Changing lives in India through ground breaking partnerships

Changing lives in India through ground breaking partnerships

The British Asian Trust's partner-driven, outcome-focussed initiatives demonstrate that a collaborative approach to India's social issues can result in long-lasting change.

With the charitable sector increasingly adopting the principles of business, collaboration lies at the heart of the British Asian Trust's vision of philanthropy. It is our fundamental belief that working closely with like-minded businesses, NGOs, academics and governments is the most effective way of creating long-lasting, sustainable change in India. As our results testify, our impact as a collective force is far greater than if we were to work alone-and it brings the added benefit of learning and growing together.

The British Asian Trust has developed a network of 30 local partners across India, who we are working alongside to deliver truly transformative outcomes. Within these organisations, teams of carefully selected and highly skilled staff have the required knowledge and understanding to put our programmes to maximum effect. After all, logic dictates that successful development does not happen in isolation; collaboration is required at every stage-including design and implementation.

While we, and our partners, have in-depth knowledge about the needs of those we seek to help, we recognise that business and other agencies have unparalleled expertise in service provision and delivery. Combining these two elements is the lifeblood of the Trust, and it is what makes our partnerships so successful. At the same time, we strongly believe it is essential to combine this approach with dynamic social finance models and technology in order to achieve strategic impact that reduces poverty and cultivates greater opportunity for the most vulnerable.

As part of this overarching commitment, we have already embarked on a number of high-impact projects which are delivering results that go well beyond traditional grant-giving. For example, we are working closely with BT to connect and empower isolated adolescent girls in India using the latest digital technology. Our game-changing, three-year programme aims to break down social barriers and provide better education, health and economic outcomes. The programme is built around apps, videos and other interactive media to inform girls about health, hygiene and gender roles, while offering training to teachers and frontline workers. The linchpin of the scheme is BT's own longstanding expertise; its 10,500 staff in India are equipped to galvanise the programme through digital communications, mentoring, fundraising and IT skills.

In addition, we are spearheading an educational Development Impact Bond (DIB)-a pioneering funding initiative thought to be the largest of its kind in the world. Designed to improve literacy and numeracy skills for 300,000 marginalised primary age children in Delhi and Gujarat, the DIB is a performance-based finance scheme, whereby backers pay only if and when successful outcomes are achieved. In this way, the whole focus shifts to children's learning results, rather than what happens to achieve them. By teaming up with a large consortium of investors-including UBS Optimus Foundation, Tata Trusts, The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Comic Relief, The Department for International Development and BT-funding of £8million has so far been raised. Over a period of four years, local partners will deliver a range of educational services, including teacher-training and school management.

Ultimately, it is hoped that this DIB will double in size over the coming months. We maintain that attracting private capital in such a way is the only solution for plugging the huge gap in funding needed to reach the UN's Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all. We relish our role as a global leader in this enterprising method of social finance and as British Asian Trust Chief Executive Richard Hawkes states: “DIBs will enable the not-for-profit sector to think strategically about scalability, sustainability and think commercially to make a positive difference." Successful partnerships inevitably rely on synergy, and much of our success can be attributed to business collaborators sharing our core values. This itself results in a host of advantages-including access to suitable products as well as extensive expertise, networks and communications. Crucially, we never view those in the business world as mere funders; in contrast, we see corporates as equals who are perfectly placed to work with us to bring positive, measurable change. In the same way, we believe that offering an investment return to lenders is an entirely acceptable example of leveraging commercial gain through social impact.

Businesses can reap the rewards with a clear conscience if it enhances and promotes social ventures. Clearly, the single priority we must all share is to make the money in the system more effective, more efficient and capable of delivering optimum impact.

One of our key partners is the John Lewis Foundation (JLF), an organisation that promotes sustainable livelihoods through education, enterprise and employability. Together with the JLF, we are endeavouring to reduce trafficking and child labour through targeted grassroots interventions. In the same vein, we have partnered with The Freedom Fund to create a 'hotspot' project in Jaipur, which represents a bold new way of eradicating child labour. We have come to realise that we must stop the demand for child labour within business itself, otherwise more children will simply be drafted in to replace those we remove. To this end, we see business as an essential partner in changing public attitudes and boosting awareness of products that are child labour-free. Encouraging businesses to be transparent about their supply chains and play an active part in promoting this message is a symbolic step in our journey. By engaging consumers in the process, it becomes imperative for businesses to employ this new stance in order to avoid economic and reputational harm.

The ability to demonstrate our impact through measurable results and data is of paramount importance, particularly in programmes that are based on social impact investment. Targets must be realistic to not just attract investment but also to build a credible source of learning for future projects. Since there is now widespread acceptance that traditional grant-giving falls well short of delivering tangible results, the British Asian Trust has adopted an outcomes-focused policy in all of its work. This commitment is ideally complemented by utilising collaborative models and partnerships, which not only harness pooled funding but also offer technical nuance and business-orientated solutions to some of the most complex challenges on earth.

After doubling the number of partners we work with and tripling our programme spend in recent years, we have been able to positively impact the lives of many thousands more people than we might otherwise have been able to reach. Moving away from traditional grant-focused methods and pushing ahead with our own partner-driven interventions has built a clear momentum which continues to tackle India's most pressing needs. The British Asian Trust is deeply proud of its pivotal role in reshaping the direction of philanthropy and development, and we look forward to the next stage in this exciting new era.

Abha Thorat-Shah is Executive Director (Social Finance) at the British Asian Trust.

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