Of strategy and sustainability

Saturday, June 20, 2020, |  The Hindu

Development managers can help envision sustainable social impact at scale, a need that is fast rising in Social Purpose Organisations across the world

Equipped with a deep technical understanding of primary education (curriculum, pedagogy, assessments and so on), and a driving passion to improve educational outcomes for children, Aruna landed in a village in Uttar Pradesh. In-depth conversations with the community, NGOs working in education, officials and teachers in the government education system, along with rigorous secondary research left the social worker in a dilemma. There were too many factors outside the school that had a deep bearing on the learning outcomes of a child (health and nutrition, socio-economic background, literacy levels of the mother, size of the family and so on.).

Any serious attempt to improve learning required her to bring together people who understood these diverse pieces of work either through a loose coalition held together by strong accountability structures, or by setting up her own organisation with in-house expertise in all these areas or setting up an organisation specially in a specific work area and partnering with other organisations to bring together the mission from a system's perspective.

This was a very different skill from what she had trained for. So to make this happen, she realised the need for a set of people who could help her with the following critical set of things:

Define organisation strategy based on a deep understanding of current realities, the end goal and an emergent sense of how to get there through defining their theory of change. Given the complex nature of societal realities and the plethora of stakeholders involved, the ability to deal with ambiguity, while continuously building deep relationships is non-negotiable

Build an organisation with culture, systems, people engagement processes and policies, which bring about strong accountability orientations and based on the universal values of equity, compassion, dignity and justice. Basically, development managers who work with human beings and not just human resources.

Develop partnerships and collaborative networks with other organisations and people to conceptualise, design and implement holistic systems-change interventions based on the idea of collective impact. Learn to collaborate rather than compete with the external ecosystem.

Evolve a powerful storytelling strategy for all related stakeholders to raise the profile of the work, as well as the organisation as to increase their ability to influence the ecosystem and deliver results. Design strong behaviour-changing communication campaigns to aid in the efficacy of the work

Raise necessary funds from a variety of different sources (CSR, high net-worth individuals, philanthropic foundations, crowdsourcing, etc.) to support both on-ground intervention and the organisation through building strategic relationships where the funders become an integral part of the organisation rather than tactical fund-giving entities.

Aruna also realised that if this critical work needs to be extended beyond the village and block she was working in, then, she would also need help visualise the scale very differently: Do we grow the organisation or grow the impact?

These are just some of the critical roles that development managers need to play in the social sector today, whether it is around strategy, organisation building, partnerships, programme design and management, data-based decision making, communications and behaviour change, fundraising, and risk management. These are roles that are now increasingly available across most mid to large-sized Social Purpose Organisations (both Indian and international). It's almost impossible to envision sustainable social impact at scale in the absence of strong, robust, professional organisations and networks and thereby without the presence and contribution of bright, committed, professional Development Managers to make it happen.

The writer is Founder, Indian School of Development Management (ISDM).