Impact/Failure Conference | The Decade of the Bold: Failures in Philanthropy

Nov 25, 2022


Speakers: Rohini Nilekani, Philanthropist | Carol Gribnau, DOEN Foundation
Moderated by: Harish Hande, SELCO Foundation

Many would believe that philanthropies are at the top of the food chain in the development sector. Some of the critical junctures in history, from independence movements, critical innovation pathways, all have been driven by philanthropic monies. How do we look back at the journey of philanthropies and learn so that we move forward into the most critical decade for us as humanity- to work together in solidarity and be BOLDER in thought and action.


0:00:00.0 Harish: Neeraj [0:00:00.0] ____ said, “This is going to be confession time.” And hopefully, it’s a good confession time, and I’ll come back to my own role a little later on. But Rohini, you have been a champion for us, for the whole concept of philanthropy, the whole concept of being transparent. Could you kick off this conference?

0:00:20.9 Rohini: Thank you. Namaskara yellarigu. It’s really great to be here again. This is the SELCO Foundation. Harish, Rachita, Hura, thank you for failing to fail. You have failed at making this conference a failure. It’s really quite a success, and this concept of this conference has got internationally recognised, and we need to continue this journey. So you want me to do my spiel now? I thought Carol was going first. All right. So, thank you. And I was told to… Yes, it’s about the failure of philanthropy, but I was told to give candidly an example of failure. Now, since I’ve been here many times before, I won’t repeat the many failures of the journey from 1992 with Nagarik, some things that went wrong in Akshara, Pratham books, Arghyam, etcetera.

0:01:12.6 Rohini: So today, I’m going to talk about a brand new thing, which is the journey of EkStep Foundation. In some sense, EkStep Foundation was born out of two failures. I mean, everything is not a failure, but there are aspects of everything which could be a failure. One was the failure to complete my journey in Akshara Foundation to create significant impact in early education. And the second was the failure of Nandan’s election campaign, after which we all had to say, now what shall we all do? So in 2014, we got together to say, “Let’s work on education, which is really a large scale problem.” And so the whole team, the parts of the Aadhaar team, parts of the election team, we all got together and set up EkStep Foundation with a goal to impact at least 200 million children within five years.

0:02:04.4 Rohini: Now, the team was very happy to recombine with a big purpose again, because both the Aadhaar campaign and the election campaign really took a lot of coordination and talent. Very happy to come back with a big purpose. And I must say, a lot of the team’s basic core competences were in technology, and they had just tested success with the Aadhaar mission, such a large scale project, using technology and many other things. So I think at the outset, because we had so much tech talent in the team, we thought it’s going to be solved with technology. We knew everything else was also needed. There were a lot of us who had experience in education. But definitely, we thought that we could… And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you will see later in the story, that we could use technology in a way that it had not been deployed before in the learning sector for young children. And so, off we went. We spent a really large amount of money consulting the best in the field in the whole world. And we began to wonder whether what Indian children really needed was a very personalised learning journey, because at the systemic level, a lot of things were failing the children.

0:03:21.9 Rohini: And so we spent a lot of time trying to understand what would happen if we could get access for young children to personalised learning. So we got the best in the world to create games and all sorts of things, which mainly made a big hole in our pockets, but didn’t really reach too many children. And then we said, “Oh, it’s not enough to just create a few games. We should open this out.” So we created the Genie platform so that everybody could, using that technology, put learning games. But then we sat back and said, “Even that won’t get us anywhere, because if you want to reach 200 million children, there is no way with even all the resources we have, that we can do it.” So then we said we have to pivot. See, failure is going to happen. But if you stay on your journey because you’re comfortable in it, without really deep listening from outside, then that is even more of a failure than the programmatic failure you have.

