Free platform for the Indian nonprofit sector 
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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 bliss.” 

The Ideology 
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 of society. 

The Team
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 case, 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 views daily.”

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 (CSR). 

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 to help.” 

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.

Renuka Rane
renuka_rane@thinkdigit.com
Digit Magazine, Nov 2005

 



It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner