“Are you implementing a local / specific solution or are you willing to subsume your approach in a collaborative approach?”
“Do we work with governments or do we create a parallel delivery mechanism?”
“When do we build a solution ground up and when do we adapt from other similar projects?”
“Is your mandate limited by geography or are you creating approaches to address national problems?”
Throw these questions into the ring and we will hear strong views from both proponents. Neither of them can be faulted — since both are dictated by the lens that each practitioner applies. If we have to dig deeper, the fundamental question to me is “What do we owe our existence to?”
At a time, when maternal mortality rates in 10% of India’s population is almost double of the national average; when almost 50% of students in government schools are three grades behind in Language and Mathematics; when more than 50% of illnesses are caused by water-borne diseases, the challenge seems daunting.
Unless we build solutions that work at scale, the underprivileged will continue to battle the odds. Let me clarify — I am not necessarily advocating for large organisations to solve large problems. But, should that stop us from:
- Creating strong knowledge partnerships
- Building collaborative platforms
- Pooling risk capital to develop innovative and outcome based solutions or
- Engaging with governments in a complementary fashion
Building on an existing body of knowledge is something that mankind has always done. Applying this principle to social issues is becoming increasingly imperative today — given the similarity of challenges and the paucity of time that we face. Partnerships that build, share and disseminate tested approaches are gaining a lot more momentum.
What was / is being done for maternal mortality, polio, malaria and other communicable / non-communicable diseases is important for the multiple dimensions that it addresses in a collaborative — drug research, community-based approaches, capacity building, technology and policy frameworks; certainly opens up exciting possibilities for a wider impact.
Collaboration with other like-minded partners, building a common objective, developing an appropriate governance mechanism and practicing a Consistent Operating Philosophy is another possibility. While there are many such collaborative platforms globally, a recent report by Sattva captured some of the Indian attempts in this direction. Building of holistic solutions that leverage each partner’s expertise can deploy scare capital much more efficiently. We are also, increasingly, witnessing a more nuanced approach from philanthropists globally.
The risk appetite of each philanthropist / foundation finds a reflection in the causes and the life stage of a project that they are willing to support. The example of Rockefeller Foundation and their efforts in building an impact investing practice (including through the 2008 economic downturn) is an interesting case in point. Another approach that has evolved over the years is that of the Omidyar Foundation, now the Omidyar Network. Moving from grants for nonprofits to capital support for social enterprises to spinning off successful pilots and investing in underresourced areas is an interesting read.
Moving from individual strategies to more collaborative approaches is the pooling of risk capital that I referred to earlier. Development / Social Impact Bonds are a vehicle being tested by investors with an appetite for high risk approaches (to social issues) but without compromising on end outcomes. While these have seem some traction in the Western economies, some foundations / funding agencies are coming together in India to test the concept with implementing partners. The key is not the funding available, but the structure being created to incentivise the right behaviour all around.
Engagements with governments should ideally identify what the government does not have and offer to bridge that gap, by providing complementary skills that are solutions-focused. Experiment with your money, invest in generating evidence for the programme and prove your hypothesis. Subsequently, seeding these approaches in the government system and support projects scale from regional to national solutions can be a key contribution from the nonprofit sector. Project Avahan that seeded a holistic approach to HIV / AIDS over a decade ago is a case in point.
Collaborative approaches of the nature that I have shared, expect a mature, open, learning environment that provides the space for all partners to contribute. It is not easy and not everyone might have the appetite to do this. But there are foundations / philanthropists who have successfully built meaningful interventions, who have been patient long-term investors, and who have seen the value of risk capital and what it can truly achieve. There is so much we can learn from history and recent experiences as we build our future.
Smarter approach by Governments
With the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals, the approach of governments towards development has changed considerably. Governments are now seeking out partners who can help them achieve systemic change in a better and smarter manner. They are trying to find new ways of leveraging the private sector’s collective knowledge, experience and resources through collaboration to build a resilient and inclusive economy.
Corporates and philanthropists – willing to go the extra mile to serve the underserved areas of India in partnership with the government – should come in with a clear idea of their association, their expertise and must be prepared to pilot projects and bridge gaps in difficult districts.
The philanthropists must take care to ensure good governance, optimal resource allocation and to invest in risk capital. Developing new solutions collaboratively to address deep-rooted problems requires not just funding, but also technical and management skills, immense patience, persistence and a willingness to learn from failures.
This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of our magazine. The author Paresh Parasnis is CEO of Piramal Foundation. He has been closely involved in developing innovative solutions for issues that are critical roadblocks towards unlocking India’s economic potential. Paresh is a Chartered Accountant by qualification. His hobbies include listening to Indian classical music and reading.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team