Home/ Companies / News/  For non-profits, scaling up directly linked to partnering with govt: Bridgespan report

One of the critical issues faced by not-for-profits is how to scale up to increase the impact of their work. In the last one year, philanthropy advisory Bridgespan Group India has studied the work of 20 such organizations, including the likes of Kaivalya, Aravind Eye Care Systems, Goonj, Agastya International Foundation and Akshaya Patra to understand how Indian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are scaling up.

Its report titled Why Indian Nonprofits Are Experts at Scaling Up, which was released on Thursday, classifies five recurring mindsets—denominator, dignity, radical frugality, innovative hiring and collaborative—among these NGOs to explain the strategies that have helped them to increase their reach.

“Inherent in our definition of scaling is that programmatic growth that results in dilution of impact is not scaling at all. Therefore, non-profits need to be deliberate and mindful that they avoid dilution of impact," explains Soumitra Pandey, partner, Bridgespan Group Mumbai, and co-researcher on the study.

The 20 NGOs interviewed were selected from among 50 shortlisted on the basis of feedback from sector experts, from among those that were grantees from major funding organizations and those that had been given an average foreign funding of more than Rs10 crore over the past three years. The list was then reviewed by experts such as Amit Chandra, a leading philanthropist; C.V. Madhukar, who leads governance and citizen engagement investments for Omidyar Network; Ramachandran Venkataramanan, managing trustee of all the Tata Trusts; and Venkat Krishnan N., founder and a director of GiveIndia, India’s first philanthropy exchange.

The Bridgespan report defines the denominator mindset as the ability to stay focused on the size of the need, while remaining flexible in confronting it; the dignity mindset as the ability to serve many; the radical frugality mindset as the ability to reduce costs while stretching impact; the innovative hiring mindset as the ability to tap hidden talent from unexpected sources; and finally the collaborative mindset as the approach where the government becomes a partner, not an adversary.

Among the non-profits interviewed, 70% showed denominator, dignity and innovative hiring mindsets.

“The diversity of India certainly makes the non-profit program design a more complex process than in most other countries. On the other hand, the scale of our social challenges also provides an opportunity to serve a vast number of beneficiaries within a smaller geography," explains Rohit Menezes, partner, Bridgespan Group Mumbai, and co-researcher on the study.

He uses the example of Akshaya Patra to illustrate how when a non-profit demonstrates a “dignity mindset", it is open to “tweaking" a successful model as it expands geographically. Akshaya Patra, which provides mid-day meals to children, adapted from its typical meal of rice and sambar to serving rotis, a staple food in northern India, once the programme expanded to that region.

Ramji Raghavan, founder and chairman of Agastya International Foundation, an organization that delivers science programmes to rural schoolchildren, believes in three mantras that help a non-profit scale. “Firstly, design scale into your thinking early. Secondly, build capacity for unconventional thinking and acting; and, finally, develop and instil a management skill and philosophy that entrusts people to experiment and deliver at all levels," he says, displaying a denominator and innovative hiring mindset.

It is of prime importance for any organization to get the right leadership. For non-profits, especially ones that are involved in serving a large beneficiary set, the “last-mile" in many cases determines the success of the programme. “The front-line workforce helps the organization in understanding the voice of the beneficiary and also to mobilize and align the community, which are critical to impact, beyond the programme strategy and design," adds Pandey.

One key finding of the study explains that scaling up is directly linked to partnering with the government. Non-profits that understand this aspect are the ones that can strengthen their reach. “About 80% of the non-profits in our study have made the government a vital ally in their scale. The collaboration has helped them in various fronts such as funds and access to government infrastructure—schools and primary health centres. Many of these non-profits such as SVYM, CINI, Mamta and Pratham, to name a few, have also used their relationships with the government to advocate policy changes," says Menezes.

The one lacuna that the report finds is linked to assessing total impact. According to the study, each of the non-profits interviewed tracked the number of people it has served, but aside from that it did not have clarity on the level and depth of impact its work was having beyond the immediate and visible effects.

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Updated: 17 Feb 2017, 02:25 PM IST
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