In the second episode of Ei Dialogues season four, Pranav Kothari spoke to Rathish Balakrishnan, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Sattva Consulting. Motivated by the vision of ending poverty in our lifetime, Sattva helps organizations design inclusive, innovative, and economically viable models to implement large-scale social change. Rathish has been associated with Sattva since 2009. As part of his role, he works with leading foundations, corporations, civil society organizations and governments.

You can listen to the full conversation on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, or wherever else you get to listen. You can also watch edited excerpts from the episode in the video below:

Funding Civil Society

In the conversation, Rathish spoke about the different types of funding opportunities available to civil society, highlighting the different standards applied to non-profit and for-profit organisations. He felt that non-profit organisations were still considered conduits of capital to the poor, not as organisations capable of creating effective social change who deserved autonomy when spending money. To this end, he argued that funders focused on costs incurred and not value delivered when engaging with NGOs. He warned, however, that this emphasis did a disservice to both the organisations engaged and their ability to generate effective impact.

Rathish proposed instead that ideal funding for civil society should be structured as follows:

  • Social sector organisations should be given the freedom to spend money as best they see fit
  • These organisations should, however, transparently report where they have spent money during the programme
  • Direct data from benificiaries should be made available to gauge their perception of the programme
  • Clear and effective assessments to measure impact, verified by third parties, should be put in place
  • All projects should produce public knowledge goods that can benefit discourse and enrich the ecosystem.

Effective Collaborations for Efficient Impact

An advocate of effective collaboration for social impact, Rathish believes that a collaborative of the largest civil society organisatons was needed to effectively advocate for their collective benefit. The equivalent of a FICCI or NASSCOM for the social sector, he believed, should encapsulate the diversity within the sector, and not be dominated by organisations from more known fields of health and education, or led solely by men.

He stressed that effective collaborations between organisations also helped individual groups focus on their strengths instead of occupying a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ position. Being average in several different capabilities, he argued, made them less effective than excelling at specific capabilities and finding organisations with complimentary skill-sets to scale impact.

Read Rathish Balakrishnan’s recommendations for strengthening India’s social sector

The Role of the State

The government, in Rathish’s view, had a crucial role to play in scaling social impact, including through collaborations with civil society organisations. He noted, “I don’t know if there’s even been a time in the journey of philanthropy where so many non-profit organizations, social organizations, actually work directly with the government, had a government MoU, sat in state offices and central offices.” The role of the state, though, varied with geography. In urban areas where markets functioned and civil society organisations could attract the requisite talent, governments could focus on effective regulation and funding. However, in remote areas where markets were incapable of providing essential services like healthcare and education, governments would likely have to provide these services themselves, though they may face the same constraints in terms of talent availability that non-profits would.

Parental Engagement for Post-Pandemic Education

Rathish acknowledged that during lockdowns, parents have been confronted by the reality that their children’s learning is suffering. This unhappy realisation, though, can be channelised into positive transformation, according to him. Recalling his own schooling, he recognised the pivotal role that active parental involvement can play improving a child’s education. To this end, he saw great opportunities for technology to help parents, even those who may not have the skill to help their children otherwise, but most definitely have the will to.