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In early 1990, when the legendary late HT Parekh was looking to set up an endowment with the specific purpose of improving the quality of life in Bombay by harnessing people’s initiatives (for which he had asked me to research in those pre-Internet days), a community chest appeared to be the most appropriate model to work with. The term community chest was a US coinage in 1913 although the concept—cooperative collection, for charitable purposes, for area-specific civic problems—had originated in the UK in the 1870s.
The Bombay Community Public Trust (BCPT) was registered as a trust with corporate and individual financial contributions in 1991. At the launch of BCPT, HT Parekh wrote: “I do not entertain any grandiose vision… I take a positive view of life and encourage all genuine efforts to improve things. I like to extend a helping hand to every kind of development activity…” Two decades later, BCPT has been able to live up to his dream—of being an aggregator of funds and lending ‘a helping hand’ to a variety of NGOs and activist groups that are engaged in tackling the myriad problems that Mumbai faces.
Says Harsha Parekh, executive trustee, BCPT: “We cannot hope to solve Mumbai’s problems, but at least we can financially help the many, many people who are trying to mitigate them in their own little ways.”
A community chest or foundation, by definition, is not an implementation agency. It is a funding institution—a facilitator and catalyst—with specific features like: working in a defined geographic area; not concerned with any one activity or cause; permanent endowment; uses contributions and investment earnings to provide grants to charities, non-profit organisations and community groups; and brings together a community’s problem-solvers, activists and citizens. Being an agency with local roots, a community chest quickly identifies local needs and responds with alacrity to any crisis. This was witnessed especially in BCPT’s response to several Mumbai disasters like the 27/8 bomb blasts; 26/7 floods or the train blasts of 11/7 and even the terrorist attacks of 26/11. For these disaster mitigation causes, BCPT has disbursed total grants of Rs3.48 crore to some 1,200 beneficiaries till date.
The major issues that BCPT has identified for support are: education, senior citizens, environment and other child-related interventions. Cumulatively, nearly 51% of its funds went into educational and child-related activities, 5% to take care of senior citizens; 3% to environment-related causes and 15% for miscellaneous projects. Till date, 458 projects have been assisted; BCPT provides scholarships to 150 students each year with a special focus on the girl child—67% (100 students) of the scholarships are for girls compared to 33% (50 students) for boys. Besides supporting formal education programmes, BCPT has been encouraging initiatives that foster reading as well as non-formal learning.
The strength of BCPT lies in its due diligence—though no formal and qualification-based appraisal techniques are applied for grant-making, it carefully whets the credibility of the organisations it supports. Grants are spread over instalments with clearly laid down deliverables. And there is constant monitoring of each project until its completion. It has, therefore, been able to attract management responsibility of several private trusts and foundations who feel that their ‘earmarked funds’ will be efficiently delivered to the target beneficiaries and properly monitored.
It is strange that the concept of community chests has not yet caught on in India. Even more surprising is the fact that, despite BCPT’s pedigree, payroll contributions—the widely prevalent way of funding of community chests the world over—has not even made a beginning in Mumbai.
Community Public Trust
Earnest House, 7th Floor,
Mumbai 400 021
Phone: (+91) 22 2284 5928
Email: [email protected]