“With the recent crisis resulting from the pandemic, there is an even greater need to accelerate and strengthen the family giving space. In India, Family philanthropy has always played a key role in contributing towards nation building. According to the Dasra’s India Philanthropy Report 2021, families in India have shown a great deal of flexibility and nimbleness in their giving over the last year, acting quickly to deploy both short term relief funding as well as longer term grants to non-profits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Deval Sanghavi, Co-Founder and Partner, Dasra, told The CSR Journal.
Dasra initially began as a venture philanthropy fund to invest in early stage non-profit organizations in India. The aim was to bridge the gap between funders and non-profits by educating funders to be more strategic in their giving, and helping non-profits use the funds in the most optimal way. Over the past 22 years, the organisation has become a catalyst in the philanthropic sector of our nation. In an exclusive interview, Deval Sanghavi talks family philanthropy, CSR, collaborative giving and the SDGs.
1. You’re among the rare Indians to quit a lucrative career overseas in order to contribute to social impact here. What was the moment that triggered this return to your roots?
We came up with the idea for Dasra when Neera and I were working at Morgan Stanley, around 1998–99. We were looking for something potentially more fulfilling and thought that the skills we were using in investment banking were equally applicable to helping non-profits professionalise and grow to scale. In 1999, I decided to quit my job and moved to India to start Dasra.
When Dasra was set up, it was more like a philanthropy fund. But over the course of time, we realised that while philanthropists and institutions were giving funds to NGOs, these organisations were often not equipped to effectively allocate their resources and leverage them. Dasra’s lens then focused on helping these organisations manage their resources more efficiently so that they could scale their operations.
2. What is the purpose and vision of Dasra?
Dasra, which means enlightened giving in Sanskrit, has actively shaped the Indian philanthropic sector for the past 22 years. With a team of over 100 individuals, we play a catalyst in India’s vibrant philanthropic sector by driving collaborative action to accelerate social change.
Dasra has driven large-scale impact in the areas of transforming institutions, empowering adolescents, building urban sanitation, spotlighting informal workers, and enabling strategic giving. We have worked with a large group of funders including corporates and corporate foundations, whose philanthropic journeys we have helped shape and transform over the last 2 decades; we have guided them on developing a strong portfolio of high-impact organizations, deepening their understanding of sectors and enriching their giving practices.
At the heart of what Dasra does is a thorough analysis of models and robust sector mapping; this enables it to identify those organizations that are likely to become sector leaders and create wide-scale impact, and to connect them with donors.
3. Strategic philanthropy has been getting a lot of attention since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is it significant right now?
Dasra’s 19 years of grant-making experience has helped us define the principles of strategic giving. We drive individual philanthropists, families, foundations and corporates to collaborate with non-profits, government and other stakeholders, as ‘development risk capital’ providers , to scale up impact. Strategic philanthropy plays an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all Indians, by 2030. Considering philanthropic contributions to the development sector have multiplied nearly tenfold over the last decade, there is immense potential to transform India with strategic giving. To impact a greater number of lives – how you give is more critical than how much you give.
With the recent crisis resulting from the pandemic, there is an even greater need to accelerate and strengthen the family giving space. In India, Family philanthropy has always played a key role in contributing towards nation building. According to the Dasra’s India Philanthropy Report 2021, families in India have shown a great deal of flexibility and nimbleness in their giving over the last year, acting quickly to deploy both short term relief funding as well as longer term grants to non-profits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last year, families have taken a step back and invested greater time in reflecting on their approach to giving – both among themselves and with philanthropy advisors – and in better understanding the institutional and sustainability needs of their non-profit partners, through more frequent conversations with organisations’ leadership. Next generation givers are also leaning into philanthropy now more than ever, even if their interest areas are largely varied compared to that of their families. Overall, family giving is expected to witness an increase in 2021.
4. In what ways did Dasra contribute in the fight against COVID-19?
Realizing the intensity of the second wave of COVID and its undeniable implications for communities, Dasra launched its #BacktheFrontline (BTF) relief campaign in end April 2021 to galvanize a movement to support local, grassroots non-profits that are on the frontlines, often risking their own well-being to save and support lives across vulnerable communities in India. BTF has been able to make available timely, flexible grants of over USD 10 Mn to 150 NGOs across 31 states & union territories in India. Most importantly, it has supported extremely small, lesser-known grassroots NGOs from neglected regions like the North-East, Jammu-Kashmir & Ladakh. It has received support from ~500 funders, with some of its largest donors being corporates and corporate foundations.
We realize that given the far-reaching impact of the pandemic, just a year-long relief campaign will not be enough to turn things around despite the success of the campaign. In fact, as we gear up to return to normalcy, there is an urgent need to create resilient, shock-proof NGOs who can serve their communities effectively in the wake of the pandemic. To achieve this, the philanthropic community needs to support them with longer-term, flexible funding that can cover the real costs required for an NGO to pivot, pilot and innovate new programmes which meet the communities’ ever-changing needs due to COVID.