0:04:17.1 Rohini: So we kept on pivoting, but we didn’t… Even the pivots were not enough. And we realised that there was an element of hubris in our thing, because we said, if we can’t do it through technology, who can? We’d had so much success before. And then it was really time to sit back and take a deep breath and take off all our hubris, put on all our humility, deep humility, and listen, listen, listen again. And then we came up just before the pandemic, actually, in 2018, we worked very closely with the union government and started to build out for the government, the national teacher platform called DIKSHA. And as it happened, that platform was ready just before the pandemic broke out and schools suddenly shut down. And this platform then had to get ready very quickly to serve 10 million teachers and 10 times the number of students.

0:05:13.5 Rohini: So I think I’ll close here by saying… And then I’ll talk about something else. I’ll close here by saying that the failure to recognise your failure is a very deep thing. You have to be able to take stock. You have to be able to let go. Because many times, you really get very possessive about some idea or some program that you have. Or even philanthropists get very tied to something big that they think they’re going to solve it in this way, and it’s only a matter of time. So they keep on pushing resources into something, and then eventually, it’s too late. So I think we were very lucky that there were a lot of nagging voices around us which said, “We told you it’s not going to work that way.” And we began to listen to them a lot more. I think the team pivoted marvelously. And even though, yes, we began to be technology enabled and not technology led. And there is a huge difference in that. And because we were technology enabled and mission led, we came back and said our mission is 200 million children.

0:06:17.8 Rohini: Technology can enable that mission, but the mission is first and the technology takes the backseat. That’s how we were able to create a dynamic platform for the government like DIKSHA. And it had billions, not millions, billions of transactions per month during the height of the pandemic. And even today, now it is being… And the way we did it was we created an open source digital software called Sunbird. And many people are using Sunbird now in various other sectors as well. So we quickly learned, don’t push one solution down any pipeline. Distribute the ability to solve. And I think that one idea that we cemented allowed EkStep to now become successful. But we never forget how we failed. And I would say this is, in some sense, before I close, it is kind of similar to the failure of philanthropy everywhere. We get attached to certain ideas and missions that are mostly our own and don’t necessarily belong to the people in whose name we do philanthropy.

0:07:21.7 Rohini: And I think it’s very important to step back and look at that periodically with deep humility and a very open mind. The other failure, I would say, of philanthropy… And I don’t know, Carol, if you’ll agree with me when you speak, is that I think at least from India’s perspective, our philanthropists are simply not bold enough. We are not taking on the challenges that are staring us in the face. And the way we do our philanthropy also needs to change. Just a couple of days ago, I heard once again in a weary manner, just how many hoops people are made to go through to get a little bit of amount of money at the end of it, by philanthropists who are not really themselves engaging in the process by which their philanthropic partners are selected. And it’s really a call to everybody to make your processes much simpler. Junior people coming in and asking very senior civil society experts all kinds of humiliating questions in order to get a few hundred dollars, I don’t think that’s right. That is definitely a failure.

0:08:21.5 Rohini: But more importantly, can we step up as philanthropists? God knows there is a lot of money sloshing around in this country all dressed up as philanthropy with nowhere to go, because we are not willing to let it go far beyond our gates. And this is meant not to point fingers, because if I point a finger, I’m always going to be pointing three back at myself. So this is not a blame game, but it is a call to action that this is the human decade that we need to become bold. And if philanthropy doesn’t do it, who will? Thank you very much.


0:09:03.4 Harish: Thanks, Rohini, for, as usual, setting the stage and hopefully many of us listen to it and actually make it practical. And because we only have seven years for the SDG goals and we are so far away from discussing. Carol, stage is yours.

0:09:19.2 Carol: Yes, thank you. And let me start first by thanking you for inviting me to be speaker here at this conference with so many people in the room, and also, I understood, outside the room. And I’m very excited to be back in India, a country I visited many times in the past and where I met many brave, innovative, entrepreneurial people who teach me a lot about social change and innovation. So we met or we talked about the conference some time back and you said it’s really nice to talk about what I am right now, what I’m doing right now at DOEN since January 2021. I’m the co-director of the DOEN Foundation, which is a funder based in the Netherlands that is supporting entrepreneurial people with various financial instruments to make their initiatives bigger, stronger and more visible. But before joining DOEN, I was in development cooperation for around 30 years, and working from the Netherlands, but also in various countries across the globe, including Nepal, Mali, Cameroon and Egypt.

