Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) of Value Education for Peace, Indore celebrates its foundation day and the Annual General Body Meeting (AGM) every year on 16th July. For the USM, the AGM is not merely a legal formality, but a celebration of its transparency and accountability. Hence the AGM is open to all those who are interested to learn about USM irrespective of official membership.
The USM is not an organization by its nature and its approach; it is a movement. As it has to function within the framework of the existing laws, it is registered as a society under the Societies Act and it complies with all legal requirements of a registered society. The vision of USM is based on the spiritual foundations of all the world religions in view of building a civilization of love. Its goals are 1) Developing responsible citizens capable of enlightened leadership with character and competence, 2) Promoting harmony among religions and ethnic groups, 3) Creating ecological consciousness and 4) Creating awareness about the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The USM emanated from the vision of Fr. Varghese Alengadan to build visionary leaders for building a civilization of love.
The USM has been functioning in rented premises since its inception in July 1993. It has taken a decision from its beginning not to own land and building. The building, from which it functions at present, is the third one. Another important decision taken by the USM is that it will not apply for funds either from the government or from donor agencies. It has not approached any donor agency or the government for fund for the last fifteen years. It accepts voluntary contribution from individuals and institutions. A large percentage of the finance needed by the USM for its various activities is generated through various training programmes, seminars and publication of books. The training programmes are aimed at realizing its vision and goals. Thirdly, it does not have a chain of branches. Its activities are carried out through various schools spread out in different states of India. These three characteristics make it a movement rather an organization.
The USM held its AGM and celebrated its 27th foundation day on 16th July. The USM has been following a unique way of conducting its AGM since its inception. Along with its official members, representatives of all stakeholders are invited for its AGM. The participants of the AGM that was held on 16th July consisted of formal members belonging to different religions and professions, principals of schools, teachers, students and friends and well-wishers. All those who are interested to know about USM are welcomed for the AGM. The documents like annual report, audited statements of account and annual budget are given to all those who participate in the AGM. Questions and clarifications are welcomed from all participants. Besides the official members, 36 persons participated in the AGM on 16th July. The way the AGM of USM is conducted is an expression of its accountability and transparency. There may not be many organizations in India that conducts an open AGM as USM does.
The audited statements are published as a part of the annual report and it is sent to all partner schools, collaborators and all those who have made financial contribution to the USM. The annual report along with the audited statements of account is uploaded on the website of the USM. By making available to the public and its stakeholders the details of its income and expenditure and the details of its activities, USM is trying to make it transparent and accountable.
The lifestyle of USM community in Indore is also based on the principles of inclusiveness and transparency. The guests and all those who come for training are encouraged to interact with any staff member and collect any information from them regarding the functioning of USM. The community members generously share with the guests and the participants of the trainings information about all aspects of USM, including finance. As a symbolic expression of transparency and trust, the rooms in USM are not locked. Those who come to USM for various trainings can approach the concerned staff for their requirements. No permission is needed from the director. For example, those who need any special food due to health reasons can directly approach the kitchen staff and get their needs fulfilled.
The purpose of celebrating foundation day of the USM is to share with a wider public the vision and activities of USM as well as to educate them about the core values in which USM believes. About 150 people, consisting of prominent citizens of Indore city, friends and well-wishers and the USM staff members participated in the foundation day celebration that was organized at hotel Mangal City from 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m. on 16th July. Besides presenting a short report of the activities of 2018-19, copies of the annual report along with audited statements of account was made available to all participants.
The highlight of this year’s foundation day was an orchestra by well known singer, Dilip Bose and his team. The themes of the songs selected for the orchestra are related to the challenges the Indian society faces today: increasing hatred and revenge, misuse of religion by the vested interests, insensitivity and indifference, discrimination based on narrow identities of religion, caste, language etc. and brainwashing and misguiding the youth. The songs also communicated to the audience the ways and means for responding to the challenges in view of building a civilization of love. It is evident from the positive feedback received from the audience that the songs could powerfully communicate to them the core values in which USM belies: inclusiveness, unity in diversity, forgiveness and reconciliation, sensitivity to other human beings, and honouring all human beings irrespective of their caste, religion and status.
Often the Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) or Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) are accused of not being accountable and transparent in their functioning. Every year various ministries of the government of India blacklist a number of NGOs for violating the government guidelines. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India takes punitive action on the NPOs by cancelling their registration under FCRA for the violation of FCRA rules. Junior Home Minister, Nityanand Rai informed the Lokh Sabha on 16th July that FCRA registration of more than 14,800 organizations was cancelled during the last five years.
When the government is headed by a political party that is wedded to a particular ideology, it may take punitive action against the NPOs that do not endorse its ideology. Hence all organizations against which penal action has been taken by the government need not be corrupt or deviant. At the same time, it is a fact that there are black sheep among the NPOs. The cancer of corruption in the government departments has infected the NGO sector also. Often the officers demand a particular percentage of the government grant as a reward for sanctioning the projects. It is an open secret that a portion of the bribe collected by the officers goes to the pockets of their political masters. One of the reasons for the USM taking a decision not to apply for funds either from the government or donor agencies is to avoid unnecessary harassment by the government functionaries and not to get entangled in the corruption net.
It is also a fact that there are a good number of NPOs which are transparent and accountable in their functioning. A Non-Profit Organization has to be accountable to the government, the donors and the people in general. The NPOs are exempt from paying income tax, provided they are registered under 12 A of the Income Tax Act and follow the guidelines of the department in managing their finance and maintaining the accounts. Hence all NPOs, which are exempt from paying income tax, are accountable to the government and the people. The purpose of publishing the audited statements of account and making it available to all stakeholders by the USM is to fulfil this responsibility. There are many NPOs in India who publish their annual audited statements of account along with the annual report. Transparency and accountability are the signs of a professional organization. USM aspires and tries to be professional in its functioning.
The craze for money and power often lead to corrupt practices in an organization. It is also the main reason for conflicts and divisions in organizations. Lack of transparency and systems to make the office bearers of the organization accountable can easily lead to corrupt practices in an organization. Against this backdrop, if an organization adopts a policy of not owning land and building and not applying for funds either to the government or donor agencies, it will have to generate its funds. It has to repose its faith in God’s providence and adopt the way of hard work and taking risk. In such a situation vested interests will not be encouraged to get into the organization. Those who join the organization are motivated by the vision and mission of the organization and they are ready to contribute their time and financial resource for the realization of the vision and mission of the organization. Only those persons who are willing to contribute generously to the organization will be elected as the office bearers. This has been the experience of the USM during the last 26 years. That is why the USM is able to make a difference.
(Published on 22nd July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 30)