The central premise of this essay is to look at a critical problem that seems to bother most (if not all) effective non-profit organizations namely SCALABILITY.
Scalability of an effective solution can depend on many resources like access to funds, availability of management talent, technology etc. which are almost always a luxury in the developmental sector. As a result, NGOs who otherwise do an amazingly effective job on a smaller scale (read community) fail to take it to a national level. There is an array of good works that many NGOs do in areas like education, rehabilitation, livelihood enhancement, health etc. so that question is if there has been a successful implementation of a particular idea in a small locality then should it not be made accessible to every similarly needy Indian?
One classic example is the development of model villages – Ralegan Siddhi by Anna Hazare & Hiware Baazar by Popatrao Pawar in Maharashtra. It has taken an entire lifetime to build these exceptional role model villages and it is impossible for these heroes to replicate these projects on scale at other places on their won.
Before I come to the precise point, let me throw a question – Why is it necessary for all NGOs to scale up? Most always, an effective NGO is one person’s vision and his/ her lifetime. The leader works against all odds to make things work but when donors look at project cases the usual decision parameter is Amount per life touched. As a result, NGOs are forced to add numbers to their impact by taking on more responsibilities in order to get access to donor money.
In this essay, I propose that NGOs should not be looked at as “Distribution Channels” in the value chain, they should rather be considered as R&D labs experimenting societal change projects. The moment I take on this perspective, the entire ecosystem changes form (opportunities & constraints)
Imagine a non-profit organization which is doing exemplary work of rehabilitating drug addicts through de-addiction and employability skills program. Each year because of the depth of engagement, it cannot impact more than 50 beneficiaries but the impact is measurable and 100%. Now this NGO is going to compete for donor money with many other NGOs who are possibly reaching out to many more people (nature of work is such) and thereby better justifying donor’s ROI.
Now for a moment, if I choose to look at this NGO as a Lab which is creating a blue-print of ‘Successful Rehabilitation’ then my expectations are set. At this point, I would like to flag that many NGOs themselves are obsessed with scale, hence it is important to change the lenses of both the entities - Donors & NGO
So how does the impact scale up? The donor funds the project and in-lieu shares ownership of the IP (wherever involved). Now when successful & measurable results are achieved, the donor & the NGO offer its blue-print to either of the following 2 entities:
- Government - when there is no revenue model
- Business – when there is a revenue model
Now, will we a society benefit if all drug addicts are rehabilitated? Dumb question but there is no revenue model here, so no commercial organization will come forth to explore this further, but government can & should. At this time, government pays an amount (equal to the spend or at a premium) to buy rights to the solution. Money is shared by the donor (who can now direct it to some other cause) & the NGO. Once ownership rights are transferred, appropriate governmental agency draws a road-map for a nation-wide roadmap and works closely with the inventor NGO to roll the project out. Now the government is free to decide the delivery channel – it could be paid government employees or a network of executing NGOs (not all can be labs) who are compensated for their time.
The mid-day meal program is arguably the most successful large scale experiment and it is considered an important reason for the high enrollment rate of students in government schools. Now, execution at such a scale required government intervention. The delivery channels are NGOs / SHGs who are paid for their time. It is important that every effective community level intervention grows to become a mid-day meal like effort, else an entire life-time of an amazing leader is going to get spent in running just a project.
We need to replicate what worked in Ralegan Siddhi & Hiware Baazar in only another 600,000 odd villages. Only the government can pull this off but not without the guidance of Anna & Popatrao.
The ecosystem has to change for us to experience a society free of “Unequal Access to possibilities”
Pranil Naik is an Entrepreneur, Professor and a Business Consultant with over 15 years experience across various domains. He is a Professor at Xavier Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai and Founder of LeapForWord which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the cause of enhancing English language skills of children and youth from under-served communities. He is an alumnus of SIMSREE, Mumbai.