0:10:27.2 Carol: I worked a lot with civil society organisations, both international NGOs like EVOS, Oxfam, SNV, but also with women organisations, pharma organisations. So I’ve been on the practitioner side for, well, most of my professional life, and so also at the receiving end of funder money. So just less than two years ago, I shifted to this position at the funder. You also asked me to talk about experiences with failures. And I wanted to tap into an experience I had in my previous position and then we’ll link that to how I look at the role of funders, including the role of the DOEN Foundation. So I worked 13 years as a program director at EVOS Foundation. And during those 13 years, I was very closely involved in a coffee initiative in East Africa. It was a public-private partnership. And the partnership decided to pilot first with a new scalable approach to reach out to really large number of farmers to enable them to have more viable and sustainable farming systems. And we really want… The ambition was really to test the approach for scaling. So we worked on it for three years.

0:11:52.1 Carol: The pilot was very successful in the sense that we really learned how to reach out to a large number of farmers with the right kind of infrastructure, but also to include women in that process, who, as probably some of you know, are very critical actors in the coffee sector. The pilot showed that through that kind of structured support to farmers, like consistent three-year support to farmers, they can really triple their yields. But also by including women in decision-making processes, it allows to really adjust the farming system, and there came far more attention to diversification. So we run this pilot. We’re very happy with the results. All partners were also involved. And we said, “Well, we’re now ready for scaling.” And we had two funders that were willing to support this initiative for another five years. And then during those five years, I think everything went different than what we had assumed when designing the theory of change and so on.

0:12:53.7 Carol: And I will just highlight a few. There are so many to share, but just highlight a few to give you a feeling of the struggle in terms of a changing environment. So the first thing that happened was in Kenya, which was one of the countries we were working in, the government decided to become far more actively engaged in coffee marketing. So that influenced the whole relationship between coffee cooperatives and the marketing and support agencies that were set up to support these coffee cooperatives. So the whole idea of supporting these farmers for a three-year period was really at risk, because farmers really opted for different marketing outlets. So what we learned there is that the relationship between farmers and, for instance, these traders, which we felt with this particular trader, was built on trust and long-term perspective for reliable income, was influenced by many factors, and some of these factors are also contradicting.

0:13:58.8 Carol: The other thing that happened was that one of the larger private sector partners decided to shift its operations from the north of Tanzania, where we had been testing, where we had established an infrastructure, to the southern part of Tanzania, and that had so many financial and logistical consequences that we had to decide to stop the program in Tanzania. The next thing that happened was that this global coffee trader merged with another one, which led to serious staff changes, including the main sustainable person in the organisation to leave, but also a shift in business operations. So all this told us really a lot about the dynamics in the coffee sector, the competition and how that plays out in programs like the one we were having with this coffee trader. The last one, and that’s a more positive one, was really like, we had brought women really at the decision-making level, at farm level. And what we saw was that, because of that, there was a huge focus on diversification at the coffee farm.

0:15:12.1 Carol: In one particular region, women were really pushing for including bananas into the coffee farm, and that became such a success that one of the members of this coffee trader was saying, “There’s too much gender, too many bananas in this program, and too little coffee.” So, it was putting the coffee business at stake. So looking at this case, the question is really, how do we qualify success and failure? What does it mean? Because it’s very multi-dimensional. So through this and other experiences, I really saw and learned that social change is highly complex, and especially in the world we’re seeing today with rapid changes and a lot of connections between the local and the global, it’s very difficult to avoid failures. But I think, and I think you also alluded to that, we really have an obligation to learn from those failures and also to look at those successes.

