TRF grants: bane or boon

From L: RI Director Mahesh Kotbagi, TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty, RI President Shekhar Mehta and Trustee-elect Bharat Pandya.
From L: RI Director Mahesh Kotbagi, TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty, RI President Shekhar Mehta and Trustee-elect Bharat Pandya.

One of the sessions at the zone institute Mahabs 21 chaired by RI Director Mahesh Kotbagi sought to clear doubts and shed some light on the nitty-gritty of TRF grants.

To the one question which always pops up at such TRF sessions on GGs, which pertains to so many questions being asked by RI staff before sanctioning a GG, incoming TRF Trustee Bharat Pandya said: “If you go to a bank and apply for a loan, they will ask you 50 questions; ask for a guarantor, documents, mortgage on your house, and so on. Here the Foundation is giving you money without asking for anything except a few questions, which are relevant. And TRF doesn’t charge any interest.”

Furthermore, he added, “and it is not even a loan; they are giving away that money just because of your title ‘Rotarian’. So to uphold that name of Rotarians, even if they ask questions five or 10 times, we should not be complaining.”

Directing a question to RI President Shekhar Mehta, Kotbagi asked: “There are so many questions on grants and confusion about giving to different kinds of the grants in the Foundation. Your own club — RC Calcutta ­Mahanagar — does 10 GGs at a given time, which I think is the cap on the number a club can do simultaneously. So how is it possible for a single club to have so many grants, and how do your members do it?”

Responding, Mehta said that he was often amazed to find, in some districts that he has visited, that the “entire district has done only some four grants in the previous five years. So I tell them that when my club, a single one, can do 10 grants, why can’t an entire district do a sizable number?”

Mehta said that in any club eager to do community service projects, the biggest challenge the president and his office-bearers face is funds. “And the easiest way to get funds is from a TRF grant.” In a lighter vein, he said the two things that invariably failed were a PowerPoint presentation which did not come on, and fundraising efforts. “Ninety per cent of the time in clubs your grandiose fundraising plans won’t work. But with a TRF grant you can achieve amazing success in executing a project.”

I’ve promised to many African countries that we are ready to give, they have to tell us what they need.

Shekhar Mehta, RI President

He suggested that for those districts which do less than 15 global grants, maybe the TRF trustee in the region can organise a workshop on how to go about getting a GG. He disclosed that he was lucky that before he became the district governor, the culture of going in for a global grant was started in his district “by his predecessor and I reaped the benefits. We did 100 GGs in one year. And all because we were ready to put in a bit of effort.”

Mehta told the RI officers in the hall that all of them worked with finance in one capacity or the other and “should know and understand how the grant papers work. Yes, thereafter there are several issues, pertaining to stewardship, etc, but doing GGs is extremely easy. Through these grants you are not only doing service to your communities but also giving an opportunity to the Rotary clubs in the US, Australia and European countries, who do not have an opportunity to do community service as we do in this part of the world, to participate in service activities.”

Pandya added that just as ­Mehta’s club was an expert in doing many GGs, “several times while visiting a district I am surprised to hear that the entire district did one RYLA. Let me share that in Rotary’s centennial year in RID 3140, the target of the governor was to do 100 RYLAs and we did 101. So as Shekhar said the question is of mindset and training.”

The next question by Kotbagi was addressed to Pandya on Rotary cadres and how much help and expertise they could give the districts in doing a GG. “While PRID Manoj Desai, who headed the Rotary cadres last year can shed more light, I’d say the cadre plays a very important role in monitoring the global grants. Not just monitoring but also the training aspect. We have about 129 cadres in our zones, who are experts not only in monitoring but also guiding people on grants. My request to the district leadership team here — present, past and future — is to make optimum use of this excellent resource of the cadres.”

He requested RISAO’s Sanjay ­Parmar to share the details of the ­cadres with the current and incoming district leaders. The wisdom of the cadre could be used even in the pre-planning of grants.

TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty, who was on the panel, added: “We have already transmitted the information of the cadre members of each district and requested the DGs to print their contact details in their district directory. Sanjay and I had worked on this last year and it needs to be followed up.”

He requested Pandya and the DGEs to ensure this as the cadres could be very useful resources who could be involved even in the pre-planning of grants. President Mehta added this information be made available on, with their district names, though their services were not restricted to particular Rotary districts. “Somebody who is an expert in water can train anybody anywhere.”

Kotbagi next quizzed ­Vahanvaty on complaints from “districts and the smaller clubs saying they face a lot of difficulty in getting grants and international partners. Many smaller clubs feel the trustee from our zones should play a role and make effort to club smaller clubs together and enable them to do a GG, irrespective of their contribution to TRF.”

Vahanvaty responded that there is “a concerted effort to ensure that districts which have very little DDFs are supported by districts with a higher DDF. Particularly, as a global grant is something that addresses community needs, people go out of the way to support the smaller districts.”

