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The Need for a Strong Umbrella Organization

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
August 2013
The Need for a Strong Umbrella Organization

We have been fortunate to have a vantage point onto our local Indian community—its history, growth, triumphs, and tribulations. For the most part it has been a fascinating and inspiring exercise. Individually, we have been a wildly successful lot.

A youngster in our community enjoys a powerful catalyst for personal and professional growth—an environment that breeds excellence while also offering inspiring role models in most academic or professional undertakings. The community practically catapults its youngsters into success. A recent conference of TiE-Atlanta—where several high school students had the amazing opportunity to present business plans that were evaluated, critiqued, and judged by highly successful entrepreneurs—was just one of the many examples that demonstrate the strong community infrastructure that helps our youth excel.

This is in striking contrast to the African American community, for example, where outsized success is sometimes seen as selling out to the struggles of the community. From that standpoint, our “model minority” dynamics have served us well.

The flip side, however, is that we have also been witness to the widespread in-fighting within dozens of our organizations, some of it even resulting in legal action and law enforcement. It is strange and disheartening that as individuals we are able to shoot for the stars, but in our community and civic engagement, we are proving to be selfish, factional, and even quarrelsome.

Far from the sentiment evoked by our Indian national anthem which implies unity amongst the “Punjab-Sindhu-Gujarata-Maratha-Dravida-Utkala-Banga,” our experience here with community organizations has been characterized by increasing factionalism. Not only have we failed to rally around an umbrella organization, but even within our regional groups we have multiple organizations, amongst Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bengalis, Tamils, Telugus, and all others. Many of these sectional organizations, existing along the lines of regional languages or religious denominations, play valuable roles and are needed (when not proliferating into multiple sub-groups due to in-fighting).

But these affiliations actually strengthen the need for a main, overriding, representative umbrella organization, without which there is a distinct loss in our ability to interact with the mainstream, and along with it, in our political clout. Not to mention that a proliferation of organizations usually comes with subpar standards where the personal agendas of the volunteering board members often trump a larger vision.

The community certainly remains indebted to IACA (Indian American Cultural Association) for trying to fill the role of a representative umbrella organization, and for pulling off signature events such as the beauty pageant and the Festival of India. But despite its rich legacy and history, IACA remains far short of being a truly representative and formidable umbrella organization that can legitimately claim to speak for the community as a whole. Its membership count has sputtered around a feeble three-digit number even when there are an estimated 100,000 of us in the region.

Since the model of community organizations run by volunteers, where there is also an annual turnover of office-holders, hasn’t served us well, maybe it is time to consider a professionally run nonprofit umbrella organization with paid officers and staff and a free-enterprise model where outreach and PR are important functions. The lack of internal politics could make such an umbrella organization one that the community could rally around.

Sure, the feasibility of such an organization requires visionary benefactors. Are we there yet? Time will tell.

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