How the social sector can ‘co-create’ solutions with its funding partners

How do you bring about true change if you cannot effectively translate potential results to your investors?

5th Mar 2019
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The development sector is witnessing an era of young professionals engaging with complex and dynamic social problems through entrepreneurial approaches. While navigating the intricate ecosystem, these young and determined development practitioners develop their theories of change about which they become highly passionate.


It is this passion that fuels the grit required to keep going in this tumultuous journey. However, sometimes, they form ‘safe zones’ in their mind, and are closed to opposing views, especially when those views hit their core values and beliefs. A majority of these opposing views comes from the funding ecosystem. Understandably so, due to the difference of priorities, outlook and understanding of the problems as well as the impact.    


The structured ‘funding ecosystem’ in India is still at a nascent stage. Many of the ‘donors’, especially the new breed of corporates that have risen with Section 135 of the Companies Act CSR (mandatory CSR spend of at least two percent of average net profit), are still trying to discover themselves in this era of conversations around triple bottom line. Added to this conundrum is the history of measuring impact in terms of ‘numbers of lives touched’ that continues to influence many organisations even today.


Budding development practitioners sometimes find it difficult to make sense of this ‘corporate world’ that has always been ‘foreign’ to them. The development practitioners look at these initiatives from a totally different perspective and objective. Their objective is not to reach out to more number of people; it is to make a sustainable difference to the people whose lives they have touched. On the other hand, corporates understand and speak in numbers. And while many of these young entrepreneurs have left their corporate jobs, they have never conformed to the “corporate ways” at fundamental levels. And this sometimes leads to them withdrawing into their ‘safe zones’, and looking at funding agencies as “heartless people” who never understand ground realities.


Funding agency to implementing agency


This scenario needs to change. I could have equally argued for the ‘funding agencies’ to shift their mindsets. However, being a development practitioner, I have learnt that the first step of bringing in change in any context is to change yourself. And, as I reflect on my own journey of leading a social purpose organisation, I realise how much changing my own ways has helped me empathise with different stakeholders and establish relationships that are vital to make sustainable impact. 


The language a community speaks has significant impact on its culture. To establish a culture of co-creation, the social sector needs an alternative to the term ‘funding agency’ (as much as we need to find a more suitable term to describe an ‘implementing agency’).


As development practitioners, we need to understand that people in corporates are as much compassionate to see a better world, and they have the skill set that can contribute to the solution. Our responsibility is to introduce development management principles to the management practitioners. The difference is in the language we speak. How about changing the current equation of receiving funds and sending quarterly reports to proactively engaging with the partner who brings in money to also bring in other capabilities? How about co-creating with funding partners to make the change?


Bridging the communication gap


Co-creation efforts with funding partners in the social sector can benefit from bridging the communication gap. The gap exists for several reasons, but a couple of the most common ones are easily avoidable.


First, the commonly held belief of hiding weaknesses and failures from the funding partner. It must be acknowledged that the corporates also function in highly complex contexts and therefore would appreciate the uncertainties. More so, if they are aware of the context. And this could happen only if we take the responsibility of letting them in on the ground realities by inviting them to be a part of regular operations at times.  


At a meeting I attended, a group of budding entrepreneurs was debating the idea of mentioning weaknesses in the proposal itself with a hope that the partner may bring in certain strengths to overcome those difficulties.


Isn’t this the first step towards building an authentic relationship? Yes, including them in the process of solution building would sensitize funding partners about the real problems.


Including different stakeholders whilst planning 


The second reason for the communication gap is simply giving too little attention to the communication flow with different stakeholders during planning. To measure true success, we cannot just rely on the evaluation of outcome chains. We shall draw learnings from the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ developed by Kaplan and Norton in early 90s, which gives equal importance to internal and external communication for sustainability of an endeavour as it enables meeting bottom-line indicators and process efficiency.


So it is time the social sector and its funding partners engage fearlessly in finding solutions to the many problems plaguing the country. Putting their heads together will create robust organisations that will bring about real change.


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 



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