The bigger problem we face is the difficult situation where you have no track record. “Take for example ­President Shekhar’s club — RC ­Calcutta Mahanagar; it will never face difficulty because if you have 10 open grants every year that means you have never faced a stewardship issue all these years. More and more international clubs will say we want to partner with you. But the clubs which have no track record are the ones that need assistance and I have already helped some clubs and districts get international partnerships. All of us have friends across the world and we
can help out.”

He assured the institute participants that they can tell their clubs that “if you have a project that addresses or meets your local community needs, you will not be found wanting for funds.”

President Mehta added that all clubs such as his home club, “should reach out to the smaller clubs and the DG should act as a facilitator where the smaller clubs join the bigger one with an international partner and do the GG. This will be their opportunity to get into a GG, taste what is like and learn how to create relationships with foreign partners. In the next step they can go ahead and do GGs on their own.”

Another question pertained to the lament from districts that when they apply for a grant, so many questions are asked by the RI staff, specially at Evanston, saying this is not the right evaluation or the right cost. The complaint was “how does one sit in ­Evanston and understand the importance of the local issues in Bikaner, Calcutta, Jharkhand or rural Maharashtra?”

Taking on this query, Mehta said this was akin to the Bengali adage which translates to “ma ko mausi ki kahaniya sunana (telling your mother her sister’s stories). I keep raking up this issue all the time with the Rotary staff (in Evanston) that we need to regionalise on these issues. How can somebody sitting at the RI headquarters understand the literacy programmes and needs in Argentina, Africa, India or Bangladesh? This should get regionalised and Sanjay Parmar and his colleagues should get more empowered. If necessary, they can be trained; after all there are experts in literacy, particularly one person at the RI headquarters who is an expert and understands literacy issues in different regions. But let’s have such persons even in regional office; efforts are already being made and I am confident this will happen soon.”

If you go to a bank for a loan, they will ask you 50 questions; ask for a guarantor, documents, mortgage on your house. Here the Foundation is giving you money without interest and asking you only a few relevant questions.

Bharat Pandya, TRF Trustee Elect

Mehta advised the Rotary leaders in the hall that they should not worry about the questions that are raised pertaining to GGs. He revealed that after “many years and taking some interest, three years ago I became a contact person for GGs and learnt a whole lot of new things… the planning which needs to be done and so on, and shared this information with my club. You may think their questions are irrelevant but that is because you don’t understand the impact of that question.”

Vahanvaty said the process of regionalisation had already begun with CSR funds. “Today thanks to the work done by the RISAO staff, CSR grants, which are exclusive to India, are vetted and sanctioned at the South Asia office.” Parmar and two of his colleagues now handle CSR grants “very effectively. Let’s be very clear that the questions they ask are extremely important.”

Vahanvaty added that as he was involved in stewardship issues, “I completely agree with Shekhar and Bharat that the money that is given to you… sometimes to the tune of $100,000, just on your signature, is because you are a Rotarian and they trust you. Therefore, the questions are important, not only prior to the grant sanction; we have to ensure that the grant is used for the project in the highest traditions of Rotary stewardship.

To Kotbagi’s next question on whistleblowing being done for “political reasons, with the result that the person who is not guilty suffers,” Pandya said, “First of all, we have to ensure zero tolerance for improper use of grant funds… funds used for another purpose than the one for which they were given.” While there was a big improvement in this issue, “let us decide that even five per cent wrongdoing will not be tolerated.”

On whistleblowing and some individuals in clubs suffering, a general statement can’t be made, he said. “But if the leadership of the district or zone is suffering because the whistle was wrongly blown then we must definitely walk the extra mile to see that injustice doesn’t happen to that person.”

Adding to this, Vahanvaty said, “When a whistleblower sends a complaint, it is not automatically accepted. It first goes to the stewardship staff, they do a paper audit to see if there is any truth in it. If they feel there is some truth in it, then they appoint a cadre to look into it. So, if somebody is victimised it can happen only if there is justification in it, otherwise people will lose faith in us.”

Answering a question on increasing the per capita giving to TRF by Indian clubs, Pandya said, “First of all, we must dissociate the grants we get from what people are giving. Let’s not keep telling people that because we are getting so much, we should be giving more. As Shekhar is the RI president this year, this is the year for us to start giving, not because we are getting so much but because it is our responsibility and duty to give.”

“Also, giving to the Annual Fund is very important, because if that dries up then I don’t think the work that is happening in our part of the world can continue.”

Vahanvaty added, “There has been a change last year; we did $800,000 in that fund. I think we are realising its importance but we have to keep stressing that giving to the Annual Fund is very important.”

Mehta reiterated that during this year, Indian clubs will do 10 per cent of GGs outside India. “I’ve promised to many African countries that we are ready to give, they have to tell us what they need.”

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