Reimagining leadership for people, planet, profit
Recently, JPMorgan Chase & Co. set a goal to finance $2.5 trillion in initiatives that will combat climate change and advance sustainable development over the next ten years, while Citigroup Inc. announced it would commit $1 trillion of similar efforts by 2030. The triple bottom line is an aspirational guiding principle globally, with large companies like General Electric, Unilever, Procter & Gamble leading the way. Since its inception in India, the TATA Group has placed equal importance on maximising financial returns to fulfil its social and environmental responsibilities - popularly known as the triple bottom line.
What Is the Triple Bottom Line (TBL)?
Triple bottom line (TBL), in economics, believes that companies should commit to focusing as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on profits. TBL theory posits that instead of one bottom line, there should be three: profit, people, and the planet.
The leadership of any organisation can dictate its commitment to gender diversity, ethical trade etc.; A leader with a long-term vision and the ability to communicate can influence others to adopt their ideas. Leadership is not linear. There is no code defining effective leadership in any industry or sector. The social sector has just about started to move from a charity-driven approach to becoming an organised sector. We are now seeing early-stage investments in organisational and leadership capacity in the sector.
High calibre and visionary leadership are some of the most important levers for the growth of any organisation or sector; in the social sector, the need for the same becomes even more pronounced. Currently, the sector battles with a leadership problem -- while India's development space (number of mid-large NGOs) is the largest in the world with close to 3 million registered non-profits, practices prioritising leadership training and thinking are barely there.
According to a 2017 Bridgespan report -- Building the Bench at Indian NGOs: Investing to Fill the Leadership Development Gap, which surveyed 250 non - profits, "97 percent of survey respondents say leadership development is vital to their organisations' success, a belief echoed by funders. But practitioners and funders also say they invest little time and resources in cultivating leaders. Indeed, more than half the NGOs polled do not believe they are capable of recruiting, developing, and transitioning leaders''. As a result, organisations suffer from a lack of capable senior leaders - leading to stagnancy, bureaucratic processes, slow growth, and lack of resilience in the face of crises.
In this backdrop, the social sector needs to tackle the leadership capacity gap by:
- Attracting, training and retaining leadership talent: There is a surge in early career professionals entering the sector. Millennials and Gen Z resonate with the value-based framework of the sector and want to be part of the change. Fellowships such as Teach for India, Gandhi and Young India Fellowship are training them for the sector through experiential learning.
- The sector must attract senior talent from diverse industries: Armed forces, corporate and bureaucrats to build a leadership pipeline. Evangelising the social sector as a fulfilling career path for senior talent can be done by orienting them to the sector. ILSS facilitates learning for senior leadership talent from the corporate sector through its curated learning program to build leadership talent in the sector.
- Attracting talent is only the first step: Optimising the available talent is equally important. It's imperative to invest in training constantly. Ashoka University's Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy runs the Strategic Nonprofit Management -- India program that prepares non - profit leaders to build and lead an effective non-profit organisation that drives social change and expands its impact.
- Investing in leadership capacity building: Underfunding or no funding sector for leadership capacity building is a raw nerve for the sector. Donors prefer allocating funds for programmatic costs versus organisational capacity building. This approach leaves the already resource-starved organisations in the industry to de-prioritise building leadership capacity.
The tide is turning; funders are now starting to support organisational development. Recently launched Pay-What-It-Takes (PWIT) India Initiative co-led by Bridgespan and five anchor partners: ATE Chandra Foundation (ATECF), Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), EdelGive Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Omidyar Network India. These partners have committed to collaborative action to change practices and mindsets of funders and other stakeholders to build more vital, more financially resilient non-profits in India.
India dropped two ranks in the United Nations' Human Development Index this year, standing at 131 out of 189 countries. Need for invested and capable leadership to steer the sector is urgent. Ultimately, any investment in leadership capacity impacts the ground reality - meeting India's SDG goals and addressing vast injustices and inequities across domains - environment, health, education, sanitation, human rights, women's empowerment, amongst many others.