Charity Begins @ Home
Make a Difference ....Online
NGOs and NPOs need to reach out to the public. The public,
likewise, wants to find the organisations that support their causes.
Here’s about a portal that facilitates this exchange
The Web site’s name – Karmayog.com – could lead you to
think it’s a site on spirituality. But look at it, and you’ll
see that while the site isn’t concerned with divinity per se,
the people behind it are definitely good Samaritans. The page
demystifies the term: “Karmayog = selfless service with love gives
Launched in 2004 by Vinay Somani, www.karmayog.com is a free
platform for the Indian non-profit sector. The trustee of the
R O Somani Charitable Trust, Somani hails from a philanthropic
family. Karmayog.com was propelled by the experience Somani gained
when he set up FindStone.com in 1999 – a commercial B2B (business-to-business)
site that deals with the building stone industry.
An entirely free Web site, Karmayog.com is modelled on FindStone,
and is completely funded by the Somani trust.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), non-profit organisations
(NPOs), volunteers, service providers, and so on can get themselves
listed for free on the site, helping it disseminate information,
mobilise resources, generate funds and co-ordinate events that
help society. Essentially, it’s a free portal for both donors
and the needy.
Somani sums up the purpose of the site: “There are many NGOs doing
excellent work in India. We wanted to support them in whatever
capacity, be it online or offline, in terms of volunteering or
distributing materials or providing strategic advice. However,
NGOs are largely understaffed. We hoped that visitors to Karmayog.com,
who may be experts in their own field, could provide their valuable
time and efforts and thus support a noble cause.” Volunteers,
mentors, corporates, and service providers can list the availability
of their time, talent, materials, services and money, and also
indicate their interest in specific NGOs and other humanitarian
projects. The Karmayog team co-ordinates events and seminars –
including contacting NGOs, citizens, the BMC, the Mantralaya,
and corporates – and brings together people from all sections
The Karmayog team comprises five members, including Somani. There’s
Vibha Singh, the content developer, a journalist with eight years
of experience in mainstream media and also in the social sector.
What prompted her to join Karmayog? Singh says, “The media doesn’t
have scope for follow-ups. For instance, when I reported a rape
the story would get printed and that would be the end of it. But
what happened to the victim after that – whether or not justice
was meted out, and other relevant issues – would go unnoticed.
“I realised then that it was NGOs who finally rehabilitated the
victims – of rape or otherwise – and they were the ones who actually
did the follow-ups. I wanted to do something more constructive
than report facts as they stood. I chose Karmayog.com because
other, similar Web sites seemed inadequate in this context.”
The other team players include management student Burzin Mistry,
who handles the Web site development. A post-graduate in social
work, John Matthew is the researcher. Jayant Upadhyay manages
the accounts and administration.
On The Technical Front
The Web site itself is constantly undergoing change. Right now,
the site does not have a forum, but it does have a Yahoo! Group
with more than 3,000 active members. As Mistry says, “When it
was first launched, Karmayog.com was a purely HTML site, a database
model. We developed it over time into a fully-functional site.
We have outsourced the programming work for the site. We also
provide a free daily newsletter. We get more than a thousand page
A Free Information Database
Visitors to Karmayog.com can find volunteers, advisors, employees,
materials, services, sponsors, Indian and foreign donors, and
even get support for events and publications. There is also a
list of companies involved in corporate social responsibility
Highlights of the site include ‘Hot Topics’, wherein urgent social
issues are floated on the site and users can add their views,
suggest solutions or offer assistance. Then there are ‘Issues/Causes’,
‘Actions for Citizens’ including ‘Contact your ALM (Advanced Locality
Management), ‘Library of Articles’ and so on. Under ‘Services’,
users can access emergency numbers and help lines, 152 Support
Groups and an all-India hospital list.
A recent addition is the ‘NGO Council’, a representative body
of the NGO sector in Mumbai. An open committee, it comprises a
mix of 69 organisations. The Karmayog team has extensively mapped
and sorted the NGO sector in Mumbai by location, area of work,
capacity and so on. All NGOs in a sector are listed along with
a brief note on their capacity, activities and services.
Singh adds, “As a Web site, you need to have the latest information.
For us, this involved personally visiting hundreds of NGOs and
calling up others to check if their services, addresses and phone
numbers were still valid. Even for the non-NGO listings, we took
up whatever existing lists there were, of say, blood banks, media
firms, hospitals and so on. We then called up each and every place
to verify the details and uploaded those onto the site.”
