Opinion: What is 55-Year-Old IAGB and How Can It Become an Effective Community Organization?

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Pravin Mundkur​

By Pravin Mundkur​

LEXINGTON, MA—Some of what I am writing here could be controversial. None of this should be construed as an attempt by me to besmirch any of the current Executive Committee or the new EC (to be) or any of the officers. I am quite certain that everyone has the well-being of India Association of Greater Boston (IAGB) in mind.

IAGB is an organization that is approximately 55 years old as of today. It was started by enterprising Indian Immigrants who wanted mainly to share company with other immigrants from India and South Asia. IAGB used to host many events in its time ‐‐ including relatively frequent movies and such, and two important dates ‐‐ Republic Day (coinciding with Republic Day in India, January 26) and India Day (coinciding with Independence Day in India ‐ August 15).

Pravin Mundkur​

With the growth of the Indian Immigrant population, and growth of several Organizations, and with the incredible changes in technology, IAGB has essentially reduced its activities to Hosting Republic Day (RD) and India Day (ID). Over the last few years, IAGB has made some attempts to participate or host other activities, but these two activities (Republic Day, India Day) remain its flagships. As those events are more connected to India than to the US, they are primarily of interest to first generation immigrants from India.

They are also of interest to organizations that are involved with South Asian dancing, singing or music ‐‐ as there is an opportunity to showcase their students. From the standpoint of the students and their parents, it is an important part of the student’s development ‐‐ the ability to perform in front of a relatively large audience.

The financing and organization for these activities (RD and ID) is interesting. Some of you are probably quite aware from participation in other organizations. I came to learn some of these details while serving as the IAGB Secretary from 2012‐2016.

Lets start with the sources of revenue. The events are usually free for all attendees, but there is a fee for participants. Tables are leased and rented out to vendors and organizations that might wish to interact with the audience. A food vendor is usually granted the right to sell food to the attendees, and the food vendor pays a considerable fee for this right. A brochure is printed providing details of the agenda and distributed free to the attendees ‐ advertisements in the brochure usually cover brochure printing costs.

Moving on to the costs. If a school or other venue is rented to host the event, there are rental charges. There can be costs associated with the sound system, janitorial services etc. Security can be a major issue, and the costs for police details etc can be large at some locations ‐‐ such as Hatch Memorial Shell (where ID is normally scheduled). Of course there are other costs ‐‐such as Table Rentals, Printing Costs, etc ‐‐ but these are usually relatively small.

Organizing the events takes work but it is not difficult. One has to make arrangements for the venue, for the tables, for the brochures, etc. And one has to contact the performer organizations, sequence the performances, collect the music tracks etc, and arrange for volunteers to manage the crowd and appoint MCs to manage the stage. How smoothly this goes depends on the level of experience of the members on the IAGB Executve Committee (EC). Over the years, the IAGB EC has developed the collective experience to manage these events quite well.

This brings me to the EC. It consists of a President (very key of course), Vice‐President (usually someone who is in line to be the next President), The Treasurer (who is supposed to keep track of all financial details ‐‐ a very demanding and time consuming task), and the Secretary (supposed to keep track of meeting minutes). The rest of EC members usually organize into groups that manage various activities related especially to the two events ‐‐ RD and ID. The EC members that manage the RD, ID details are of course very key. The tone of how well everything operates is set by the sitting President.

The functioning of the EC is governed by the ByLaws ‐‐ which are often ignored by at least some Presidents and EC’s. There are details regarding how the EC is supposed to operate and these are sometimes ignored ‐‐ sometimes accidentally, sometimes willfully. In my personal opinion the ByLaws are woefully out of date — too detailed on some specifics, completely lacking in some areas.

Every year there is supposed to be a General Body Meeting (GBM) and every two years there are supposed to be elections. The announcement of the GBM has to be timed, and has to be sufficiently public, such that all those who wish to become voting members can do so. In my estimation, the recommendations in the ByLaws, for the timing of elections has not been followed for the upcoming election on October 8th. The right to vote is of utmost importance, and one of the few benefits of being a member of IAGB. As such, every effort should be made to make it easy for members to vote, rather than putting obstacles in their way.

The election of EC Officers and EC members, as specified in the ByLaws is a mysterious process. The EC is supposed to select a Nominating Committee (NC) ‐‐ consisting of three reputable members of IAGB, that will select the next EC Officers and EC Members, based on their qualifications and interest to serve. There is supposed to be a Public Solicitation of those that might be interested to serve. There is nowhere a requirement in the ByLaws that any of this be made explicitly public. Hence, the President can select a NC consisting of close friends, can schedule meetings of the EC and votes for the NC at a time of their choosing, can even instruct the Secretary to take or omit notes as convenient. The statements (and attendance record of EC members) of the EC candidates are not made Public. The deliberations of the NC is not made Public. This is intended to protect against unqualified people coming into the EC. But the secrecy ensures that a high level of manipulation is possible and control remains in the hands of a few closely connected individuals. While this may not have been the original intent, it is the current appearance ‐‐ and in my estimation hampers growth and broad participation in IAGB. Even worse, this could invite legal challenges. Best to make all these processes public and well documented. On the other hand, the GBM and Elections can be exciting and opening up could attract many new members.

If all of the above happens in an environment of minimal risk, there is really little to be concerned. However, IAGB now has a bank account of some $90,000 or so. This has been collected from donations, memberships and operations over the last few years ‐‐ especially the last ten years or so. Much of this has come from donations from generous members of the community. These donations are necessary to defray the enormous costs of holding the ID event at the Hatch Shell (costs in the range of $45,000 or so). These take an enormous fund raising effort every year ‐‐ draining the energy of the EC, and sucking the goodwill of the donating well wishers. So one can see that this bank account will be drained quickly in case of significant shortfalls. As it was collected from donations, there is a responsibility for the EC to protect and nurture this fund ‐‐ perhaps to a more enduring goal ‐‐ an India Center.

There are other things needed in updated ByLaws besides an emphasis on open processes. Electronic voting would permit participation of more members ‐‐ even if unable to attend the GBM. Rolling memberships would permit members to be on board for twelve months from the date of membership. Emphasis on annual memberships rather than Life Memberships would ensure a continual revenue stream, rather than one time collections.

All these things should be avidly debated ‐‐ given all the electronic means of communication available in this day and age. This is an area that IAGB is woefully short, and if we are to engage the next generation, professionals, small businesses, we need to participate more in activities of interest to them ‐‐ and to these United States that we are fortunate to live in. We are all united and very happy to see the growing relationship between the United States and India.

(Pravin Mundkur was Secretary, IAGB from 2012-2016. He holds a B.Tech for IIT, Powai, and an MS and MBA, from UC, Berkley, California. He is currently working on a BlockChain startup with his son Shiv Mundkur.)

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