Fundraising strategies for inclusive education in India: A critique

Almost every reader will, at some point, have had to deal with the challenge of funding their inclusive education efforts. In this article, Kanwal takes a critical look at the ways non-governmental organisations (NGOs) fundraise for inclusive education and what needs to change.

Why look at this issue
I am a strong advocate for inclusive education and have been actively involved in planning, budgeting and managing NGO initiatives in northern India. Fundraising for these initiatives has usually been an amalgamation of donations (cash and kind), grants from development donors, government funding, student fees (also called user charges) and sponsored events. As we transitioned from special to inclusive schools in India, I had several concerns linked to the funding of inclusive initiatives:

The problems
In the last two decades, several disability-specific NGOs have switched from a charity to rights-based approach, from a medical to social model, and from special to inclusive education. For many NGOs, however, the move has been in theory only. The appropriate framework, strategies and tools to back this theory in practice have been lacking. This has impacted all areas of work in NGOs, including fundraising. For example:

The solutions
NGOs working on inclusive education need to reinvent themselves as well as their fundraising strategies:

NGOs are facing a shrinking funding pool. The government often expects NGOs to support learners in inclusive settings, rather than acknowledging its responsibility to promote inclusion in the national mainstream education system. Donors continue to struggle with understanding proposals to fund inclusive education provision because they can’t ‘see and touch’ it in the same way they can a stand-alone special school.

It is time for NGOs to reinvent themselves and their fundraising approaches so they remain relevant in the changing environment. They need to explain better to donors what it is they do and why, and clarify their mandate and modes of support regarding mainstream and special schools. NGOs have fought hard to promote inclusive education and need to resist making compromises to appease donors. They need to ensure that the quality and quantity of support organised in the mainstream schools they are championing are dictated by inclusive principles and student requirements rather than by the available funding. This will help NGOs sustain the confidence of the people for whom they exist.

Kanwal Singh is an Inclusive Education Consultant based in India. She has experience of managing special and inclusive schools. Kanwal has designed curriculum, teacher development programmes and written handbooks on special and inclusive education.

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