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Staff Spotlight: Parul Sachdeva in North India


Give2Asia is powered by local knowledge. In this series, get to know our eyes and ears on the ground through an interview with Parul Sachdeva, Field Advisor in New Delhi.

First, please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

My name is Parul Sachdeva and I’ve been in the development sector for about 15 years. I studied Social Work at Delhi University and went on to spend ten years working at Child Rights and You, so child rights are quite close to my heart. After that I began working at intermediary organizations like Give2Asia. At the personal level, I share my home with my husband who is not from this sector – he works in business – and I have a daughter who is 10 years old and a challenge in herself.

Where do you reside in India?

I have been in Delhi for more than 20 years now. During my formative years I stayed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but I had to move during the conflict in the Srinagar valley in the 1990s, which is what led me to Delhi. What I like about Delhi is that it’s not a religiously- or culturally-specific city, it’s an amalgamation of a lot of different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. People come here from all over to make a home for themselves and add to its rich, ancient history. I could also speak of negative things here, such as its pollution, overcrowding, and protection issues of women and children, but from the cultural perspective I hold that there are definitely positive components of Delhi.

Within India, how did you first become involved in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors?

I graduated in geography and then did many short term jobs in the corporate sector – which made me realize that that was not the place I wanted to be. I took one year off to get a post-graduate degree in Social work, which opened my eyes to the vast human rights issues that are affecting society. Before that, like many other people, I had little understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized people in cities and rural areas. The course that I took changed my perspective to look at society at large.

What is a difference you experienced between working in the corporate and nonprofit sectors?

While NGOs are now becoming increasingly professional and corporatized, when I began 15 years ago, the NGO sector in India was very small, less organized, and with limited systems and processes in place – yet they addressed peoples’ issues with great sensitivity and humane values. I experienced corporate environments to exhibit much less sensitivity to such issues.

Was there anything that brought you to Give2Asia in particular?

The fact that Give2Asia works in all of the countries in Asia was very compelling to me. Though I have worked and traveled vastly across India, and parts of Nepal doing disaster response work, I felt that this was an opportunity to gain experience more widely across Asia.

What is your role at Give2 Asia, and how has it developed over time?

My initial role was to build Business Development prospects in India and see how Give2Asia could prosper more greatly in the country. I was reaching out to corporations and individual and family foundations, and raising resources for grantees. In June I took on the additional responsibility of being the Field Advisor for North India, which enabled us to divide Give2Asia’s many projects and grantees in India between myself in the north and Saveetha Meganathan in the south.

What is it like being a field advisor for North India?

It’s a critical job. It is responsible work, because if I am going to approve an organization’s due diligence, which takes a lot of time, I have to be very confident about that organization. I find that Field Advisors are a great link between donors and grantees. We are building a unique network – you are responsible for building the relationship with grantees, with the donors, and further connecting them with HQ. Field Advisors are the key link between these three stakeholders. It requires a lot of coordination, and you have to be on your toes with regards to getting information from both the donor and grantee, and this makes it challenging and very interesting work.

 

Unique to philanthropy in India is the FCRA regulations, which still generate confusion. Can you speak to what they are, why they exist, and what makes it so challenging to do work in India as a result?

In recent years, people have been talking more about FCRA regulations and how stringent they are, but they’re not new. They were first introduced in 1980 after the political emergency during the Indira Gandhi time, as an attempt to prevent political corruption. Requiring NGOs to register with the ministry made sure that their foreign resources had a tab being kept on them.

The situation changed in 2010, when it was realized that NGOs were not complying with the regulations, so the old act was repealed and replaced with a new act that was much more stringent. It was contentious at first, especially from the civil society sector, but ultimately the regulations are not problematic if you file your returns properly, do not mix local with foreign money, and follow the provisions. These rules which NGOs were not following very stringently are now being upheld much more closely.

Does Give2Asia have a role in maintaining these regulations?

The funds coming to India through Give2Asia is foreign money (except from nonresident Indians), so as a policy we only accept grantees that are FCRA registered or that have prior permission (a possibility under some conditions). During due diligence, we check their FCRA registration and verify that they’re keeping money in the right places.


Find more answers to frequently asked questions on FCRA regulations


Are there any implications on the donor side for adhering to these regulations?

As long as there are trustworthy intermediaries like Give2Asia making sure that the grantees are totally compliant, donors are protected from any noncompliance issues.

Have you ever been able to visit a project that resonated with you?

Last year I traveled around with a visiting donor to several different projects that we fund in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. One of the projects in Gujarat works towards improving the nutritional intake of adolescent girls who are mostly anemic, and included education programs to spread awareness of nutrition as well as reproductive and menstrual health. This was a very interesting project that’s still going on, and it was a joy to see a community truly changing its behaviors and practices for the better.

