Doing Good, the New Way

New-age philanthropy firms are fast becoming catalysts in solving India’s biggest challenges.

Traditionally, philanthropy is about cheque-signing donors passively sponsoring project-driven beneficiaries. Some of the emerging philanthropy firms cannot explain their work in such simple terms. They are giving social good new labels - “Venture philanthropy”, “Social investing” and “Philanthro-capitalism”. Philanthropy in India today is increasingly being defined by new perspectives, new focus, and a whole new set of players: entrepreneurs, technocrats and venture capitalists, who have jumped the profit line.

“The rules of the game in the philanthropy space are steadily changing. There is a new way of giving and receiving support for social initiatives,” believes Deval Sanghavi, Founder and President of Dasra, an organization that helps social ventures to scale, grow and become more profitable. Over the last decade, he finds philanthropic foundations becoming more engaged and hands-on with the initiatives they are supporting, bringing in their vision, management expertise and best practices with them. Their focus: efficiency, transparency, impact and return on investment.

New players on the block

Sanghavi, along with his partners Neera Nundy and Ramanan Raghavendran left Morgan Stanley to form India’s first venture philanthropy fund, Impact Partners, way back in 1999. “At Morgan Stanley in New York, we did due diligence on organizations while searching for companies for investors to take over. Why not apply our experience in the non-profit sector in India, by finding good-quality organizations, investing in management teams and taking organizations to scale?” he comments.

Today he has company.

In the past five years, many corporate honchos have made a switch to non-profit sector. Jayant Sinha of Omidyar Network India Advisors, Vijay Talwar of Clinton Foundation, Ashok Alexander of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Debasish Mitter of Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Ujwal Thakar of GiveIndia Foundation and Dr Ajay Kela of Wadhwani Foundation are some who are bringing their twenty-plus experience as corporate leaders to executive roles in the social sector.

“One of the reasons for their jump is their desire to give back to society. In addition, non-profit sector brings in new challenges and opportunities where they can apply their skills and knowledge. Also, non-profit organizations are now ready and willing to absorb what they bring to the table,” feels Gita Dang, Founder-Director of Talent Advisory Services.

Dr Ajay Kela recently joined Wadhwani Foundation as President and CEO. He will be taking over the reins from Wadhwani Foundation Executive Director Laura Parkin, also from a corporate background. While Parkin will continue to spearhead Wadhwani Foundation’s largest initiative National Entrepreneurship Network, Dr Kela will be launching high-impact initiatives in entrepreneurship and targeted job creation. Dr Kela was earlier heading Symphony Services, the outsourced product development company that is a part of the $3 billion Symphony Technology group, founded by Romesh Wadhwani who is also the founder-chairman of the Wadhwani Foundation. He is now applying his business acumen in the social space.

“There is a strong recognition that challenges of social sector is as large and complex as those in the corporate sector, yet there are very few examples of scaled-up social organizations. My corporate experience helps me build programs that are focused on solving the problems and impact, with measurable goals,” Dr Kela explains.

 A Business Approach to Philanthropy

Philanthropy is no longer about beneficiaries alone anymore; it is the long-term and large-scale impact that counts. In recent years, Acumen Fund and Omidyar Network have entered India as social investors, providing financial and human capital to expand and scale growth-stage non-profit social ventures.

Dasra’s Social-Impact programme offers three to five-year business plans to organizations that have reached a tipping point and are looking to scale. “Our focus has been to provide hands-on support by bringing in management teams and mentoring them on their business plans,” says Sanghavi. Dasra is supporting 30 social ventures under the Social-Impact programme.

Meanwhile, Wadhwani Foundation aims to fund initiatives with significant pro-bono investments and supporting them until they are well established with the right models, at scale and self-sustainable before exiting. 

One of the new initiatives that the Foundation has recently launched is the Wadhwani Opportunities Network for the Differently-Abled, a program that will directly help train and place over 100,000 of the differently-abled into sustainable, high quality jobs, in partnership with private and public sector employers.

“We are trying to change the way one looks at philanthropy. Our approach has been to launch and support niche, high impact and high value initiatives, and play the role as catalysts to trigger large scale job creation. The only way to do this is by becoming results oriented and using business processes more and to great effect. Once the model works and demonstrates results, it becomes easier to engage government and other corporates for nationwide scale-up,” says Dr Kela.