0:16:12.5 Carol: Where do they come from? What is the reason? And how can we adjust? And I think by doing that, it will allow us to navigate in that messy, complex world, and find out, how do we reach the objectives we have set or the mission we have set as organisations? So for me, it’s indeed recognising failure, but also success, learning, adjusting, and navigating your way through this world. Then the whole thing is about, how is that journey being supported by funders? So in this particular case, we had two funders. The first one was obviously not very happy when we explained changing circumstances and our inability to reach the results, the quantitative results we had agreed. But we found a way out in a creative manner. But the other one was very much result-focused and was very much insisting on meeting those results, otherwise it would affect the funding we were receiving from them.

0:17:16.3 Carol: So what that meant for an NGO in terms of, we had already delivered many services to farmers, and then risking not receiving the funding, I think, is a risk very few NGOs can run. So I’ve seen over the years many funders moving into that direction, becoming very result-oriented, looking for short-term projects with very little flexibility, very little trust involved in the relationship with their partners. And yeah, for me, that was one of the reasons also when working for my previous organisation and working in development. I, at a certain moment, recognised that I can’t really stay true to my drive to contribute to social change if this whole funding environment is changing in that manner. So that’s when I moved to the DOEN Foundation. So, shall I say a little bit about the DOEN Foundation?

0:18:15.0 Harish: Please.

0:18:18.5 Carol: So DOEN Foundation is a funder. As I already mentioned, we’re based in the Netherlands, and it’s good to tell a little bit about our existence. We are funded by the Charity Lotteries. Some of you may be familiar with that. And the Charity Lotteries have been established in the Netherlands and a number of other countries to really support civil society organisations to do what they’re best at. And they do that by providing long-term trust-based funding. So we are one of the major beneficiaries, you could say, of the charities, and we were established to really support innovative, risky, you could say, entrepreneurial people with smaller initiatives. So these people could be entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, but also civil society organisations.

0:19:12.0 Carol: At DOEN, we really believe in the need for system change, so not for simple projects that have service delivery, but really thinking about, how do we want to transition our world from a world which is based on linear production processes to more circular production processes? A world where there’s exclusion of many, to a world where everybody is included, where there is solidarity and where there is spaces also for imagination, for different perspectives. Because we really believe that that will also help in being innovative, thinking out of the box. So this is what we have set out at DOEN, and yeah, we really support, in that process, organisations that are very bold, that have innovative ideas that are sometimes risky also. But we’re prepared to take that risk, but also to grow with the development process of organisations.

0:20:17.6 Carol: So in the case of social entrepreneurs, we can start with a grant and then move to loans and to equity. So we really look at, what is it that this particular organisation needs, and how can we support best? We’re very flexible, so also in terms of, yes, when we sit with partners, we look at their mission… I want to share one example, which is here on the back. So because it’s interesting, in the Netherlands, we had this big problem of almost 10% of vegetables being wasted because supermarkets were not accepting their quality. They had to shape like this one, so not straight, which was required by the supermarket. There was this social enterprise that said, “Well, we cannot afford to waste so much vegetables, so much valuable vegetables, so can we develop a business around it?”

0:21:09.6 Carol: They did so. They processed all these vegetables, made really wonderful soups, which you see over there. They became so successful that the larger retailers took over the initiative, really saw the business case for it. So in the end, the business no longer exists. I mean, they really had to stop. But retailers have taken over, and even today, we can find this kind of soup and these vegetables in the supermarkets in the Netherlands. So again, a failure for the company, maybe, because they no longer exist, but a huge success in addressing this big problem of waste in the Netherlands. So, that was it. Thank you.


