Collaborating for large scale social impact
Collaboration is the key to solving problems at scale and our country needs many such exemplars to be developed at a rapid pace!
As human beings, all of us are prone to the error of jumping to a solution even before we fully comprehend and understand the problem on hand. I recall when I signed up for the PHD program at IIT Bombay after seven years of a successful CEO tenure, my heart was set on discovering a systematic process to implement knowledge management maturity in organisations. Twelve months and many heartbreaks later, I had my moment of epiphany in an interaction with my very wise PHD guide who asked “But why can’t organisations be satisfied with managing data well and implementing good information systems across functions and processes instead of aspiring to knowledge management maturity? And maybe a better PHD would be to research the problems and factors that can inhibit the maturity journey rather than laying out a trite and possibly unrealistic quick fix solution for knowledge management!” Four years later, my PHD felt truly richer, on completion.
It is our penchant to oversimplify, that causes larger and inherently complex problems like job creation and poverty alleviation to remain unsolved. Simple problems typically address issues where a solution can be found quickly and applied every time, to get a similar result. Complicated problems take a lot more effort to find a solution, but once discovered, can again be applied consistently with similar results. Complex problems however defy most set rules, formulae or protocols; every situation has to be deeply analysed and understood, and a unique solution found through collaborative methods.
In my own work at NASSCOM Foundation, Social Venture Partners and Pune City Connect; spreading digital and financial literacy across large sections of the population lent itself to a simple and repeatable approach. Getting better student outcomes in municipal schools took months to design model schools and co-create with Government a “Shikshak Sahyogi” or master trainer model. This found rapid application across multiple schools. Building a model for each skills lighthouse in the city of Pune, which would set the youths on a path to skills acquisition and individual sustainable livelihoods took many years to evolve and; even now has to be contextualized in every new location to the specific needs of every community we serve.
The good news in India today is that there are enough enlightened agencies which believe in collaborating for scale
In the social sector in India, isolated impact has always been easier to implement, when the process and quality standards have been uniform, as is the case with Teach For India. However, the relative lack of success in skilling and placing underprivileged youth in jobs has been because we have not designed for the aspiration or “agency” element, which has to be ignited in each individual before they are willing to embark on that journey.
In collective impact models, participation of and collaboration between multiple partners in the eco-system also becomes an imperative. This becomes complicated when the partners have different motivations and structures; a case in point being Pune City Connect, which raises funds from large corporations, works with Government as a capital expenditure and facility provider and partners with over twenty skilling NGOs in various parts of the city to fulfill our mission of “Sampoorna Pune” which implies no dream is left behind. Effective collaboration entails working towards the same goal, agreeing to evaluation of processes and outcomes and working together over the medium and long term.
When collaboration works, the results can be path breaking. A few examples worthy of emulation are MannDeshi, which has integrated rural women into the common cause of livelihoods; Youth For Jobs which has focused on otherwise abled youth in Hyderabad and; Foundation to Educate Girls, which put girls from the villages back into school in Pali, Rajasthan. Today it has an empowering vision of scaling to six states and transforming futures for sixteen million young children.
Another successful Public Private Partnership model is Swades Foundation in Raigad District which has worked with the district administration to intervene at multiple points, from school education to better farming and irrigation practices to healthcare and livelihoods for youth and the Pan IIT Reach for India’s partnership with the Jharkhand Government, resulting in the creation of multiple centres to enable tribal youth to be trained for jobs in manufacturing and healthcare.
The good news in India today is that there are enough enlightened agencies which believe in collaborating for scale. IIT-IIT (IITans for Influencing India’s Transformation) has chosen PARFI and five other models for national scaling and eventual financial self-sufficiency. Rotary Clubs in Pune are working on a large and scalable Happy Schools initiative. Social Venture Partners, which introduced Venture Philanthropy to the world twenty years ago, has brought over 300 partners together across seven cities in India and aligned on a national mission of creating a million jobs through our partners providing support in finance, governance, technology and human resource management to a fast growing network of non-profits a program supported by the Tata Trusts.