“There is a need about how you create financial mechanisms where philanthropy comes in and gives the NGO leverage depending upon their business models”
In another amazing episode of the “Be the Best Version of Yourself” webinar series hosted by SOIL Institute of Management, their founder and chairman, Anil Sachdev alongside a SOIL Alumni, Nidhi Govil, AVP-Talent Strategy at Accenture were involved in a thought-provoking conversation with Neera Nundy who runs a strategic philanthropy foundation, Dasra where Nundy talked about the changing landscape of the social sector and how having a strategic approach can bring about a significant change in the way NGOs work.
An absolute celebrator of NGOs’ contribution to society, Neera has brought about a paradigm shift in the way NGOs function. Her efforts of helping NGOs form strategic partnerships have helped many of them - Akanksha, Akshay Patra, Magic Bus, Educate Girls, and Sneha - in their initial stages and have flourished. With her inspiration coming from her mother who started a school for Adivasi children, this was Neera’s first encounter with deep poverty and inequity. This experience stayed with her and shaped her values and visions for the future.
Keep reading for highlights from the conversation.
Home: The Leader Incubator
While answering Anil’s favorite first question, of what brought about tremendous happiness to her, a moment she could recollect as her happiest moment, Neera talked about how teaching the Adivasi children in the school her parents had constructed, brought about a change of how she saw inequity and poverty. And being able to teach these children helped her build this connection where she felt she could help and be part of that joy.
Neera then talked about how she grew up in a household that had strong female figures and how she was inspired to take subjects like maths and science which were non-traditional roles during that time. Having such firm support back home helped her build who she is today. Even though she saw that in the real world the situation was vastly different for a woman, she still pursued her career in investment banking.
The learning experience that helped give ‘that push’
It was during her experience as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley, in one of the self-help group meetings on microfinance she came across a book called ‘Price of a dream’ by David Bornstein, that she realized the power of financial independence and was inspired by how women were able to change not only their own lives but the lives of the families.
After she joined Harvard Business School and the whole journey of “leaders that make a difference”, that was where she finally was able to have the confidence and began her journey of trying to make “that difference”.
Dasra: Enlightened Giving
Neera’s journey of finding the name from a baby names book by Maneka Gandhi to helping her husband in Dasra and then finally joining it post a one year stint at UBS Warburg, she knew she wanted to be a part of her husband’s altruism. Even though her journey with Dasra has its highs and lows, the passion of people willing to be a part of a higher cause drove a sense of responsibility in Neera. These were some of the defining moments for her.
This journey of building an institution and going through organization building led her to discover a path of development as a leader.
With the experience of the flexibility of funding that Neera had as an investment banker, she was able to deliver that flexibility in a smaller yet significant way.
This helped her realize her ability to build an intrinsic wealth.
Talking about her values i.e. equity, she started a program for adolescent girls where she was able to pool to provide them with resources to ensure that they completed their 10th standard and further move to being employable. She accounts the successful completion of this program, as one of her proudest moments in life.
COVID-19: The resilience builder
Neera then led the conversation on guiding the younger generation on how to tackle the difficulties due to COVID-19. She passionately believes that resilience and perseverance will be the keywords. The ability to manage stress, thinking, and planning of different scenarios helps you plan for future possible scenarios like how long will cash run in your organization. Being more aware of risk thinking is the key here.
Choosing empathy over anything else, Neera strongly believes that the basis for any philanthropy must be empathy. Skills can be built later, it’s more about bringing a strong mindset change and with the FCRA amendments, the Indian philanthropy will have to rise and help contribute the way they would contribute for their respective religious communities.
Neera stresses that mission orientation and financial sustainability cannot run in silos, the mission’s business model must finance it sustainably.
Moving towards the end of the conversation Anil summarized his learnings from Neera as of intangible value, the moment when she chose to follow her husband to Dasra, and how the journey of life is defined by the choices we make. Her resilience and the ability to source the power of compassion greatly inspired him.