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Citizens have lost faith in the NGO sector: Meenu Chopra, iCONGO

May 08, 2014

Meenu Chopra, Co-founder of iCONGO, an Indian confederation of nonprofits, in an interview to OneWorld South Asia, said that citizens can do a lot to effect a positive change in the society without leaving the sector that employs them.

Meenu Chopra

OneWorld South Asia: Tell us about iCONGO and the background of REX awards?

Meenu Chopra: With the belief that every citizen is a ‘Change Leader’ and has the right and responsibility to ‘be the change’ in a democracy, we instituted iCONGO in December 2004. iCONGO is an acronym for the ‘Indian Confederation of NGOs’.

iCONGO is not an NGO. We are a confederation of NGOs and we have NGO members working on in all issues under the sky.

We started the ‘Right every Wrong’ movement in the year 2007 to encourage people who are themselves becoming agents of change for ensuring human rights instead of looking for help from the government, nonprofits or the media. Under this movement, iCONGO instituted the Karmaveer Puraskaar (KVP) to recognize such people.

In the year 2012, we renamed the ‘Right every Wrong’ conclave as REX (King in Spanish). Promoted by iCONGO, REX is a knowledge platform to discuss ideas for action which can have a greater impact on society. Anyone who has an idea to bring about a significant social change on women issues, child abuse etc can join the REX forum.

OWSA: What kinds of initiatives have been recognized by Karmaveer awards for promoting women empowerment?

Meenu: We have a special category under civil society where we award people who have been doing exemplary work under women empowerment. This year, one of our past awardees Vandana Shah has also instituted a collaborative award for people who have been doing exemplary work on women empowerment.

One collaborative award called the Karamveer Chakra focusing only on women empowerment has been introduced this year. Vipula Kadri, a renowned social worker and founder of Pride India and Save the Children India has bagged this year’s Karamveer Chakra award.

These awards make people realise that they can do a lot to effect a change by being in their regular jobs. REX awards are scouting for unsung heroes doing exemplary work for the society.

OWSA: How do nonprofits participate with your organisation?

Meenu: iCONGO is a membership based organisation wherein we take NGOs as members after a strict auditing process. We ensure that these NGOs are doing authentic work at the ground level. We don’t want to be associated with NGOs which are adopting all wrong practices.

If we see wrong practices in any of the member NGOs, we discontinue the membership. We are driving certain transparency and accountability norms within the NGO sector. We see a huge divide between the citizen sector and the nonprofits because citizens have lost faith in the NGO sector. Therefore, we are trying to bridge the gap between citizen sector and the nonprofits not by preaching but by getting citizens to work for various social causes.

OWSA:  Do you also recognize exemplary work done by media?

Meenu: We have various subcategories under media including filmmakers. Under filmmakers we have mainstream filmmakers and those who make films on contemporary issues.

We also recognize documentary filmmakers, print journalists, television journalists and online journalists. Shahid Siddiqui, a journalist and an activist for the rights of downtrodden, has also been recognized for his work. People using the power of pen to highlight various social causes and using it to create awareness are also recognized by us.

OWSA: How do REX awards highlight extraordinary work accomplished by the nonprofits?

Meenu: The stories about their work are being highlighted on our website. After being recognized by Karmaveer awards, their work is covered by the media. A lot of people get inspired by these stories and get in touch with us.

This platform helps people from all different sectors to converge for a greater cause.

OWSAWhat was the idea behind instituting Rex global fellowships?

Meenu: Rex Karmaveer global fellowships are given to people who have the intent to bring about a change in the society. Such people need to get connected to the right kind of people. Some fellows are doing really good work.

We are connecting people together so that their ideas become movements and are also replicated for the benefit of the society. We are also launching ‘I Can’ clubs in each city where the awardees and fellows can meet and discuss their ideas.

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