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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Ford Foundation’s Footprint will continue to haunt the Anna Team

In our previous post (read here) we provided the full list of Ford Foundation funding for the period 2007-2011, compiled from their website (Link).

Ford Foundation pumped in nearly $28 million or on average of $ 7 million per year to over 90 organizations within the country during the period 2007-2011. These organizations includes a sprinkling of central government organizations but largely constituted by NGOs of various shades - activists; research; advocacy; alternative media; research; livelihood; health; Indian affiliates of foreign NGOs. From Jamia Millia Islamia Christian Dalit Liberation Movement; to Lawyers Collective; to Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems; Asian Centre for Human Rights; Alzheimer's & Related Disorders Society of India ; Centre for Budget Governance and Accountability etc, Ford Foundation supported a wide spectrum of civil societies within the country.

Average ticket size of these grants was $ 304,677 or around Rs 1.4 crores per grantee.

The largest funding of $ 3 million or Rs 13.5 crores  was to the National Foundation of India (NFI), originally founded by a group of imminent citizens such as Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, late Shri C. Subramaniam and late Dr. Kamla Chowdhury  in 1992. The present trustees are the likes of like Mr. Ratan Tata; S.P. Godrej; Dr. V. Kurien; Begum Bilkis Latif; Dr. Devaki Jain; Mr. Vijay Mahajan; Mr. R.P. Goenka; Mr. Kiran Karnik; Mr. N. Ram; Ms. Mirai Chatterjee; Mr. P. Sainath; Mr. Deepak Parekh; Dr. Mallika Sarabhai.  ManMohan Singh was a trustee of the organization but relinquished his membership on assuming the Prime Ministership of the country. Ford Foundation’s generous grant was likely an attempt to curry favour the government of the day though NFI by its broad based Board of Trustees is apolitical and highly unlikely they have been involved with the recent Anna Hazare agitation.

Significantly, the next highest recipient of Ford Foundation’s grants was Stichting Hivos, Netherlands, themselves a donor who maintains a full-fledged country office in India, receiving $1.2 million or around Rs 5.5 crores. Hivos is one of the co-financing agencies to the Netherlands government, whose embassy funds Kiran Bedi’s India Vision Foundation. Hivos also co-funds the Centre for Collective Development (CCD) one of the two Ford Foundation funded NGOs of IIM Bangalore’s dean Trilochan Shastri. 

Meanwhile PSO which  is an association that consists of sixty Dutch development organisations including Hivos and which receives 27 million Euros annually for its activities from the Netherlands government is a funding partner of PRIA, who in turn is also a  Ford Foundation partner. Another PSO partner - Soliaridad also funds PRIA.  In turn, PRIA funds Kejriwal’s  Kabir, a Ford Foundation partner! Oxfam is the other foreign donor who received $ 200,000. Oxfam India’s affiliate, Oxfam America regularly taps Ford Foundation, so this source of funding is not new to Oxfam as well. Another US NGO, Winrock International found  as a Ford Foundation partner also administers the Ford Small Grants Facility in India.

Often, what we read in newspapers or see on television represents only the partial truth, or even sometimes a distortion of truth. So getting a grip of the complex funding trail is therefore as difficult as trying to get to the ultimate beneficiary of the 2G scandal as we need to cut through a complex of labyrinths. Nevertheless a US-Netherlands conspiracy link in the Anna Hazare agitation is increasingly emerging as the number one suspect.

As indicated in the above table, Ford Foundation pumped over $ 2.5 million or over Rs 11 crores during the period 2007-2011 under its grant head: Democratic and Accountable Government to just 7 NGOs.  This is the grouping of NGOs suspected to conspired and backed the Anna Hazare agitation. As you see, these 7 partners are geographical well distributed to cover the major metros in our country. If we were to ask Mr. Steven Solnick, Country Representative of Ford Foundation, he will probably tell us it was a coincidence. One helluva of a coincidence!

Ford Foundation partner, NCAS claims a membership base of 99 NGOs spread all over the country. Add to this another 300 odd NGO partners by Oxfam and Hivos combine. Similarly Ford Foundation’s other partners like Access; SIFFS; Sa-Dhan etc are networking NGOs with equally wide partnership reaches. So theoretically, the Ford Foundation’s direct and indirect combined reach could be upto to 1,500 NGOs scattered across the length and breadth of the country. Add to this ‘Campaign for Judicial Accountability & Judicial Reforms’ (Link) , the NGO of Shanti & Prashant Bhushan bringing into the fold another 1,500 NGOs. We arrive at a number - 3,000, give or take 500 NGOs.

