Opportunities for funding at the margin are often a result of engaged participation with the people in the process. In this section, we share a few of the instances where we have identified such opportunities.
While selecting organisations for a portfolio.
How do you engage with the sector with a new cause?
This is the most recent instance, where we were helping Womanity Foundation to identify its first set of investable non-profits working in Women Land Rights issues, a cause which is both complex on the ground and holds strong potential for positively impacting women's lives in rural India. With a shortlist of eight potential organisations and the funding allocated by the Womanity Foundation for WLR being only sufficient for three organisations, the obvious choice was to fund the first three organisations. Given the fact, that most women-focused non-profits acknowledged the fact, only a few have had dedicated programs and even fewer with programs fully developed, it was an opportunity for understanding the issue better and moving the entire sector in addition to individual non-profits. We suggested an alternative, where the top three organisations can receive the agreed-upon funding, while, the remaining five organisations, which can also be engaged through need-based marginal funding to build the foundational capabilities required to run such a complex program.
This provides opportunities for greater cross-learning, collaborations, staying invested instead of finding new organisations every few years and impact many more lives per Swiss Franc.
While designing the program.
How do you help your portfolio organisations remain resilient to changing externalities?
Our relationship with WHH started over discussions on approaches to strengthening their 20-year old India portfolio of traditional grant-based civil society organisations under the backdrop of their increasing difficulty to mobilise grants amidst changing funding scenarios. We had multiple deliberations on an approach centred around building organisational capabilities to make these CSOs resilient to these changes. These conversations formed the basis of the "domestic resources mobilisation program", co-funded by the European Union. The program aimed to strengthen the capacities of traditional grant-based CSOs through organisational development and social business planning workshops without compromising on the core values of the CSOs.
We initiated the interaction with the existing portfolio of WHH over the telephonic conversation to get a high-level perspective on the organisations, their realities and existential challenges. We conducted an extensive workshop where we presented our findings to the cohort of portfolio CSOs along with the WHH team and educated them on the areas the program should be investing in and the approach it should ideally take. We helped clarify the approach and necessity to focus on the intangibles, as opposed to building a new for-profit entity (merely to ride the impact investment wave) under the project which later has a greater chance of becoming a liability to the CSO.
We then visited the fields of each of these organisations, met the grassroots leadership and their team, where we developed a deeper understanding of the body of their work, ethos, communities and intangible assets they had built over time. It allowed us to understand better the communities they work with, the issues that they are trying to solve and the core organisational challenges they are experiencing masquerading under the blanket issue of difficulty in raising grants. Through workshops, we brought the focus of the grassroots leadership and that of WHH on the organisational needs and approaches to be taken to address them.
We then followed it up with monthly handholding support, where we engage with one or more members from their team to work on the agenda we mutually agreed.
While working with portfolio organisations.
How to instil institutional process that reflects the meaning of the organisation's mission?
We are reminded of a strategic planning meeting we were asked to attend for one of our clients. In the room, one could clearly see there were two cohorts: one from the headquarters, and another from the field. As the day progressed, grand ideas emerged, such as thinking about the next five years, setting up a for-profit venture and pegging the number of beneficiaries. When we were asked to contribute, we started with the simple question: what do these women from the field sitting here think of the whole thing? Have they understood any of this? Do they agree with what has been said? And indeed, do the “beneficiaries” of the organisation really want the organisation to expand, or is it effectively the need (and hubris) of a few individuals that all of this represents?
Expectedly, this injected a fair bit of tension within the room, and in typical fashion, it remained under the surface. But it triggered an internal process wherein those manning the field and some from the headquarters came up after the meeting and said that this was their thought, except that no one was willing to speak up. It eventually led to the establishment of a separate team that is engaged in connecting the organisation’s overall work more consistently with the real needs and demands of the communities. It is both a change in the operating culture and power dynamics.