There’s a wise proverb which says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ That was certainly the mood of a dynamic inaugural DASRA Philanthropy forum event in London. Funders, Indian Diaspora, Indian NGOs and social enterprises all came together on the 8 October under unusually crisp blue London skies to learn from each other and see how through shared endeavour we could really help change the lot of the adolescent Indian girl.
The day was about connecting our head and heart. Whilst we may have been sitting in London, the meeting was viscerally connected with India, with stark reminders of the reality for many of the 120 million adolescent girls, 40 per cent of whom were married before they were eighteen years old. With those that gave birth before they even got to their fourteenth birthday were five times more likely to die in childbirth than those over twenty years old. We also got sight of what was possible with the inspiring presentation from a graduate of the Magic Bus programme, who told us her story of development, education and leadership.
But caring is not enough. We recognised the importance of data and a strong evidence base to inform what and how we as funders, agents of service delivery and advocates did on the ground. We needed to understand the issues we were working on and what had been demonstrated to work. Drawing on a strong business-like approach to how we went about driving change was invaluable. But unlike business, where guarding often proprietary information and forging distinct, individual approaches might be key to competitive advantage, sharing information transparently and working collaboratively was key to successfully delivering social change.
Partnership is key
Of course we all know that solving the problem of poverty in India is not something we can hope to deliver as individual organisations and yet there can still be a tendency to go it alone. Some mentioned with a clear unflinching eye the barriers to forming strong coalitions and partnerships, recognising how ego could get in the way of strong partnerships; how a deep commitment and concern for results and value for money could lead to the micro-management of partners potentially undermining trust and joint problem solving. Partners needed to stay aligned, be open to ideas, find common goals and approaches and come to agreements. The partnership between the Kiawah Trust and DASRA was mentioned as a type of marriage, whilst the tripartite partnership between The Savannah Wisdom Foundation, British Asia Trust and the Freedom Fund to work with Childline India was raised as another possible model of close collaboration.
What role can philanthropy play?
The value of partnership with philanthropies was seen as much more than just the financial commitment, important though this was of course. Support and capacity building of NGOs and social enterprises was seen as invaluable. Brokering and connecting players to influential networks could make a real difference in influencing change. Staying power is key. Delivering real change in the survival rates of children or the life choices of girls will not happen overnight. We were focused on complex, so-called wicked problems and philanthropies needed to make the most of their ability to commit for the longer term. But there was also a recognition and appetite in the room to move way beyond support for individual initiatives. The Magic Bus and Going to School NGOs, both supported by philanthropic partners, asked whether there was a space for philanthropy in some instances to provide the glue between government and NGOs? Should philanthropists insist on collaboration between those they funded and others in the field – maybe making this a condition of funding?
As DASRA has already recognised so well, there is an intrinsic value in convening those working on an issue together to develop concrete partnership opportunities, a shared vision and coalition to shift the reality for children and adolescent girls in India.
The expansion of the philanthropic sector presents a huge opportunity but we must avoid fragmentation as we evolve and look to collaborate more closely with our partners and with each other to drive change at scale in the chances, choices and realities for the young people we all care about.
Some quotes from participants at the end of the event to leave you with:
‘I feel more motivated to do more collaboration and innovation. Hearing about how these can work is motivating and now I want to play a part in making that happen.’
‘It’s what you go and do on the back of this that’s important. It’s made me question my strategy.’
So onto the next step of the journey we are travelling together.
Sarah Dunn is director is strategy and special initiative at the Children’s Investment Foundation.