Foundation research

Focused on strategic philanthropy, this foundation of women entrepreneurs hopes to impact a billion lives with dignity and equity

Neera NundyThe first grassroots experience of rural India was with the Adivasi Children’s Day School that his mother had established near Kharagpur in West Bengal. This experience was deeply etched in her mind and, much later, inspired her to make the transition from an investment banking job in the United States to co-found Darsra.

Neera Nundy

Born in Canada, Neera earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and worked with Morgan Stanley and UBS Warburg.

“At Morgan Stanley, I met Deval, my co-founder, and we started discussing the idea of ​​applying the same business principles to the nonprofit sector by finding good quality organizations, investing in leadership teams and scaling organizations. We started as an NGO for NGOs and we continue to scale while keeping NGOs at the center of everything,” she says.

While Deval quit her job and moved to India to start up in 1999, Neera stayed and graduated from Harvard Business School, joining it four years later in 2003.

The duo began as Impact Partners, India’s first venture philanthropy fund providing grants and hands-on assistance to eight mostly start-up nonprofits.

After spending three years working with a small group of philanthropists, they realized the hands-on investment model could be opened up to a larger donor base to achieve greater impact and that’s when they changed. the name in “Dasra”, which means “enlightened giving” in Sanskrit and ceased to be called a venture philanthropy fund.

Connecting philanthropists with credible NGOs

Neera believes India’s social sector continues to evolve and it is difficult for NGOs to get the right kind of support and for ‘donors’ to be able to identify credible NGOs to fund. .

Dasra is the go-between who brings the “proof of why” with the creativity of storytelling to make a compelling case for NGOs and provides data-driven research to objectively help address “donor” interests.

She says, “Dasra urges individual philanthropists, families, foundations, and corporations to collaborate with nonprofits, government, and other stakeholders as providers of ‘developmental risk capital’ to increase the impact. So far, we have partnered with over 300 families, 3,500 businesses, philanthropists, foundations and Rs 1,000+ crore redirected for community development in India.

Dasra works with organizations at different stages of maturity and industries to build leadership and accelerate growth. He has been part of the scaling journey of leading Indian non-profit organizations such as SNEHA, Magic Bus, Educate Girls, Shelter Associates and QUEST Alliance.

It currently offers four capacity building programs. Jthe Dasra Social Impact (DSI) Leadership Program and the DSI Acceleration Program have helped hundreds of nonprofit leaders begin their self-learning journey.

In partnership with Harvard Business School and Ashoka University, it also offers the Sthe Strategic Perspectives for Nonprofit Management (SPNM) and Strategic Nonprofit Management India (SNMI) programs for senior leaders of non-profit organizations based in India.

Since its inception, it has supported over 1400 non-profit organizations, 650 leaders from 460 organizations. Through his thought leadership, knowledge creation, and dissemination, Dasra has published over 500 reports, videos, articles and other communications on India’s development sector.

Building Strategic Relationships

The first days were difficult.

Neera recalls, “When we started, it was intimidating even to meet the heads of organizations because a lot of them were like, ‘Look, we just want money; we don’t want direct support” or “If you give us money, let us do what we want with it”. Then, with the donors, the challenge was to convince them to finance the management costs and to resize the organisations, or even to set up operational plans over three to five years.

They started from scratch, building relationships with organizations on the ground by providing them with capacity building support, enabling them to understand why it would be relevant to focus on institutional strengthening. And on the donor side, the task was to educate them on the shortcomings of the sector and teach them how they could give more strategically.

Dasra works with various central and state ministries, individuals (HNI, UHNI), foundations and corporations, to strengthen partnerships between civil society and government, in targeted areas such as adolescents, urban sanitation, democracy and governance.

The impact has been considerable. It was the BackTheFrontline campaign that galvanized a movement supporting and directing resources to 152 NGOs in 31 states and union territories in India with a relief fund of over $10 million that reached nearly 2.4 million lives.

“Our work also focuses on adolescents with priority outcomes focused on completing secondary education, increasing agency, postponing age of marriage, and postponing pregnancy. Thanks to 10to19 , Dasra’s teen collaboration, we aim to unite social organizations, funders, technical experts and government to empower and positively impact the lives of millions of teens through our nonprofit network of 25 states,” says Neera.

Dasra has also worked to improve sanitation in urban areas of India along the sanitation value chain, from the containment of faecal waste to its transport, treatment and disposal. appropriate. He works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and also co-hosts the National Faecal Sludge and Sludge Management Alliance (NFSSM Alliance), which was instrumental in passing India’s first national policy on faecal sludge management. Faecal Sludge and Sludge (FSSM) by the Ministry of Housing. and Urban Affairs, Government of India in 2017.

Provide proof of “why”

Neera points out that Dasra’s goal has always been to bring “proof of the ‘why’ to an otherwise subjective industry where ‘giving’ is primarily based on inclination and interests.

“We have worked with a large group of funders, including corporations and corporate foundations, and advised on the development of a strong portfolio of high-impact organizations, provided access and improved granular understanding from different sectors while improving ‘giving’ practices to focus on ‘how’ rather than ‘how much’ to give,” she adds.

The foundation has no direct market competitors because it accelerates social change by driving collaborative action through powerful partnerships within a trust-based network. It works with partners such as Sattva, EdelGive, Bridgespan and The/Nudge Foundation.

Neera explains, “When you work for vulnerable communities in India who have been left even more destitute due to the pandemic, a siled approach cannot work. Dasra’s job is therefore to enable every Indian to thrive and live a life of equity and dignity.

Dasra obtains funding from philanthropists, foundations and families, which is then disbursed to NGOs so that they can continue their work with vulnerable communities.

“When the idea of ​​applying investment banking practices to the social sector germinated for Deval and I, we created a PowerPoint presentation about the cause and walked around our Morgan Stanley office asking for funds. , managing to raise $500. We then plucked up the courage to approach former Morgan Stanley Chairman Richard B Fisher, who handed us a check for $162,000 (about Rs 1.15 crore) and a pledge of $50,000 (Rs 35, 7 lakh) every year for the next five years. Omidyar Network granted us our first growth funding in 2018, which helped us build a second tier of leadership to grow and scale,” she shares.

Dasra has also recently institutionalized a long-term resilience building fund with the Tarsadia Foundation for the next five years to support over 500 NGOs with flexible annual funding of at least Rs 10 lakh as well as capacity building support. capacities.

The greatest impact of COVID-19 on Dasra has been to make urgent, flexible and unrestricted funds available to NGOs close to vulnerable communities.

“We do not see the impact of the pandemic reversing any time soon and believe that a long-term patient fund is needed so that we can continue to work with nearby NGO leaders to alleviate issues and build communities that were or are on the brink of collapse from the successive onslaught of COVID. This is why we have set up a resilience building fund with the Tarsadia Foundation to develop shock-proof NGOs so that India is prepared for any future pandemic. The goal is to raise $50 million by the end of five years and provide flexible, unrestricted grants to more than 500 NGOs,” says Neera.