Collaborative philanthropy is advisable and achievable

Collaborative philanthropy is advisable and achievable
Collaborative philanthropy is advisable and achievable

The CEO of one of India's leading education and livelihood centric social enterprises explains how partnerships within and between the philanthropic, government and corporate ecosystems are key to multiplying and sustaining outcomes. EdelGive completes 10 years this year. In our first decade, we grew from novice, social entrepreneurs executing siloed programmes driven by instinct; to a young, learning organisation which understands the power of collaborative philanthropy in driving large-scale, multi-pronged change. In doing so, we must have got something right, because till date we have influenced 150 crores into the sector. These comprised funds wholeheartedly contributed by high net worth individuals and institutions besides Edelweiss who shared our vision and placed faith in our ability to channelise their support into credible programs. Having supported over 130 organisations implementing critical, and often under-invested work in education, livelihoods and women empowerment covering 400,500 individuals till date; we have witnessed the power of partnerships in catalysing sustainable change. However, in our earlier years, and to some extent even now, our programmes portfolio evolved intuitively based on the needs we identified, learnt or were informed about; and driven by our resoluteness that only being action-oriented could lead to attainment of wider outcomes. By 2015, we had funded a number of NGOs addressing the issues of access, retention and learning outcomes in poor communities. While their work was growing steadily and made deep impact in the communities they served, we soon realised that the scale of problems in India demanded a fresh, new way of problem-solving. Alongside, we also repeatedly heard our fellow-travellers in the development terrain complain about the lack of collaboration in the sector. Their indignation was understandable, as philanthropy, especially, is expected to be free of the constraints that we see in the corporate world: competition, egos, unbridled growth and a strong, “what-is-in-it-for-me ” mindset. I think we should all shed this notion of nobility. Collaboration is very difficult even in the corporate world, and even among businesses within the same corporation, where one would assume that there is commonality of the profit maximisation objective. But it is possible to align objectives by providing the right incentives - not just monetary, but also non-monetary that encourage the right behaviour, such as promotion, recognition and faster growth opportunities. I confidently say this not from a theoretical, moral high-ground, but based on the astounding results of an experiment in collaborative philanthropy we anchored. A risk, if I may say that we took, which in turn generated asymmetric returns we had expected, but had not expected to exceed. The Collaborators for Transforming Education - EdelGive's Coalition for Transforming Education which has successfully completed a two-year run reaching over 1,000 schools and over 25,000 students. I feel the success of the first phase has truly vindicated not just our role as catalysts in transforming primary education, but also the contention that collaborative philanthropy is advisable and achievable!

The contextual premise of Collaborators

We have 220 million school going children, out of which nearly 85 per cent access the government system. We are told constantly that we have a big jobs crisis looming if we do not create 10 million new jobs every year. Maharashtra has improved school enrollment (
) in the last few years, but continues to face challenges in retention and quality of education. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has designated certain districts as Special Focus Districts (SFDs) in each state. Di cult topography in remote, hilly regions pose a signi cant challenge in education - teachers are scarce, and NGOs are not able to easily access these areas, leading to a poorly functioning public school system. Schools in these districts often lack necessary resources and children face several di culties in accessing quality education. We also have the problem of broken systems; a system of government delivery of services too old, and completely unready to meet the challenges of today, let alone 2030 - the deadline for the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Given the sheer size of the problem and the multiple levels at which it needs to be addressed, we knew we could not tackle this alone. The Collaborators was born out of this realisation. That, if private philanthropy was to make any dent, we knew it would need significant but intelligent financial and intellectual investment over a prolonged period of time; patience, collaboration and risk-taking, traits unfortunately that are currently uncommon in philanthropy.

A multi-stakeholder coalition: EdelGive+ corporate sector involvement+ Government =

Turns out, while we mulled a way to leverage and optimise corporate collaborative philanthropy for the larger good, the government of Maharashtra (GoM) too was contemplating a more inclusive approach to education. The GoM launched a state-wide Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra (PSM) programme in June 2015, with special focus on language competencies (essentially referring to early-grade reading) and mathematics; and invited the private sector to collaborate to help improve the public education system. We signed a public-private partnership with the GoM to implement the PSM in four of the most backward districts of Maharashtra - Amravati, Gadchiroli, Nandurbar and Parbhani. As the anchor funder in the Coalition, we mobilised a consortium of key donors, and experienced and two highly respected NGO partners, who work with government's education machinery and local community to transform last mile delivery of education. Together, we prototyped a gradual, scalable plan that could be implemented all over Maharashtra and indeed in other states as well. The Coalition aims to improve learning outcomes of children (Grades I to VII) and also identify and disseminate best practices of the sector that can be integrated into the government's education system. We streamlined and simplified processes that enabled each donor to join the Coalition with a minimum annual contribution which were collectively pooled to support the programs. The Collaborators intervention is aligned with the objectives of PSM programme and is implemented in two, simultaneously operational, phases:
  • Phase-I: School Transformation Program (STP) focused at school-level improvements to elevate learning outcomes
  • Phase-II: District Transformation Program (DTP) targeted at building the leadership abilities of education functionaries at district, block and cluster level, as well as activating community engagement for accountability. Interventions below the cluster level will be driven through the education system.
Figure 1: Intervention focus of Phase I & II of the Collaborators initiative This approach has built the facilitation skills of the education system, in-turn impacting the classroom processes. The methodology equips teachers in early childhood education and has facilitated substantial, measurable results.

Results of Phase-I (2016-18)

  • The average scores of Grade III and V children, in terms of Language and Mathematics skills, are above national and state averages (NAS data, 2018) in Nandurbar and Parbhani
  • For Amravati and Gadchiroli, the average scores are near National and state average
  • Every 9 out of 10 children are Pragat [as de ned under Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra programme] in the intervention schools at Nandurbar
  • Every 8 out of 10 children are Pragat in intervention schools at Parbhani and Amravati [Grade III-V]
  • Every 7 out of 10 children are Pragat in intervention schools at Gadchiroli [Grades III-V]
Additionally, inputs provided at various levels like school, teachers, Head Master and education functionaries helped achieve:
  • 100 per cent competency in Math and Language in 44 per cent intervention schools
  • 96 per cent teachers have started practicing child wise action plan
  • 47 per cent schools have reconstituted Bal-Sansad
  • 80 per cent schools in Amravati and Gadchiroli have active libraries
  • 80 per cent schools in Amravati and Gadchiroli have reconstituted their Assembly sessions
  • 63 per cent of School Management Committees (SMC) were reconstituted as per Right to Education Act (RTE) and out of that 62 per cent participated in development of School Development Plan (SDP)

Looking ahead

I believe the Collaborators has helped us develop a practical and easily replicable model for scale and sustainability. It has validated our hypothesis that to increase reach and to avoid duplication of effort and wastage of resources, collaboration is unavoidable. Working with the Government is viewed with scepticism, but our experience has been encouraging. The Department of Education has been proactive in their involvement and supportive in acknowledging feedback on gaps to be bridged. Of course, there are challenges, but because we invested in a thorough process of program initialisation; and the common goals and standard operational processes and systems that were devised, keep driving us to look beyond silo-perspectives and at the broader agenda. That children at the farthest corners of the country should benefit from the public education system that exists to help them achieve learning outcomes. That players like us, who possess the intent and the resources to activate the intent, should converge our energies to help meet the development challenges in India today.
Vidya Shah is the CEO of EdelGive Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Edelweiss Group, India.

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