, these days many management graduates opt to work initially for an NGO before plunging into corporate world. Working in NGO can help them to hone their people management and decisions making skills in a real world environment. Their internship also provides NGOs with fresher ideas and concepts.

Professionalism Defined: But, what do we mean by “professionalism”? Generally speaking any person who has obtained a degree in a professional field is considered “professional”. In practice, a professional is one who is extremely competent in a job. Professionalism thus refers not only to the qualifications and proper education of a person but also to the high-quality standards achieved in a job. Professional NGOs attain high-quality standards in their social work

Characteristics of Professional NGO: As a NGO embarks to fulfill needs of the society in efficient, effective and transparent manner, professionalism would demand that it adopts the following:

• A clearly articulated mission statement of the organisation
• Meeting all legal requirements in respect of its registration and regular submission of periodical reports to the registration agency;
• Standardization of its procedures of work and enforcement of their implementation;
• Clear description of roles and accountability of all involved in the work – accountability within the organisation, towards the donors and the society;
• Transparent membership records and election of office bearers as per its Constitution;

• Adoption of appropriate financial accounting systems in respect of maintenance of accounts and publishing its financial reports;
• Utmost economy in incurring expenditure on projects / programmes;
• Frugality in expenditure on members themselves;
• Regular independent audit of its accounts and approval by the competent authorities;

• Enforcing effective internal management;
• Systems for strategic planning of its programmes;
• Using the most advanced technology available for its work;
• Ensuring that the services offered maintain quality;
• Meeting its obligation towards environmental concerns by using appropriate technologies;
• Adequate compensation to staff engaged;
• Ethical means in achieving its objectives;
• Conducting regular cost-benefit analysis or project appraisal;
• Procedure for annual public reporting on its work

Impact of Professionalism: Professionalism greatly impacts the NGOs in variety of ways.
• Professionalism in NGOs enables them to expand their area of operation geographically as well by taking up more than one specific issue to serve the society.
• Many large NGOs, particularly those who have international operations, are now going in for the ISO certification which helps them to improve quality, transparency and credibility. It also serves as a worldwide recognition of quality of their administration.
• As the non-profit organisations become transparent in their operations, they can expect increased funding from varied sources – both governmental and international agencies.
• Skillful management of relationship by professional organisations help NGOs to form effective, long-term partnerships with businesses and state agencies.
• With more funds they can afford to engage qualified resources and employ latest technologies in fulfillment of their organisational goals and mission.
• The high-quality standards of NGOs can make them competent to undertake sociological research and also provide guidance to other organisations in non-profit sector.
Professionalism is thus need of the hour. In their mission to serve the society, NGOs will immensely benefit by employing high quality standards, transparency and accountability in their work.

(From “Gyan Prabha”; April-June, 2010)