“Arey dada, you have come. Please wait. I’ll be right back” shouted Pranoy from the meeting room, right at the end of the corridor, when he spotted me entering the accounts team. From the short glimpse that I could manage I found that he was still the same energetic man that I had met five years back, with bright twinkling eyes and an infectious smile.
After some time when he came to meet me I could visibly see signs of a small tummy peeping out; as he shyly said “this one I owe to my wife”. Indeed a sign of prosperity and fulfilment…that was so evident from his face.
Pranoy is the project director of CRY-supported partner NGO that I have come to visit here in Usthi, South 24 Parganas, around two hour’s drive from Kolkata. We are supporting their work in 5 blocks in this area, their focus area being health and malnutrition among the children.
While regular visits happen by the CRY team, I had last come here around five years back for audit. At that time our partnership had just started and they were struggling to manage the financial systems and cope with the complex legal requirements, NGOs are required to follow. Naturally without a trained accountant in place it is easier said than done to manage such things, while working in a remote area amidst resource crunch. The professional in me nevertheless had to be clinical in my dealing and I remember not being lenient with them. In fact my audit report did create ripples in our regional office and Pranoy was given a sharp feedback on the shortcomings and implications.
“Dada please see this and give your feedback.” Pranoy said sheepishly as he handed over a file to me.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Dada, we have done something without taking your permission. Please don’t scold us for that.” He said.
I was too curious by now to see what it is. As I flipped through the lose pages in the cover file I saw a Bengali hand written translation of our accounting and reporting manual that we share with all our partners. This is called the CRY Handbook of Accounting.
It took me some time to respond. I had never expected this in my wildest imagination. This is something that we had been contemplating in our team for quite some time. And…he has already done it!
I said, “Pranoy, can I take this with me. I shall review this and share with you”. In fact I thought, I will get this printed. But I was too embarrassed to say so. May be my ego was coming in between.
Sensing my satisfaction Pranoy excitedly shared how a local school teacher offered to translate it in Bengali as he and his team struggled with the English one. Of course, the Bengali manual made life easy for his team.
Their zeal to overcome every problem is something which resonated throughout my experience of the next two days as I went about reviewing their accounts and internal control systems.
While I was stumped…literally… by the commitment and enthusiasm of this NGO and their earnest effort to overcome the shortcomings in financial system what amazed me more was the credibility that CRY enjoys among its partners.
Had they not been convinced about the engagement by CRY, I doubt if they would have made such efforts.
But what kind of engagement are we talking about? When I joined CRY as a fresher I had no experience of the development sector. Therefore my perspective grew along with my years in CRY and today after 10 years in this organisation I think CRY’s engagement with its partners is phenomenal in all aspects.
What is it that makes CRY unique, if I say so?
According to me CRY handholds the partners right from the initial days and focuses equally on the programmatic, organisational and financial aspects. In CRY it is believed that if one aspect is weak, it will weaken the other pillars. Therefore our partnerships are taken through a robust Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation process where all three aspects are monitored in detail round the year.
CRY invests a lot in training and capacity building of partners on programmatic aspects, which throws open a huge opportunity for them to learn and grow. Similarly trainings are organised to equip them with accounting and financial knowledge and be better compliant to statutory norms.
I remember the words of a body builder in our local gym once as a kid. He used to say “work on all your muscles boys…not just on your biceps and triceps”. So true a muscular upper body looks so much odd on slim legs!
In CRY it is also believed that programme and finance are inseparable. Therefore the two cannot be monitored in isolation. So today CRY is perhaps the only organisation in India which requires its programme team to do financial monitoring during the PME process. This…to me is the uniqueness of CRY.
This is achieved through regular training and updates of programme teams on financial monitoring skills and legal matters. They are made to play the dual role of a facilitator as well as a reviewer, who can guide the partners on legal updates as well as point out weaknesses or errors in accounting and controls.
CRY has also invested in a team of internal auditors who undertake periodic review of all partner accounts at regular intervals, mapping financial and legal risk to CRY funds. The findings by programme teams on financial matters are shared with the audit team and closely monitored and reviewed. This two way communication channel has made large impact in improving financial and legal health of CRY partners, thus enhancing their credibility to other donors and statutory bodies.
If we draw instance of Pranoy again…it is amazing how confident he is today in discussing complex legal matters with auditors or file the annual tax return of his NGO all by himself!
And how can I forget, Lata, the accountant in one of our projects in a remote corner of Latehar in Jharkhand. She is the daughter of a fruit vendor belonging from a poor tribal family. For someone who has not cleared high school, to take up the challenge of managing accounts of an organisation and handling complex journal entries is no mean task. She did come for the trainings but even then…her zeal to learn is a rewarding experience.
Case stories like Pranoy and Lata instils my belief that our collective effort to raise the bar on monitoring and ensuring optimal use of CRY funds has not gone wrong. It is the conviction and honesty of our effort which is rewarded by the efforts of our partners. This is attributed to mutual respect and credibility and openness towards welcoming new ideas and concepts.
As I waved good bye to Pranoy’s team and got into my car, I was already counting days for my next partner visit…another opportunity to convince myself that there is no limit to human achievement.