How do you see the social sector changing in the next 10 years? What are the challenges that it faces, and how do you see Give2Asia’s role changing or expanding?

A big development is that India recently became the first country to make corporate giving a law. In 2014, a CSR act came out which mandated that corporations donate 2% of their profits to the social sector. The last five years have been very interesting in the sense that corporations started doing social work and started building up their CSR policies accordingly. Over the next 10 years, I expect to see a vast change in how corporations actually see the social issues. Right now there is a lot of focus on easy-to-monitor, short-term issues, with results that can be photographed to generate employee engagement. But to have a larger impact, corporations have to leave their comfort zones and invest in longer-term initiatives – by reaching out to the right territories, right issues, right people, right geography. This is starting to happen with some corporations and it’s a desirable change that I hope to see more of.


Learn more about CSR trends in India


We are talking now about the corporate sector within India investing in other nonprofits in the state. Do you feel that the social sector within the country will expand dramatically as a result?

Yes, some corporations have already been opening their own foundations as a result. At least 30% of corporations have their own foundations, and others are implementing CSR through NGOs. Most companies are based in Maharashtra, which is the financial capital of India, so we see that Maharashtra has reached the maximum number of NGOs receiving CSR funds. At the same time there are regions like the northeast, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh that are not getting the funds that they require. There is a pressing need to shift from investing in Maharashtra to other states.

In addition to geographic trends, we observe that investments in education, skills training, and health receive the maximum amount of funding, while many other pressing issues do not get picked up by these corporations, such as gender rights and climate change. This could be either due to a lack of understanding or simply because they want to stay in their comfort zones. Either way, more and more of them are gradually moving in that direction now.

Are there any big goals upcoming for Give2Asia in India?

When I first started, we had particularly big dreams. We thought that with the new CSR change we would be able to tap into a new, big, growing sector in India. But one of the challenges that has been getting in the way of us achieving that goal is to achieve registration in India, in contrast to China where we’re already registered, because the process is very challenging. We hope that in the next year or two we will have closure on the discussion and know what will be possible for us. We are also putting more intention into leveraging our experience in disaster response within surrounding regions, extending our frameworks for disaster resilience projects that we’ve executed in India over the past 17 years. Combining this knowledge is one of the key steps we hope to advance.

Can you clarify the difference between what would happen if Give2Asia had a registered office within India? How would that change the nature of our grantmaking?

Right now, what’s happening is that if there’s a corporation in India that wants to give to a nonprofit through Give2Asia, it is operationally not possible, as we are not registered to receive funds and issue tax exemptions. As an alternative, we have set up a donor-advised fund account with one of our partner NGOs and are motivating donors to route funds through this channel. But with registration we could greatly expedite the process.

 

What do you think potential donors should know before giving to India?

Donors should know that most investments are currently going to urban areas and are not necessarily reaching the most marginalized people or the right needs. Maharashtra receives 10% of CSR money, yet India has 25 states and some of those states are not getting CSR money at all. This is particularly true of the northeastern states, many of which are almost entirely left out, and they’re very vulnerable, disaster-prone areas. Likewise, there are tribal areas in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh – a state with high malnourishment and high child mortality, agrarian crises, water issues – so far we have been working on softer issues and need to scale up, with donors’ help. There are many issues which aren’t being touched at all, and it is pertinent that donors understand this about India and diversify their investments.

If you could give $1,000,000 to any one of our grantees, where would you like it to go?

I just facilitated the proposal of a new grantee with an interesting model that I really like: Teach for India. They have a very interesting model. They’re urban-based but developed a model that can be scaled up across rural areas. Their model is that they recruit youth who have just graduated from college and train them to work in low-income and government schools. It’s a very relevant model that takes government schools and makes them highly functional, strengthening the programs offered there through the involvement and mobilization of youth.

When you are not working for Give2Asia, what do you do for fun?

I read a lot both fiction and nonfiction, I watch interesting TV series, and sports. My favorite sport, as you can probably guess, is cricket – but you may not have guessed that I also love long tennis.

What is your favorite local food?

India has a very diverse culture and diverse food scene. I’m a bit of a foodie and as such I try to taste a lot of different types of food, especially when I travel. Personally, I’m very influenced by the cuisine of Jammu and Kashmir, which is quite unique.

Are there places that you’ve really enjoyed traveling to, in India or other parts of Asia?

I once did a road trip in Bhutan, which was a very interesting experience that I hold close. The oxygen levels there are very high, and it’s an amazing place with stark contrast to Delhi. It’s so spiritual, it’s like a different world altogether.

Do you have any secret talents or pastimes we should know about?

I really enjoy getting into political debates with family, friends, or anyone I can find.

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