What if 10% of these 3,000 NGOs ended up actively mobilising the numbers for Anna’s protest? Assume, each of these 300 NGOs mobilized 100 people (including their staff). This would mean 30,000 protestors. Since crowds normally beget in bigger crowds in India, we can assume a multiplier factor of 10 or higher.  It would take the crowds to above 300,000 - right about the official estimated number to have come out to protest in the country. The camera angles of our news channels then could create an illusion of a sea of humanity. 

Is there evidence of support to this theory? Not yet, but I believe the Home Ministry is working on this angle, according to some media reports. 

The Anna movement had won many accolades for the creative use of communications and the media. Another coincidence we come across is that Ford Foundation invested $ 2.2 million in 11 specialized communications, media and arts outfits in the country during the period 2007-2011. Among them is the interesting case of one start up NGO that secured funding in its very first year of establishment. And if you thought FCRA rules stipulate 3 years of operation to qualify to apply for a FCRA number, then you are wrong!! The Ministry of Home can waive this requirement in deserving cases. Considering the government had been painted by the Ford Foundation funded NGOS as one big rat hole of corruption, the only way to get to the deserving criteria is hmm.... you pay the bribes!!!

Public sphere accountability is a form of accountability similar in ways to that which would apply to governments and government officials. One aspect of public sphere accountability is the disclosure of adequate information to the public and that there is a process of independent audit or evaluation to check that procedures have been followed and that standards have been upheld.

Among Ford Foundation partners were AccountAid, an accounts training & audit firm and two of India’s B Schools - Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and Institute for Financial Management and Research, Chennai. A rapid web review found despite this, less than 15% of all Ford Foundation’s partners’ web published their financial statements and tax returns. Even in the case of the 7 NGOs funded by Ford Foundation under their Democratic and Accountable Government grant category, only one, Arvind Kejriwal-Manish Sisodia’s Kabir were found to have published their audited statements on the web. Even in the latter case, disclosure standards were found to be awfully low.

Publication of audited statements is not mandatory, but its voluntary compliance is a more accurate indicator of sincerity of commitment of NGOs espousing better public transparency and accountability standards. Financial statement disclosures are secondary information provided by organizations to clarify or interpret certain published financial information. For example, a consolidated income from grants and donations does not tell us much how much are raised from individuals; foreign and local institutions. This is one of the shortfall of Kabir’s audited statements as it does not help the reader understand , for example, to what extent Kabir’s programmes are dependent on for example a donor like Ford Foundation whose links to the CIA are well documented and expenditure from this source accounted separately.

We however found the National Foundation of India a NGO where our PM was formerly trustee; Access Development Service, a Section 25 non-profit company; academic institutions such as National Law School; IIM-A and IMFR meeting high standards of transparency and disclosure norms.  We must keep in mind that the average ticket size of these grants Rs 1.4 crores per grantee and in most cases, Ford Foundation funds are just a fraction of their total funding mix. Accordingly, these are well funded and well heeled NGOs who cannot complain of lack of funds to employ competent accountant staff and afford other related infrastructure.

Since financial accountability is an intrinsic component of governance, it is not too much to expect from NGOs who espouse higher governance and transparency of government  to proactively evolve higher voluntary transparency standards for themselves. This is not largely the case for Ford Foundation’s partners as a whole. The least expected from a NGO that pushes for the government to work better by using the RTI act is that  they  should at the very least adequately disclose its financials, particularly the source and use of foreign funds. The fact that 85% of Ford Foundation partners do not even publish their financials on the web tells a very sad state of affairs. In a virtual slap on the face of Kabir, a media agency, Beyond Headlines had to resort to filing a RTI petition in order to derive information on their donors and amounts contributed to this NGO.

NGO authority flows from public perception that NGOs are legitimate—that they somehow do represent the muffled masses, that their motives are good, and that they sacrifice their own comfort to help others. Now if the public has to resort to RTI to elicit information from Kabir a NGO who was one of the leading NGOs driving the Anna agitation; the legitimacy of an anti-corruption movement starts taking a hit!

Ford Foundation is no ordinary donor. Its link with the CIA is well documented, including information taken from sources from its own archives. Read here and here For NGOs to accept Ford Foundation grants and avoid the perceived image of CIA agents, then NGOs should go beyond statutory requirements. They should voluntarily and pro-actively adopt full disclosure standards that reveal all pertinent information to the accounts statement. This abject failure is probably why Anna NGOs are unable to shrug off their image as foreign agents and the image of their anti-corruption agitation as one bankrolled by Ford Foundation!

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