‘Money makes the world go round…’ or so the saying tells us and in the 21st century more than ever before, there is an overwhelming emphasis placed on finance to initiate any type of project. But despite global crashes and economic instability, we are still less likely to take simple steps that ensure financial expediency.
As a Sikh organisation and one with responsibility for arguably the most important demographic in Sikhdom (young people in higher education) there is an understated pressure for university Sikh society officers to get things right. Considering that most officers are either in their late teens or early twenties, this is a big ask.
For the past two decades, university Sikh societies across the UK have operated with either moderate success or pessimistic inactivity and everything else in between, relying mainly on the ability of one or two prominent student officers to find funds, provide energy and go the distance. This is neither Sikh-like nor sustainable. On more than a few occasions over the last year, we spoke to senior officers from London Sikh socs who lamented the lack of attendance and involvement; of hearty fervour and anticipation; of help… In every conversation, we picked up on the fact that at some point this officer had put in excess time at a cost to themselves as well as contributing a small unmatched financial amount. On the surface it may not seem significant, but the efforts of these one or two Sikh society officers (usually the President, treasurer, secretary) hindered unity throughout the year and fostered an albeit unintended sense of dictatorship. This is a million miles away from where the very innocent officers began, by serving their fellow students and in most cases was still unrecognised as being counter-productive. At the heart of this matter lies money and financial recompense. Most university Sikh societies have an inconsiderable amount of expenditure throughout the year as venues, content and equipment are either freely available or heavily subsidised. The major costs come in any extraneous projects, refreshments and branded garments. Costs incurred by a Sikh soc that wishes to engage in a show of activism, public engagement or cultural activity is entirely an unnecesary cost and it is difficult to account for a Sikh soc spending in this way. But the amount required to fund the latter two is negligible, so much so that last year Naujawani.com gave amounts totaling nearly £1000 directly towards these costs to a number of Sikh socs. They were gratefully received, but what we found interesting was how such a small amount could make such a big difference. It is not difficult to see how if an officer of a Sikh soc was putting this money in themselves, they wouldn’t begin to exert greater control and ownership over the society. It may be small, but financial support for university Sikh societies is vital.
There are a variety of funding avenues for Sikh socs to explore. The first is the university itself which makes contributions towards every official club and society. The amount given is related to membership and has been utilised by Sikh socs for many years. Although it is small, this funding is usually allocated towards some administrative or recurring expenditure such as printing or freshers fair costs and has little hope for expansion.
A financial grant or donation from an organisation, business or social enterprise could be a very good solution for the short-term (meaning for a few years!) Naujawani.com is one such source, but as with any form of corporate sponsorship, you must check the small print. The funds that we make available for university Sikh societies can be used in any way, but are subject to a few conditions. We believe our conditions are sensible, easy to meet and mutually beneficial; some may disagree. But essentially, this is a decision for an incumbent Sikh soc committee who will be judged by their membership. There are of course some businesses that it would be inappropriate for any Sikh organisation to accept funds from – common sense should dictate who they are – and the argument that a Gurdwara or political party accepts funds from them is no excuse. This leads conveniently onto our third source of funding: the Gurdwara.
In recent years, a few university Sikh societies have been successful in gaining support from a particular Gurdwara in their locality for the purposes of funding, refreshments or even to use as a venue. Whilst the Gurdwara as an institution plays a major role in the life of a Sikh, we would advise Sikh socs to steer clear of Gurdwaras altogether for the purposes of Sikh soc. Members and officers alike will of course continue to visit the Gurdwara as they should, but as a Sikh soc it isn’t the most effective use of time or energy. A university Sikh society has been established independently to cater for the needs of students registered at an institution of higher learning. For a Sikh soc to maintain it’s integrity and student roots, it must remain beyond reproach from the murky waters of committee life and affiliation that pervades Gurdwaras across the UK. This might seem a tough stance, but added to the argument that not all of your members might be Sikhs or that the Gurdwara should not be using it’s finance in this way (regardless of what else it spends it on) and Gurdwara support can better be seen as a headache you could well do without.
So far this post doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading, but we have saved the best for last. Under any source of funding, a Sikh soc is subject to an external force and subsequently is effectively a servant to their demands. Even with respect to our own funding from Naujawani.com, we would much rather see a Sikh organisation reflecting Sikh ideology: unflinching when alone, subserviant to none. But for this to become a reality, Sikh socs need their own internal source of income and one much greater than is already produced through membership fees. The solution? Alumni. Just as university graduates maintain some sort of link after leaving and beginning their careers, so it is vital for university Sikh societies to find a way of incorporating past members into their financial well-being. At no point should a Sikh soc consider inviting alumni into it’s academic calendar of events and social life, for there is nothing worse than a middle-aged, non-academic, reliving their youth by detracting from the experience of actual students. But there is certainly scope for voluntary alumni membership that has a benefit for the past member. Your Sikh soc might produce a bi-annual newsletter for example mixing alumni news with your own endeavours; or it might be that that your Sikh soc sells branded alumni hoodies to past members for a significant mark up. The opportunities are certainly there to receive support from past membership, people who would hopefully want to see their old Sikh soc doing well without wanting to get involved and dictate affairs. Unfortunately, this would take some time to develop, but in our opinion it has to be the best option on offer for university Sikh societies to maintain their independence, integrity and continue to build on the work of the past.