Rakesh Shukla writes about the story behind VOSD and why it doesn’t operate as an NGO.
What I vocalize here is not a new thought, this is with which we started and I have shared this in person with colleagues and VOSD Board members from time to time. But maybe for the first time being put out as 1 picture for everyone else. A year back VOSD was started on these premises:
The nature of information
VOSD is an attempt to document what is happening and what has happened to our dogs, my dogs, in Bangalore, and everywhere else.
Many many very learned people have said ‘why do you want to talk about this or that in public’? To me the nature of information is that once it is available people can make use of it. It builds perspective.
A crime today or 5 years back is still a crime. A lesson today or 5 years back is still a lesson. Having information is not the problem. Not having information is. And sadly, people who have information – keep it to themselves and use it when necessary. My thought is – how do you help the guy in the hinterland or without access to ‘animal activists’ (how do (s)he find them anyway?) to fight for the dogs? How do you put information in a form that he and his lawyers or the police can use? Very little of the evil that we fight today has not been seen before.
Independence from the existing Animal Welfare ecosystem
The ‘State’ that is the Center or the State governments should not be the agency of implementing animal welfare or any animal laws. The State’s role is to legislate and govern not to implement. If the government can’t provide health and water to people there is no reason it will show its efficiency and alacrity with dogs. So VoSD is an attempt to create a system outside the government aided and government funded system.
This also allows us not to be part of any pulls or pressures of the animal welfare ecosystem of goverment departments, other NGOs and anyone who is a participates. So we can continue to be fiercely independent and speak only for the dog and no-one else.
VOSD can, and will, report all that we see (it is the driving principle that we/I am the voice and it can’t be silenced). VOSD writes what it can verify to be the truth, at times against the aggressive requests from AWO’s, Government Welfare bodies, Municipal Corporations, and once the police, not to publish.
The NGO model
I keenly studied the NGO model and it has motivated people. Sometimes. However, VOSD would not be an NGO.
The greatest limitation I found is unlike an enterprise the output of the service and the input costs are dissociated from each other. The ‘gap’ comes from ‘donors’ paying. Therefore monitoring is poor and there is no idea of cost & operational efficiency. Simply put if X resources engaged if an enterprise produces Y services in a year, then the next year it will try to produce Y.a where ‘a’ is the % increase in the efficiency in people, costs, vendors, systems and shows the management capability.
The people who pay are not necessarily involved parties as in they are not involved in what is the use of funds. So it is an endless cycle of getting money that is being used sub-optimally.
VOSD would not pursue the model of requesting for donation and getting funded (it is funded for the most part by me and my company TWB but I will come to that later). When you have your skin in it – you want to make sure that it is being utilized well. If you have someone else’s money – you don’t see the leak in the bucket.
Real effectiveness & productivity does not come from ‘love for animals’ it comes from ‘doing’. ‘Volunteering’ has its benefits but has its limitations.
To begin with there is little to scale if activity is based only on love and volunteer time. In India unlike in some other places – volunteering means working to satisfy oneself, at ones convenience and time. Systems don’t operate like that. They operate on being manned continuously with people discharging responsibilities they are given. Interestingly for the volunteering requests that we not get from outside India to work with us – they’d give 2-3 months only, but 100% of their time. If difficult to help a dog when it is close to home, and you have a car and your spouse/friend is OK with it, and you don’t have a social engagement or office. When you need to help. You need to help.
Having said that, VOSD has tried with volunteers on my deferring on some of my colleagues views. However it has turned out much as I thought.
Trace & Track
Enterprises track everything – inventory, cash, services and good delivered. And there are check and balances so each quantity is checked more than once in another system. So does VOSD.
The ‘goodness of heart’ counts for little in what is a battle of good against evil (needlessly to say it is my firm belief that we are the good guys here). Good people are, for the most part known for the goodness they carry in them. The bad guys are bad because they act bad. 1 bad boy can, for the most part, thrash a roomful of good guys. A case of a woman being molested in a bus full of people or on the street is a good example. Stray Dogs needs street-fighters. I know of some in New Delhi and Mumbai (I am not naming them only because naming a couple could be seen as a improper representation) who will get to a location and do all that is required – they report, rescue, rehabilitate. And they do it all on their own. They don’t have a car but that does not stop them. I greatly admire and respect them. I have no respect for someone who calls for an ambulance and watches the dog die (I know about many such cases and speak from experience). The point at the time is not that this or that AWO’s ambulance did not reach in time, it is that you did not do anything.