0:21:50.0 Harish: Thank you. Thank you, Carol. Thanks. Thank you both for setting the stage. And as we said, we’ve failed to have gender parity on the stage. [chuckle] But also for colleagues, we have four confession tables, also, as Neeraj said. We have four confession tables, and we have expert confession… We have one confession for NGOs, which is going to be run by Father Roshan, and it’s on, if you can actually tell about… Some people are taking it seriously. But [laughter] if you want to talk about how you’re going to use COVID as your next excuse for all the deliverables that you don’t meet over the next three years. And so, Father Roshan is expert of that, so he will… The second confession is for the funders. We have Father Jobi, who is… Sorry, the Bishop Jobi, who is going to… So then I can say, how can you push for the grantees to scale, even if you know that they are going to fail and they’re not… As long as you can tell your board that you can meet. The third is going to be run by Cardinal Thomas. I don’t know where he is. But it’s by the CSR agencies who push for you to create a system around the airport so your CEO can come and cut the ribbon. It has to be 30 kilometers within the airport so the CSO can… The CFO or the CEO can come and cut the ribbon.

0:23:13.8 Harish: The fourth was, unfortunately, even the Pope refused, because it was a failure of the multilaterals. He said, “Even I can’t handle that.” [laughter] So any one of you can actually… So we have four confessions, but anybody can go to the fourth one, which is the ideal one. But yes, this is where I hope all our panelists also can be brutal, because this is all we do for the sector. Because if we don’t do what the failures are, then how can we actually set an example for other youngsters to take it up? So Rohini, why are we still afraid?

0:23:51.5 Rohini: I think… Who’s we in this case? From the multilaterals? Or…

0:23:55.5 Harish: General society… No, no, no, all the whole ecosystem is afraid. The reports are very, very fantastic. The photos are great, and if you add all the impact numbers, it’s more than the population of India.


0:24:06.7 Rohini: Yeah, yeah.


0:24:10.2 Harish: Right? So, how do we look?

0:24:12.1 Rohini: I think this notion, this narrow definition of success, everyone wants to be successful, nobody’s seeking to fail. But the narrow definition of success means we can only do some things which fit into that model. And we are afraid to do something outside that, because then we’ll not be able to fit into that model of success. So I think one of the things coming out of a confidence like this, and it’s not just one conference, it will take time, is, how can we redefine the notions of success so that even failure doesn’t look like it looks today? And we know that success may take time, it may take a lot of pivots, but if we can just expand the notion of what it means to succeed, I think people will be less afraid. Right now, we are just afraid to try new things because we want to fit into one model. And of course, there are many other reasons to be afraid, which is, if we do different… From the civil society perspective, your donors may not match what you… Or from the donor’s perspective, they are afraid of being narrowly defined by one law, and that you have to only do things which fit into a law. Taking very broad initiatives nowadays can be risky. We don’t like to talk too much about human rights anymore. All over the world, we are finding it very difficult to have those conversations, so it’s natural that people are a little afraid. But I think the first step is, let’s broaden the idea of what it means to succeed across space and time.

0:25:52.2 Harish: Thanks, Rohini, for that. So continuing in that, Carol, you’ve been on both sides of the aisle, on one side where you wanted to squeeze the neck of the funders, and saying that, “Why are you asking me so many things?” On the other side, now you’re bringing those onto this side of the aisle. What is the failure that you yourself went through, that you’re going to make sure that you’re gonna rectify on this side of the aisle?

0:26:21.5 Carol: For me, the whole question about success and failure, as I said, for me, it’s so much related to the fact that social change is highly complex. And I think it’s especially also right now with the urgency to act, we have a climate crisis, we have biodiversity crisis, there is huge inequality. I think there’s also a feeling that we need to act fast, we need to deliver results, because what’s ahead of this is quite serious. And I think what I’ve learned from early experience, but also what I see in DOEN, and what I think we’re really trying to do is recognising that complexity, recognising that if you’re an entrepreneur, a startup, there’s a journey. You’re navigating your business through that messy world. So, not to be too much attached to deliverables, results, but more on this journey and the mission that you want to achieve. And I think within DOEN, that’s exactly the space we’re having and which we are also continuously emphasising. So I think it’s that ability to be flexible, and allowing our partners to really navigate in that complexity.