A Web Presence For NGOs
NGOs in India can get a free, permanent, self-manageable online
presence at the site: they’re given a URL such as www.karmayog.com/ngoname.
The NGO can update its details daily, put up requests for volunteers,
announce job openings and so on.
Somani explains, “Being on the Web increases the NGO’s reach.
The details of NGOs have been presented in such a way as to give
users a quick profile of the organisation. As of now, Karmayog
has up-to-date listings of more than 2,000 NGOs in Mumbai alone
– and more than 3,000 NGOs from the rest of India.”
Karmayog also lists volunteers and donors. There are more than
350 registered volunteers, and the number is rising. Those who
would like to get a volunteer ID need to fill out such details
as name, work and home location, area of interest, languages known
and volunteering experience.
Helping Citizens Come Together
The Mumbai floods swung the Karmayog team into action like never
before. From getting donors who had sponsored lakhs of rupees
worth of medicines, to others who could bodily help victims, to
allocating funds, Karmayog became an information interface. The
team members were available for contact 24/7.
Somani refers to a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by a
citizen in the court over the bad road conditions in Mumbai. The
court retaliated by asking for solid evidence on the same. Since
then, Karmayog has been bombarded with mails from several infuriated
citizens – with pictures of actual roads with potholes, which
are in a state of utter neglect! He also gives another example:
that of the stray dog nuisance. On the one hand, Karmayog received
passionate letters from animal lovers, and on the other, there
were those who had been bitten by canines pouring out their woes!
Somani says, “Being an online medium, Karmayog can enable this
cross-fertilisation of ideas – there is a sharing of views – and
thus people can find a balanced approach to their problems and
live harmoniously. The judiciary may give inflexible solutions
to problems, the government cannot help everyone, the policies
are lopsided; in such a scenario, the citizens have to help themselves.
NGOs do not want to preach to the converted – those who are already
helping with charitable causes – it is essential to leverage those
who are sympathetic to the cause but have hitherto been unable
Networking With NGOs
In terms of information, resources and activities, Karmayog.com
has all a donor or volunteer would ever need. For a better idea,
consider this: under the ‘Issues/Causes’ sub-head, there are some
40 links dealing with issues as diverse as AIDS, drug abuse and
the environment. Now, under a link titled ‘Disabilities – Hearing’,
there’s information pertaining to the hearing- and speech-challenged
sector. All the data in this section is freely accessible, including
14 hearing aid manufacturers in India, 19 links to useful Web
sites, 12 libraries of articles, 10 Acts, laws and Government
schemes, and an e-group.
And under ‘Mumbai’ alone are listed 24 schools for the hearing
challenged (with ratings), 18 other NPOs (with ratings), 95 ENT
Hospitals, surgeons, doctors and clinics (with the respective
consulting fees), 50 hearing aid clinics and suppliers (with ratings),
profiles of hearing-challenged individuals and training institutes.
As you can imagine, such a compilation is of immense help. A parent
of a hearing-impaired child could be looking for a suitable school,
and through the listings on the site, he or she would be able
to easily find a NGO that meets his or her criteria.
Channelising Of Resources
“NGOs are doing fantastic work, and even a little support can
multiply their effectiveness. They need to find those who can
help – and people need to know how to support them. However, because
of lack of information and co-ordination between NGOs, there is
often duplication of work and inadequate and fragmented knowledge.
It is here that, as a readily accessible online resource, Karmayog.com
acts as a facilitator,” says Somani.
Karmayog also functions as an independent organisation that evaluates
and recommends NGOs. In January 2005, Karmayog started the ‘Non-profit-of-the-month’
idea. Here, it carefully profiles and recommends one deserving
NGO every month, usually a low-budget concern. Here, in addition
to the general details about the NGO, the Karmayog team personally
visits the NGO and notes the administration, upkeep and facilities,
and gives them the rating. This, in turn, helps donors directly
help NGOs – any donor needs to be assured that his or her contribution
will reach the actual beneficiaries.
You Can Reach Out!
You may feel strongly about civic issues and you may also have
the empathy to do good, but not always have the means to reach
out. With Karmayog.com, you need not be a mute spectator any more:
you can play an active role to make our world, clichéd as it may
seem, a better place to live in.
Digit Magazine, Nov 2005