‘Love’ is not really a management principle. For the most part ‘love’ for the animal can scarcely compensate for the effective management practise that requires systems to scale. And VOSD needs to be an effective efficient performing machine. Hospitals are a good example – staff does not work there for ‘human welfare’ but they still save lives. Because 99 on 100 times, the system compensates for it and succeeds.
The milestones that you see in the image alongside have been made possible (other than the people mentioned on the image itself) because of a very committed set of people who work for me at TWB (TWB, http://twb.in/ is the company of which I am the Founder & CEO). Without TWB, VOSD would not exist even for a single day. Just the cash deployment from TWB and I in VOSD over the last 1 year (not including mine or our Board Members time) already exceeds INR20 lacs/ US$ 40,000.
The people who have made this system possible are (in random order):
- Anindya Shankar. An IIM Grad who heads the business function of TWB. This is the function that took 80% of my time and his presence and skill has freed that time for me to give to VOSD. And when decisions need to be made for VOSD I still rely on him. We spend most of our working hours together anyway.
- Sandeep K. Sandeep manages the administration, inventory, vendors & security of 3 TWB offices. And he performs the same role for VOSD. He runs a 12-hour workday 6 days a week to make that possible. Unflinchingly. He sometimes doubles up as a driver to ferry dogs if I’m engaged and can’t extricate myself. Some truly ungrateful AWO’s in Bangalore received laptops/ computers from TWB that were actually phased out and prepared by Sandeep for them. And oh he gets calls from AWO’s ‘to leave ‘Rakesh and join them’ as well. 🙂
- Nagappa & our Chartered Accountants. They manage accounts, financial transactions, and banking work for TWB, and so they do for VOSD as well. For anyone who’s contributed for a VOSD project would know Nagappa from the mail he writes immediately and the receipt he sends in courier. And if you needed to see a stickler on accounting he’s the man. Nagappa too significantly extends himself to make VOSD possible.
- Together Sandeep & Nagappa have overseen the purchase and modification of 2 vehicles, erection of the VOSD Trauma Center & maintain all purchasing & inventory
- TWB’s office staff including Rudresh, Ashok & Ajith who clean the dogs facilites at our office & VOSD vehicles, dispose the garbage and take care of the really sick dogs (most recently 3 small pups with distemper) day in day out.
- Deepan, is a magician with code and manages the development of VOSD software and web properties. In 1 year this team has turned around :
- The VOSD publishing website (http://www.strays.in/)
- VOSD Vet website (http://vet.strays.in/) – should be the revenue generator to fund VoSD’s operational activity and provide the veterinary intervention for Indian stray dogs that we love.
- VOSD Adoptions site ( http://adoptions.strays.in/) – which is kind of defunct right now since the ‘volunteers working on the content went to sleep)
- VOSD Shopping site for your pet requirements in Bangalore (http://shopping.strays.in/ ) which is about to commence commercial trials and should be the revenue generator to fund VOSD’s operational activity
- VOSD Exclusives site of really smart exclusive merchandise which is also about to commence commercial trial – will also be a revenue generator (http://shopping.strays.in/vosd-exclusive-merchandise/)
- The VOSD CRM that is used to track all veterinary intervention provided by VoSD
- TWB Vendors, who make their money on services to TWB, but provide services at cost or very marginal profits to VOSD.
- Helen Shukla. For the past 12 months, VOSD is a 10+ hour commitment for me each day. 99% of the content that comes on the website and Facebook page comes from my laptop. While Anindya and the TWB team frees my office time, those who know VOSD know that I start working on my laptop about 5:30 in the morning. And after the office, I work at home again almost through when I fall asleep. I’ve been out of the house with her, only once, in the last year. Never even on weekends. No lunches or dinner or movies or meeting friends. VOSD would not have been possible without her understanding.
This note was just to bring in a little perspective of what we are and where we’d go. This coming year, we do more.