Effective philanthropy: Get the job done

The complex nature of philanthropy and the ambitions of philanthropists require anchoring on an end-goal and being agile in attaining it


Roopa Kudva, managing director, India, Omidyar Network. Photo: S Kumar/Mint
Roopa Kudva, managing director, India, Omidyar Network. Photo: S Kumar/Mint

Knowing what “change” you want to see in the world, and how you can encourage it, are important steps in the journey of philanthropy. Then comes execution—what will it really take to get the job done? 

G. Ananthapadmanabhan, head of the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI), says that answering this question led the Premji family and APPI leadership to broaden the organization’s approach. 

“We started by just being a funder, supporting good people doing great work,” says Ananthapadmanabhan. “But we recognized that some of the problems we want to solve, some of our aspirations for impact, are not achievable by doing just that. So we added another component in the portfolio—systems-level work, which is really a matter of orchestrating a number of partners and working with the government to achieve a particular change.” 

The complex nature of philanthropy and the ambitions of philanthropists require anchoring on an end-goal and being agile in attaining it. 

Ultimately, execution trumps strategy and successful execution requires capabilities, resources, and discipline. This is especially true in India, where complex cultural, political and geographical landscapes can challenge execution. 

To lay the groundwork for execution, philanthropists can reflect on the following: 

First, consider whether you are structured for success. As a philanthropist, you have choices on how to build capacity. Decide whether to outsource capabilities or hire staff. 

“We (recognized that) as a funder we need to be more actively engaged with our partners in this new role,” says Ananthapadmanabhan. “We also recognized that the skill sets in the organization need to have more diversity. We need to be smarter quantitatively, and we need to be more analytical. So we started hiring people with these different backgrounds.” 

 Omidyar Network follows a similar belief around structuring for success. The firm is both a traditional foundation and an investment entity. Roopa Kudva, managing director in India, explains how this flexible capital approach makes use of two chequebooks: non-profit grants as well as for-profit equity investments. 

“This allows us to support a wide array of organizations that are vital for sector-level change, including policy advocates, infrastructure organizations and individual innovators,” says Kudva. “Our grants are primarily used to support policy organizations or organizations targeting the very base of the pyramid, where market-based solutions are less effective.” 

In this way, Omidyar Network has organized itself to create a portfolio of investments which can achieve its objectives. 

Second, think about what the non-profits you fund require in order to be successful. Non-profits need more than just cheques. To execute with excellence, grantees need the right people and the right organizations. This requires attention to recruiting, retention, development and leadership, which philanthropists can help facilitate. 

Kudva emphasizes a web of support Omidyar Network provides, with a strong emphasis on strengthening the talent that organizations require to succeed. 

“We support our investees by providing a range of human capital services,” she explains, “This includes executive coaching, joining their boards, recruiting talent, and providing skills training to help them reach their growth and performance goals.” 

Omidyar Network also provides opportunities for investees to connect with others. “Given our broad network of entrepreneurs, policy advocates and thought leaders,” says Kudva, “we are well-positioned to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, and to share best practices and insights gained across sectors and geographies.” 

Third, find out what investments in capacity or “overhead costs” your grantees need to thrive. Focusing on the true costs of achieving outcomes is key to philanthropic success. Unfortunately, a phobia of non-profit overheads is all too common, despite the fact that good overheads—like training, technology and financial systems—provide the backbone for creating results. Consider working with grantees to understand the people, systems and processes critical to getting results, and to understand how you can build that capacity. 

APPI identifies what its partners need to strengthen and scale their work, be it project management skills or stronger leadership development—and then it seeks to fill these needs.

“We sometimes connect our partners with external experts who help to determine how to improve their fundraising systems and capabilities,” says Ananthapadmanabhan. “And we would pay for this.” 

Indeed, sustainability is one of the strongest measures of “getting the job done” that any philanthropist could hold himself to. 

 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 fourth part of the series.

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