5. What is your organisation’s role in nation building?
Dasra’s mission is to mainstream strategic philanthropy for the focus of giving to shift from “how much” to “how”. An NGO for NGOs in India, Dasra works very closely with them to help build capacity and resilience so that they are equipped to sustain and continue alleviating issues concerned with vulnerable communities they serve. COVID hit the weakest the hardest, and the biggest challenge faced by NGOs during this period was restricted funds. It is critical that we support NGOs and ensure flexible, patient giving for they possess the power and capability to rebuild communities.
Philanthropists, families, HNIs, UHNIs, foundations, are also increasingly understanding this. Dasra’s effort is to narrow the power imbalance so that NGOs are empowered with agency to make decisions in the best interest of their proximate, marginalised communities. We understand that a siloed approach is not the way to proceed and hence, our effort is to build a community of understanding, empathetic philanthropists who are cognizant of the needs of the social sector and willing to adopt newer giving practises, and build an open dialogue for exchange of learnings and best practises.
The only way for India to rebuild with resilience and perseverance from the pandemic is by ensuring vulnerable communities receive the patient support required, and only when NGOs are given greater autonomy to make informed decisions, will a billion Indians thrive with dignity. That is our vision for India, an equitable future where no Indian is left behind.
6. You have incubated and launched the Dasra Philanthropy Forum and Philanthropy Week, initiated the Dasra Giving Circle and launched a Changemakers programme. Tell us more about these initiatives.
The Dasra philanthropy forum (DPF) is a convening and learning platform to inspire and inform the donor community to take meaningful action on some of India’s most complex and urgent social challenges. The forum is also a unique opportunity to showcase diverse and innovative models for social change in India, to multi-stakeholder collaborations in partnership with the government, thereby involving a wider community that could apply these approaches in a global context.
The forum is based on the Dasra philanthropy week in India, which has built local philanthropic leadership, communities of strategic philanthropists, and increased effective philanthropy on a range of issues in India. The Dasra Philanthropy Week annually engages 500 philanthropists, multilateral agencies, corporations, and government leaders to build a better India, including leading Indian philanthropists Rohini Nilekani, Rishad Premji, Anu Aga and Nisa Godrej.
Giving Circle is India’s largest collaborative giving platform, which combines in-depth research, funding and managerial support to nonprofits to enable scale of 15-30x. We have also created & run 6 successful collaboratives such as those focussed on Urban Sanitation, Informal Workers & Adolescent Girls. We have supported over 900 non-profits across sectors like nutrition, governance, maternal health, sanitation, education and livelihoods. We have directed close to $250M Dollars for the development of various communities in India.
7. Do you collaborate with corporates and other NGOs on CSR projects?
Corporates can continue to make significant impact even outside of CSR contributions by impacting lives through their business practices. This is at the heart of Dasra’s Social Compact, which calls upon corporates to ensure dignity & equity for their migrant workers by introducing and reinforcing business practices that can give these workers guarantees of good health, adequate social security, gender-equal pay, among others. Participating in initiatives like these allows corporates to create sustainable and far-reaching impact outside the gamut of CSR, and directly onto the marginalized community members. In collaboration with FICCI & CII, Dasra is hoping to reach as many corporates as possible through Social Compact.
Dasra has also partnered with a multi-national bank for 3-year large scale project that will be in partnership with Industree Foundation and a multilateral agency. This partnership has been formed to combine and utilize the individual strengths of all these organisations and achieve a project of such scale. The project, over 3 years, aims at impacting 3600 producers across the geographies of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Additionally, we partner with leading corporates in the banking and technology space for thought leadership focussed on themes such as Data for Good Exchange, Collaborative Action, Building Institutions, etc.
8. How can CSR and nonprofits in India work together to achieve the SDGs?
Corporates can look at going beyond the 2% earmarked for CSR and this could significantly push up CSR contributions. But for these contributions to be meaningful, be it the ones that fall under the 2% or above that, corporates should actively look to fund local solutions for local problems, support NGOs that are led by leaders who themselves belong to vulnerable communities since they have lived experiences of the needs and challenges of the communities they serve. Besides financial support, NGOs are also always looking for human resource support in the form of volunteers. Collaborating with an NGO and encouraging employee participation in a volunteering programme can also serve NGOs well, especially in crisis situations.
Despite the limitations that the CSR amendments have brought about, if corporates can dedicate a portion of their portfolio to smaller, lesser-known NGOs, it can make a significant difference because besides funding support, corporate donations also bring legitimacy to many less established NGOs, helping them raise funds from other types of donors.
Irrespective of the size of organizations a corporate supports, it’s important to have an open channel of communication with all its grantees, as well as to be part of sector-level conversations. These are the most authentic ways of staying informed of areas that need attention and funding, and that is the first step in increasing participation in these sectors.