0:27:41.9 Rohini: [0:27:42.8] ____ answer that, in the sense that when I started implementing as a social entrepreneur, I was able to see what doors expected of us. And then when I’m only doing the philanthropy, I have to carry that memory with me. And the first things I would say is, you have to learn how to trust. I keep saying, if you start out with trust, you end up with trust. So that’s the first lesson I learned from being on this side and then being on that side. So you have to trust more, you have to let go more, if you really want… And you have to be able to distribute agency, not distribute solutions. That is what you learn when you are, yourself, having had a lot of successes and failures in implementing something. As a donor, you have to be able to absorb what civil society really needs, which is flexibility, as Carol said, and trust, which is desperately needed. And also, how does… In every sector, how do you develop the agency of people to solve their own problems?

0:28:48.9 Harish: Yeah, so isn’t that… Both to Rohini and Carol to start. Isn’t that getting more complex? As both of you said, it’s a complex problem, the eradication of poverty, climate change. But suddenly, everybody is coming and saying the private sector will solve it. Private sector will get [0:29:05.3] ____ efficiency. And that’s exactly part to what you just said, that young program managers who are asking people with decades of experience, coming from the private sector. I think we are further going into the failing sector. Like, would Unilever hire a program manager who has no experience of sales at all? But in this sector, we are getting, with no experience, going to… You can do the funding. Don’t you think that on one hand, we’re all talking about these complexities, but the other hand, the processes are actually against…

0:29:39.4 Carol: Yeah, it’s a very interesting question. Are we relying too much on private sector? I think for me, this whole social change is about civil society, private sector, and government. So, you need all of them. So it’s not just private sector. Let me start by saying that. I think there’s also a lot of emphasis on investments. I always say subsidies do have a role to play, and I think especially in poorer parts of the world, we cannot expect business models to work easily, while in other areas, governments have invested a lot. If we take, for instance, energy, governments have subsidised the grids everywhere in the world, but now, we’re expecting mini grids to become profitable right away and serving last mile communities. I think that’s really not feasible. So yeah, again, I think it really requires deep knowledge to work on social change. So, having young staff in organisation, I think it’s possible because they’re bringing a lot of fresh ideas, and sometimes also different backgrounds. But I think you need to combine it also with very experienced people, people who have also the track record really in the field, internationally and so on.

0:31:13.3 Rohini: I think the reason I wrote the book, Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar: A Citizen-First Approach, is because I believe that we need to really understand Samaaj as the foundational sector, and that Bazaar is a continuum, the markets are a continuum of the social sector, as is the state. And I think the role of the business sector is critical in this decade when we have to solve problems perhaps created by the markets. So they have to be solved with the markets, they cannot possibly be solved without them. But to expect the business sector to solve social problems alongside that, I would much prefer that Sarkaar and Samaaj allow Bazaar to solve its own problems first, which is to create more sustainable businesses, to not create negative externalities, and to focus on that and support that through policy, and to civil sector voices and civil sector holding up a mirror. So that, I think, is the role of the Bazaar in these times; to reduce the negative externalities. And of course, it’s fine if some profits go towards the Samaaj sector, but not to come in there as experts to solve societal issues. Solve Bazaar issues first.

0:32:12.1 Harish: Is it possible?

0:32:12.9 Carol: Of course, it’s possible, because there’s no choice, right? Climate change especially, and environmental crisis has to be solved with the Bazaar, and in many cases, by the Bazaar, by the markets. So of course, it’s possible. And hope is an absolutely necessary thing into this time. Too late for pessimism.

0:32:34.4 Harish: Yeah, no, thank you… [chuckle]

0:32:35.6 Carol: And maybe to add on that, I think there are many social enterprises showing that it’s possible, and I think there’s so many examples. I went to the field with some of the colleagues to look at startups with a very strong impact-driven mission. I think it’s feasible. So I think what these examples are showing also to larger private sector players, it is possible to run a profitable business and have societal impact. And I think if we start looking from there, and, what does it take to have these kind of businesses, and to be an inspiration also for larger private sector, I think that we’ll already go a long way in solving some of the societal problems we see today.

