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ADATS is rather conventional when it comes to money matters. We do not believe that ideological arguments come into play when fulfilling monetary and accounting obligations. We have never been in awe of the size of our annual budgets without, at the same time, losing a healthy respect for funds and funding.
The principle of total and exceptionless transparency, specially in money matters, has held us in good stead. We have not only stated that everyone has a right to look into the accounts, but taken very many concrete steps to invite scrutiny on a continuous and ongoing basis. We have simplified financial formats for easy understanding by semi and neo-literate. Staff members who are overtly sensitive to questioning and criticism are immediately relieved of money handling responsibilities. Constantly bearing in mind that we are mere intermediaries in the business of handling someone else’s moneys has kept many possible excesses of arrogance as well as deceit in check. The distinction between “spending on ourselves” and “spending on the people” is clear and unambiguous at ADATS.
A major part of ADATS’ identity is derived from the money it can mobilise. So much so that this has come to be seen as one of the functional divisions of labour in the relationship between our NGO and the Coolie Sangha. To pretend otherwise would be self deceptive.
There can be no denying the fact that a lot of our achievements have been made with the use of external money. Though we have always argued that it is not excessively so in quantum terms when likened to other models that merit relative comparison, it cannot be denied that the Coolie Sangha is nevertheless a costly model. This has obvious implications when we consider replicability, geopolitical coverage, and the spread of scarce resources. But there are even more aspects which need to be touched upon.
The rather dangerous, yet obviously vital, role that external money plays cannot be dealt with superficially or in a simplistic manner:
Insufficient capital could reduce an effort to a non serious plane, offering more a palliative to the self actualisation agenda of development workers than to mitigate the problems of the poor.
But on the other hand, is not the dishing out of moneys and setting up of projects with external resources the easiest way to claim an achievement?
Large moneys have always been known to attract unsavoury characters who destroy the hard won unity of the poor with a frightening and callous ease.
But on the other hand, is not unity in the face of handling money one of the best tested varieties of it?
When considering very practical aspects of our work with the poor, questions relating to the role of money are endless. The very least that is expected of responsible development workers is to be fully aware of the dangers in dealing with this double edged sword.
Coolies perceive external money mobilised through NGOs as having a certain “neutrality” which amounts to fairness in the localised power play between them and their antagonists at the village level. They see it as a resource they can employ in their favour, provided the situation can be rationally explained.
While we could endlessly debate this point in certain Left circles, hardly any development worker has been able to convince the poor as to why and how its employment would be counter productive to their genuine development. Instead many have taken a unilateral decision to protect the people, as it were, from too much of it. They get irrationally upset when their shielding mechanisms do not work.
ADATS has instead gone about to suggest, through personal example, a mature and responsible manner of utilising it. This has been a clear political choice with many ramifications, good as well as bad.
Salary scales at ADATS are reasonable. Perks include a standard and uniform accommodation, medical benefits at general wards in government and church run hospitals, children’s education at local village schools where tuition does not exceed ₹ 35 per month, and subsidised mess facilities for those who find it inconvenient to cook. These are identical for all Staff members, whatever be their designation.
Everyone is encouraged to be totally open about personal finances and no Staff member is permitted to undertake any business, with the single exception of family cultivation. No attempt has been made to build an individual security for Staff members. The value of living on the knife edge of insecurity is consciously promoted as an instrument to ensure relevance and efficiency.