“For social innovation, relevance plus innovation equals impact,” says Desh Deshpande, a technology and social entrepreneur. Indeed, grounding social innovation in relevance was the motivation behind the Deshpande Foundation’s approach in India, which centres on the Sandbox initiative, an ecosystem for promoting social innovation.
Success for the Sandbox is about equipping and supporting social entrepreneurs to create relevant innovations for addressing local issues. To strengthen capacity for social impact, the Sandbox ecosystem comprises different programmes and approaches running in parallel—including LEaders Accelerating Development (LEAD), a leadership skill development programme. Deshpande’s Sandbox is just one example of a new wave of strategic philanthropy in India that concretely defines “success” and holds itself to achieving it.
Another approach to getting results can be found in the experience of the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI), which aims at effective collaboration with grantees to achieve social goals. “We try to think about grant-making as a partnership between APPI and any organization working in the field (of our interest]),” says G. Ananthapadmanabhan, APPI’s CEO. “If you boil it down, that partnership is a framework for results that we both agree on which clearly defines what the grant is going to achieve.”
The Sandbox and APPI initiatives demonstrate that knowing what one is trying to achieve is essential to getting results, while also recognizing that getting there is a deceptively difficult process. The complexity of social challenges means there are many paths to choose, from government partnerships to supporting community organizations or developing local leaders and more. The following three steps can help parse the options:
First, think about the outcomes you hope to achieve. Defining success involves translating your aspirations into specific outcomes, and articulating these goals in the most concrete terms possible. Give a thought to who you want to help, which geographic areas you will focus on, and how long you are willing to wait for results.
“The family (Azim Premji) felt strongly that malnourishment of children is a shame, and that we should do something about it,” Ananthapadmanabhan says.
To translate this passion, the APPI team looked for a state where malnutrition was a significant problem but also where the state government was eager to address it. They identified Odisha, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government to spend Rs350 crore over a period of seven years with the aim of achieving reduction of 25 to 30 percentage points in child stunting rates across the state.
Second, thoroughly research the issue you hope to influence and the factors that affect it. Do your homework. Find out which philanthropists, non-profits, and government agencies are already working on this or similar issues. Ask yourself what seems to be working and what isn’t.
APPI had a clear vision about the obstacles to moving the needle on malnutrition in Odisha. An early review of existing literature revealed the consensus that focusing on the “1,000-day window” for a child, from conception through age two, can increase the chances of a healthier life.
Further research revealed the availability of successful examples of reducing stunting, including some interventions directly focused on nutrition and some that indirectly address nutrition, in areas such as sanitation.
Third, think about whether success is feasible. What will it take—really—to reach your goal? Look into how much other funders have spent on similar initiatives, and what kind of results they have achieved.
Deshpande’s Sandbox quickly realized the limitation of approaches based solely on ‘ideas’ and shifted to include a focus on local leadership.
“Creating successful social innovation isn’t just about coming up with a great idea,” Deshpande explains. “It’s about building a distribution channel that can reach people who live on $2 a day, and building leadership and capacity within the community so that people can absorb the idea.”
One of the Sandbox programmes is thus focused on developing local leadership. LEAD works with college students to foster empathetic, innovative, entrepreneurial thinking about creating social change in their communities, and now reaches over 25,000 youth. It is not simple to define success or determine paths to achieve it. However, the experiences of initiatives such as the Sandbox and APPI demonstrate how the steps above can help translate philanthropic vision into reality.
Rohit Menezes and Soumitra Pandey are partners in the Bridgespan Group’s Mumbai office. Effective Philanthropy is a six-part Bridgespan series that examines philanthropy in India and the “give smart” approach. Bridgespan is an adviser and resource for mission-driven leaders and organizations. This is the third part of the series.