0:33:17.4 Rohini: Yeah, Harish, you know that the idea is already out there. You can’t put it back in the tube. Business will have to be environmentally sustainable. And in the energy sector, look at what’s happening. I just hear that we’ll have to create villains out of the big guys; Amazon, Microsoft, everybody. But apparently, Amazon, 75% of its supply chain is driven by renewable energy. These companies are putting billions of dollars into researching better packaging. That’s only one part of everything. But so many things happening, look at the cost of energy today, the cost of renewable energy is going down every day, and fossil fuel energy is going to be unviable at some point in time. So I think, directionally, we are moving in the right way. It’s going to take time, but [0:34:07.1] ____. He told me… Because I said, as a grandmother, I keep worrying about my grandchild’s future, what are we leaving behind? Blah, blah, blah. Doom and gloom. But he said, “No, think about it.”

0:34:17.9 Rohini: He believes that when my… He thinks by 2050, ’60, that actually, carbon will not be the biggest topic on the table. There’ll be other issues, but not carbon. He says, “Your grandson, when he’s 60 years old, is going to have much less carbon in the atmosphere than we have today.” And does it mean we can all go home and go to sleep? No, we all have to work to make that reality happen and keep pushing the pedal. But I think we also shouldn’t be so trapped in the idea that 30 years is all failure, failure, failure, not to see the green shoots that are sprouting.

0:34:55.0 Harish: No, thank you, thank you for that. So for example… This is to start with Carol and then with Rohini. Because in present, both of you are on this side of the aisle of philanthropy, where on the other side, it’s like people think it’s a beauty contest of writing proposals; my proposal versus that proposal, this proposal. It’s all about a beauty contest, right? Who wins, right? Rather than saying that we’re all for the common goal of solving poverty. So there’s some friend of mine who went… In high school, he went home and showed his marks in mathematics, and he got 90, and father, just like an Asian parent, gave him one slap and said, “You added zero. You got nine and you added zero to your report card, so don’t lie that you got 90.” And he’s still frustrated with father till date. He said, “How come my father misjudged me? I actually added the nine.” [laughter] So the question is, a civil society always comes up with, “Okay, we have not reached the direct numbers of 100 families, can we do indirect of 6000 families? And how do we calculate this number?” So I see a lot of the civil society people running after this impact numbers, because we have told the funder, “If you have not reached indirect, we’ll reach an indirect.” Who will monitor the indirect?

0:36:12.8 Harish: It’s not possible. Why have we got into this mess, and how do we clear it? Because that’s one of the fundamental issues where the NGOs will not come and [0:36:22.1] ____ my funder will tell me not to tell those numbers. I’m just coming to the process level that you spoke about, Rohini, is that, how do we change the process from the funders also to be more flexible in your thought process? Which is becoming worse on a daily basis. And that’s why you don’t see a collaboration… You have a CII of industries, but you really don’t have collaborations of the NGOs, because you all fight for the same pot of money. What is your take on it?

0:36:50.2 Carol: Well, I very much recognise what you’re saying. I think in one year, in my previous position, in one year, we lost five tenders, becoming second. And in a tender, there’s only one winner. So becoming second is the worst, you can better be the last in four tenders and then win one, than being second, which shows there’s quality, good ideas, but there’s just one organisation or one coalition being stronger. So I’m becoming very frustrated about this whole idea of tenders, that there is just one winner. I think, again, looking at the fact that this is a complex world, we don’t have the solutions right at hand, we need to navigate, experiment, learn. I think you need multiple options. So that’s what I really like about DOEN Foundation. We’re very open, so everybody can submit proposals. We’re out there, networking. People can approach us. So it’s not a matter of competition. I think that’s very important. I think the competition is really killing the civil society sector, at least. So we do need to get away with that competition. I think these open processes that really allow organisations, individually or as coalitions, to come up with ideas, to really have the possibility to exchange also, so that you can together work out, what is it exactly that we want to achieve? Is a very interesting approach, I would say. And I would really recommend many others to follow suit.

