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:
- Some fundraising strategies were acting as barriers, albeit unintentionally, ultimately promoting exclusionary practices.
- The planning and funding of inclusive education initiatives overwhelmed some NGOs to the extent that they have (unintentionally) lost sight of the purpose of their projects.
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:
- Special education centres in India developed from a charity model. NGOs have, therefore, applied the charity approach in their fundraising strategies, appealing to donors for ‘sympathy’ towards vulnerable children who need help. Having all students with disabilities together in a special setting helped organisations to showcase their work, eliciting appreciation and funds. Inclusive education, on the other hand, stems from the rights-based model. Shifting from a charity approach to using human rights as an argument to convince donors to support inclusionary practices is a substantial challenge for many NGOs. The shift from promoting the ‘bricks and mortar’ of special schools towards ‘addressing barriers in the community’ can be difficult to explain to funders. The lack of ‘obvious’ special school students, staff or infrastructure to help draw donors’ attention does not make things easier. At a local NGO level, letters of appeal and events continue to be common fundraising strategies in India.
- Many NGOs have focused on changing the mind sets and practices of other stakeholders without focusing adequate time and resources on updating and rejuvenating themselves. They may believe they are facilitating inclusive education, but in reality are working towards integration (merely placing children with disabilities in regular schools). The absence of internal clarity and capacity-building has a negative impact on NGO fundraising systems and strategies. For instance, I have observed NGOs submitting inclusive education fundraising proposals that are not just unclear about the concept, but in direct conflict with its core principles.
NGOs working on inclusive education need to reinvent themselves as well as their fundraising strategies:
- Revisit and restructure their functions
The government and mainstream schools are responsible for admissions, organising resources/support, teaching and teacher training. Students enrolled in mainstream schools belong to those schools. NGOs need to take a step back and consider themselves more as connectors or links between students and the government. Their fundraising strategies therefore need to focus on the NGO as a resource, offering support services. NGOs need to start asking themselves different questions; about the real expenses of their role as a connector and resource, and about for what and for whom the funding is required.
- Revise their fundraising frameworks
Donors are often interested in funding assistive aids and equipment for special schools, via NGOs. As more children move away from special schools, so the mainstream schools/system (should) become more responsible for such provisions. NGOs therefore need to revise their fundraising frameworks and strategies to take account of this change. They need to explore and develop newer approaches and areas for fundraising to support inclusive education. Inclusive education is not only about NGOs changing the world; it is about NGOs changing themselves as well.
- Ensure fundraising is inclusive and rights-based
NGOs need to analyse whether their fundraising approaches actually hinder rather than promote inclusion. This means reflecting on current fundraising practices and messages, and identifying and modifying any that are in direct conflict with inclusive education principles. For instance, providing posed pictures of children with disabilities displaying or receiving donated items is no longer acceptable – even if it satisfies donors. Replacing these with positive pictures and testimonies of success regarding inclusion in school/class would be a step in a more rights-based direction.
- Building a confident, knowledgeable fundraising team
Donors sometimes struggle to understand NGO projects when they are not simply providing services under one roof. They need to change their mind set when appraising proposals. NGOs in turn need to invest in fundraising teams who have the knowledge and skills to educate prospective donors – using hard-hitting facts, examples or statistics – about ‘new’ approaches that are replacing traditional charity, service-delivery models. NGOs working on inclusive education need to build their internal capacity and bring clarity about the concept, so that they can confidently and convincingly approach funders with rights-based inclusive arguments (instead of appealing to them for sympathy on behalf of children with disabilities).
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.