Visible, high impact projects are the new TRF mantra Foundation grant projects are getting bigger and more sustainable; the average size of a Global Grant is now $72,000, TRF Trustee and WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta told Rotary News in an interview. Fortunately, the initial cynicism, doubts and attempts to take shortcuts with long-term sustainable projects are now fading, he added.

TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta
TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta

These days there is a lot of talk within The Rotary Foundation on sustainability; how does TRF define sustainability?

When the Future Vision plan committee was set up, we did a survey and found that almost 80 per cent of Rotary projects were of a short-term nature; only 20 per cent were long-term and provided a continued benefit to the community. We found that Rotarians create an asset and move away. After all, in Rotary, we are all volunteers. So while we expect a Rotary club or District to make a blood bank, or an eye hospital, or go to a school and create a facility, they can’t be expected to go to these places daily or weekly. But they can create some mechanism for a cooperative relationship so that the project continues. Usually there are no such mechanisms.

At a seminar on water at the Seoul Convention, Eric Stowe, Founder of Splash, which is doing a lot of work in water, specially WASH, said “I have seen many graveyards of Rotary projects!” This is true and we’ve seen it happening in India too many times. Now the basic objective of TRF is that we must come out with projects that are sustainable and provide long-term benefits to the community.

So with the ‘Future Vision’ coming in, the ratio is reversed, with 80 per cent being long-term projects, which are sustainable. For example, if you create a project with 20 years of life, then it must live through 20 years, and you have to create a mechanism, either through a cooperating partner, or setting a part of the grant, say five per cent or so, for the maintenance and other sustainability features of the project. Or the club can take care of this aspect through continuous involvement or by roping in Rotaractors, Interactors, Innerwheelers. Earlier no thought was given to sustainability of the project. The objective is long-term benefit to the community.

What is the difference between a matching and a global grant?

After our success in polio, we have decided to focus on six major focus areas, which are also in sync with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, earlier known as the Millennium Development Goals. Earlier it could be anything under the sun; now it is a more focused approach.

The next aspect is about value; earlier the matching grants could be as small as $4,000–5,000, and the cost of processing those grants was sometimes more than the value of the project. To save on that cost and time, the minimum value of a project has been made $30,000. Earlier, there was a lot of resistance, with people asking what will happen to smaller clubs, smaller projects. But now, I’m happy to report that our current average for a global grant is $72,000. Look at how things have changed! Also, we say that clubs should do projects that are visible and make a high impact on society. The Strategic Plan also says the same thing.

Can you give one good example of a good sustainable project in India?

There are several; the Rotary eye hospitals, schools, blood banks, specially the Rotary Blood Bank in Delhi, the largest in India.

Would you say India is doing well on high impact sustainable projects compared to the rest of the Rotary world?

No, that is where I have a question mark. About a year back, when I was holding a discussion with a senior past Governor whose job was to help clubs in writing a grant, he said, “Well, we have found a way to get around sustainability requirements of the Foundation.” And I was simply shocked! I have no hesitation in saying most of our clubs and districts were still playing cat and mouse games with the Foundation on sustainability.

But as we have started talking more and more about sustainability, the message is now sinking in. I cannot generalise, but earlier, even some seniors were questioning the whys and whats of sustainability. But I’ve always been a stickler for rules in my life, saying that if we do anything, let’s do it right.

So when a project is designed, all the factors necessary to make it durable and sustainable for at least 10–15 years should be brought in. Rotarians are successful businessmen or professionals and they can do it. I always say “Take Rotary values into your business/profession and bring your professional experience into Rotary.”

How important is quality compared to quantity?

(Laughs) That’s a million-dollar question, for which we haven’t been able to find an answer, and where we are struggling when it comes to membership! It has to be quality. Rather than doing 100 schools and just building toilets, I’d like you do 10 schools and to put in all the components of WinS, ensuring that it ushers in a behavioural change as Suchitra, that girl from Karnataka has done (Page 22). This is such an important news that The Hindu carried on its front page; it’s a great story.

Now we have signed an MoU with GoI for doing up schools abetting River Ganges to keep the river clean. There is scepticism among many, including those in Government, ki Ganga saaf nahi hogi… hazaro crore rupiye lagenge (it’ll require thousands of crores of rupees to clean the Ganges). I have followed River Ganges right from the Gaumukh glacier; the last time I was there I slept at the glacier in an Army tent. I am confident that this too will happen provided we play our cards right, like we eradicated polio when the whole world was saying “Can India do it”.

How important is community assessment, and why is it important? Aren’t Rotarians capable of assessing what a community needs?

Of course community assessment is very important. At the end of the day, who decides; how do you decide the ownership of a project? We are doing our water projects; you covered one in Rajasthan where we are building check dams in a desert area. There everything is done with the community’s assessment and their needs, and not what the PHD RDF Foundation, which is our partner, or we, the Rotary India Water Conservation Trust, decides on where to make the dam.

Till date we have built 82 dams and helped 300 villages, benefitting 300,000 people. There are no Foundation funds involved in that project, so it is not that talked about. But there is no better water project in the entire Rotary world… nothing which matches it. It is being done by direct funding by Rotary clubs in France, Germany, India, and one group led by Past District Governor Elias Thomas from USA who brings a team of Rotarians from across the world every year and have built dams with their own hands. They live in the villages for few days, live with them, eat with them and do the work with their own hands.

Any message to Rotarians on conceiving/implementing TRF projects?

The main thing is that we have to change our thinking when we plan or do community projects. It has to be a bottoms-up approach and not top down, whether it is in India, Africa Phillipines, Latin America or elsewhere and think of projects, which are sustainable and bring long-term benefits to the community.

How are the WinS projects doing in India?

It is just a beginning; we have just touched the tip of the iceberg. What will happen later? Will we involve Interactors, Rotaractors, Innerwheelers or other cooperating agencies to make the project sustainable and achieve our objective of bringing in a behavioural change in society in which these very children will be our agents of change for Swachh Bharat?

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