0:38:24.8 Harish: To do that. So before Rohini, you answer, do you think your jokes got funnier when you shifted from being a grantee to a funder? [laughter]

0:38:31.5 Carol: My what?

0:38:33.3 Harish: Did your jokes get funnier? People started to laugh more once you became a funder, because they needed to please you?

0:38:39.5 Carol: Yeah. [laughter] I think that’s partly true.

0:38:45.1 Harish: That’s partly true, right. Go ahead.

0:38:46.2 Rohini: I think in front of the funders, the jokes of the funders get funnier. But behind the funder’s back, the jokes get funnier about the funders. That much… [laughter] I’ll say from the funder’s perspective, I would say three things; one is, funders really need to internalise that efficiency and equity can be [0:39:08.5] ____. You can be on some efficiency track, but equity is not improving. And to really deeply understand, that means you’ll have to redesign your metrics. Second, perhaps in… First of all, metrics are important. I have come to realise that. I wish it weren’t the case and everybody could do whatever they felt like, but yes, you do need to understand what’s happening. But those metrics have to be always co-created and they always have to be flexible. That’s very simple. But the third thing I think philanthropists need to look more at, and certainly we are trying to do that, is see how many portfolios… Say, in the environment and ecology portfolio, can the mission scale even when the organisation doesn’t scale? So if every organisation doesn’t have to have the metrics of scale and impact, but the mission, which means the whole portfolio needs to have some broad parameters by which we can assess, are we on the right track? Are we absolutely missing the tree for the forest, or the other way around?

0:40:05.8 Rohini: So I think that is an interesting way. Then, the onus of creating the larger metrics is with the philanthropy and not with each organisation. So these are the three things I can think of to change this crisis. And by the way, really, civil society for its own survival, needs to collaborate with its partners and create its own groups, membership-based groups, so that they can advocate for their causes, whatever that might be, more strongly than ever before. It is the need of the hour.

0:40:39.4 Harish: Thanks, thanks, Rohini, for [0:40:40.7] ____. And thanks both of you brought this. And last question before I turn to the audience’s question is, do you think, to both of you, you have to be successful of a certain category, actually, to talk about failures? Do you have to reach to certain level before which people… That you have the confidence to talk about, say, failures?

0:41:03.2 Carol: And then you mean as a donor, as a funder? Or…

0:41:05.3 Harish: Or anybody, right. As a donor. Only if you succeed, then you have the confidence of talking about failures.

0:41:13.9 Carol: I have to think about it. I don’t think you need to have the… Maybe you want to go first…

0:41:18.6 Rohini: Who will listen to me if all I have done is fail? It’s up to the listeners. Listeners are not going to say, “Oh, I failed. I’m helpless, hopeless, helpless. Please, listen to me.” I don’t think you people will listen. You want to listen to how I came out of that helplessness and hopelessness. So, while we are in the moments of failure, we want empathy. We don’t need an audience and a mic… And a podium. You need empathy, you need support. I think to be able to talk about it has to come from some kind of hindsight.

0:41:50.2 Harish: Right. Do you agree with that, Carol? Absolutely…

0:41:51.6 Carol: Yes, very much. Yeah.

0:41:52.4 Harish: Thank you. So I have this so-called new technology, whatever they have told me, to see the questions. Sorry, I’m failing in this. But talking about…

0:42:07.5 Rohini: These are questions from the audience?

0:42:08.8 Harish: Audience, yes. So that… It’s the saying that, if you give the mic, people will take the whole time.

0:42:15.1 Rohini: No, but Harish, you’re a strong moderator. Now, you’re being technology led and not technology enabled. [laughter] Let people talk, yeah?

0:42:25.2 Harish: Sure, sure. [chuckle]

0:42:25.8 Rohini: If they talk too long, take away the mic.

0:42:27.8 Harish: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Rohini. So I’m closing this. [laughter]


0:42:33.3 Carol: Agency.


0:42:38.4 Harish: So who’s going to be the first guinea pig? [background conversation]



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