Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in personal development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Vinod Prakash, President & CEO of Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), located in Rockville, MD, USA.
What's your organization, and who are your members?
I am the Founder of the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF). IDRF is a USA-based 501 (c) (3) public charity that raises funds and disburses grants to NGOs in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka that implement grassroots programs for the marginalized, focusing on education and skill development, healthcare, women empowerment, eco-friendly developments, good governance, and disaster relief/rehabilitation. IDRF partners with local NGOs that demonstrate successful track records maintain financial accountability, serve people regardless of religion, caste or creed, and are approved by the government to receive funds from overseas.
IDRF also offers a unique platform to fulfill your dream of giving back to the needy or in the memory/honor of a loved one through the Donor Advised program (including through Corporate Matching if applicable). When you donate, you receive an immediate tax deduction and then recommend grants from your funds over time to your favorite cause, charity, or state.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small town in pre-independence India, and my family was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the Freedom Movement. His words, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” have been a constant inspiration for me growing up. I took early retirement from the World Bank to set up IDRF in 1988 with a mission to break the cycle of poverty in India. On one of my first IDRF trips to rural India, I was wonderstruck to see villagers sharing their sleeping and living areas with their cattle. I found myself heavy-hearted, fighting back the tears. This was a turning point for me.
I was inspired to serve the downtrodden for as long as I lived. I resolved to focus on building IDRF to be a supporter of NGOs and their volunteers to serve the poorest of the poor with zeal and spirit. Now I am 90 years old and visually impaired, but I have not slowed down a bit. I am actively involved in the day-to-day working of IDRF and continue to work pro bono as the President and CEO. Had it not been for my deep commitment and passion for serving the marginalized, I would not have recovered from the depression that followed my visual impairment due to medical negligence. The greatest pleasure I have known in my life has come from the good work I have been able to do through IDRF.
What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?
Our goal has been to put power, not charity, into the hands of the impoverished through development programs implemented by reliable local NGOs. In the past 35 years, IDRF has disbursed grants of over $45 million to bring about long-term, sustainable, grassroots development and disaster relief in India and, recently, in Nepal and Sri Lanka. We maintain the highest compliance standards and one of the lowest overheads in the industry at only 5% (administration, management, and fundraising). Over 95% of the funds are sent directly to the beneficiary NGOs.
We received the top-most accreditation and recognition from the industry. Guidestar.org has awarded IDRF the Platinum Seal, and Charity Navigator USA has conferred 4 out of 4-stars for nine consecutive years for demonstrating strong financial health and a commitment to accountability and transparency. Greatnonprofits.org considers IDRF a top-rated charity with 5-star ratings based on independent reviews. I have been privileged to receive 20 local, national and international awards for my service to the underprivileged through IDRF
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being an organization?
I lost my sight in 2010, and between my blindness and infirmities caused by age, I am no longer able to visit the project sites in India to verify how the funds we provide are used. However, I am fortunate that the Board Members and some of our donors are more than willing to visit the sites when they travel to India and keep me updated. We have also been lucky with our project partners. I should clarify that one reason for our “luck” is the due diligence we put in before we agree to fund the sustainable projects and the regular follow-ups we do to keep track of the various outcomes. Here I am very lucky that I have three very able team members who take care of all these details. All of them are highly qualified and earn a lot more money in the private sector. But they are all women of Indian origin who want to make a difference for the better in their motherland.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?
- The most important aspect of starting, running, and growing any organization is to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and the determination to carry it through, even in the most difficult times. Even after losing my total vision, I overcame the inevitable state of a deep depression by continuing to serve the marginalized in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
- The second most important tip is to surround yourself with people who share your vision and who are not motivated purely by money. Fortunately, I have a dedicated and highly qualified team who handles all the operations, and that too at a very nominal pay because they, too, share my passion for working for the marginalized and giving back to their motherland.
- Last but not least, It is very important to always pay attention to your partners. Our team does a lot of due diligence before we fund a project. As a result, there has never been an instance that the recipient took the money and didn’t follow through.
Where can people find you and your group?
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