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Realizing a better bang for their buck

Realizing a better bang for their buck
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First Published: Thu, Feb 10 2011. 10 41 PM IST

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Updated: Thu, Feb 10 2011. 10 41 PM IST
New Delhi: For a long time, philanthropy meant giving. Simply giving. Very few philanthropists had time to assess the impact of the money they gave, and the charities or projects they funded. Over the last decade, there has been a huge change in this attitude. The new philanthropists are hands-on, keen to know exactly how well their money is being put to use and how it’s ordering the change.
In fact, there are organizations such as the US-based not-for-profit Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) that actually measure outcomes. CEP assists donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in charting a desired solution and identifying methods to gauge whether an approach is working. These assessments are designed to gather feedback from grantees, foundation staff and board members, denied applicants, donors, and stakeholders. It has worked with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and The Wallace Foundation, helping them make changes to improve their performance.
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
A similar trend is apparent in India, too. Philanthropic organizations such as the Infosys Foundation, the Piramal Foundation and the Azim Premji Foundation are actively taking steps to assess their work and measure its impact. Many philanthropists have begun taking up board positions, offering their expertise to help improve projects and models and even visiting the field to understand the nature and structure of work being done by organizations.
One such philanthropist is Ajay Piramal, chairman of Piramal Healthcare Ltd. Besides running his own philanthropic foundation known as the Piramal Foundation, he is also a donor to Pratham India, an NGO that works in the education sector. To maximize the impact of his contribution, Piramal is on the board of all the NGOs he is associated with; in fact, he is also the chairman of Pratham’s board of trustees.
“Pratham is our biggest project. It works in 17 states and our group (Piramal Group) has been associated with it for over 10 years,” said Swati Piramal, director, strategic alliances and communications, Piramal Healthcare, and wife of Ajay Piramal. “Senior members of our group also volunteer for Pratham, so it’s more a culture now than a one-off thing.”
The Piramal Foundation works in several different areas. Their key initiatives encompass sectors related to water conservation, education, healthcare and awards. The members of the Piramal Foundation make it a point to participate in the activities of every NGO they support.
For instance, the foundation board, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, annually awards a prize of Rs 10 lakh each globally to two projects that are innovations in rural healthcare.
“The Piramal family approves all the projects that we fund. The idea is to back people who are dedicated and passionate about their work,” Piramal said. “We feed about 50,000 kids every day under the midday meal programme for instance. But the idea is not simply to donate funds, but to bring about change.”
As part of this, the Piramal family attempts to bring its own domain and management expertise to every project they associate themselves with. For the midday meal programme, the Piramals gave their expertise in the delivery of khichdi to children by working out the storage logistics and the nutrition value of the food before actually delivering it.
“This kind of participation is a new trend and a very important one. I am a specialist in public health and I often take this expertise to the NGOs we work with,” Piramal said. “So we assess which diseases to tackle first, how to tackle them and work out cost-effective mechanisms. I think it is very interesting that donors these days aren’t just giving their money, but also putting their brains and their brawn behind this movement.”
For their part, NGOs have opened up their accounts and books to donors. Many have hired accountants and auditors who help them publish quarterly and annual progress reports very similar to those of private companies.
“We do a baseline and endline test of the children we help. Base is the fresh batch and we first assess their learning level,” said Swati Kapur, head of media and communication at Pratham. “We find out what level he is on for reading, writing and comprehension. So, every class has a level.”
“Then we work on the child to bring his level up to the learning level of children his age,” Kapur said. “After this, we conduct the endline test and usually find a drastic change in the learning level. So, this is a very basic and scientific way of measuring impact.”
As per Pratham’s mandate, the NGO wants everything it does to be measurable and transparent. Monitoring and evaluation are integral aspects of its programmes in order to ensure that it can measure the impact, and to make changes in the strategy and model to increase efficacy based on the assessment.
“Nowadays, donors want to know more about where their money is going. One reason for this is because there are too many NGOs doing too many things. So, they need to be sure that their donation is being put to optimal use,” said Kapur. She added that donors have become very communicative on social media and, hence, like to talk about the work they fund. Many even like to be associated and acquainted with a boy or girl who is a direct beneficiary of their money.
Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the largest non-government household survey of children in India, is used to measure the performance of a state on enrolment and learning levels.
The report serves as a measure and reference for government education programmes, as also as an external measure of Pratham’s programmes.
“The data helps us to review the performance of each state across different years. It helps the state programme team to formulate new programmes and models and also existing ones,” said Kapur.
Kapur admits that a lot of the donors today ask Pratham about how they measure impact, and for this purpose the NGO has a separate programme review and management team, a donor report and a newsletter.
If this trend takes root, then there is a good chance that donors will achieve more bang for their buck and at the same time help organizations fine-tune their delivery systems to the unique ecosystem of India.
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First Published: Thu, Feb 10 2011. 10 41 PM IST