Season 3     EPISODE 4
মার্চ 23, 2022

Philanthropy and power

In this episode Reshma Anand, CEO of Hindustan Unilever Foundation, and Anand Sinha, India country adviser at Packard Foundation, discuss the role of trust in philanthropy and why power needs to be shared in order to create sustainable social change.

22 min read

Edited transcript of the episode:


Smarinita: In the last six months, philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates have changed the conversations around philanthropy globally, with emphasis on placing their nonprofit partners at the centre of their giving. It is no longer about whether or why the wealthy must give or not—even though we know that we have a long way to go on that front, especially in India. Instead, they are shining a light on how people must give.

As COVID-19 swept through countries across the globe, leaving destruction and distress in its wake, philanthropy began to occupy centre stage. Large foundations, wealthy individuals, and everyday citizens stepped up and gave money, sourced oxygen and medical equipment, distributed food, and ran volunteer networks.

This flurry of activity around giving and support also highlighted one key fact—it was the people and organisations working at the frontlines that understood local needs and knew how best to act. They were the first responders.

What also became clear was that while donors may have the money, they do not have the skills, networks, or understanding to serve those in need, and that we might see greater impact if donors trusted their nonprofit partners to do what is best for the communities they serve and let them decide the road map.

This approach is called trust-based philanthropy, where the community and, by extension, the nonprofit partner serving them are at the front and centre of the giving. It’s what we are seeing play out with some of the leading philanthropists in India and globally, including Rohini Nilekani, MacKenzie Scott, and Melinda French Gates adopting this model.

This philosophy is in contrast with the dominant idea over the last decade—that of strategic philanthropy, which has come to be synonymous with outcome-oriented and result-oriented philanthropy.

Strategic philanthropy refers to a style of philanthropy where donors have clearly defined goals and where they work with their grantees to explore ways to achieve those goals. Success here is defined almost entirely by whether those results have been met or not.

Today, we are seeing both these approaches play out side by side. To help us unpack what they mean for the future of social impact, I have Reshma Anand and Anand Sinha.

Reshma heads Hindustan Unilever Foundation, which focuses on water conservation and governance. Previously she founded two social ventures, including an advisory firm on sustainable social responsibility and an accelerator for agricultural and artisanal micro-entrepreneurs. Reshma has more than 20 years of leadership experience in mission-driven nonprofits, social ventures, and philanthropic organisations.

Our second guest today is Anand Sinha, country adviser for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in India. He has over two decades of experience in reproductive and adolescent health in India, public health marketing, communications, market research, and programme management. Before joining the Packard Foundation he worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leading their integrated health initiative in Bihar.


Smarinita: Thank you, Anand and Reshma, for joining us. It’s so great to have you both here today. To start off this conversation, could you both tell our listeners what you think is the role and responsibility of a donor in society and in achieving social progress? Reshma, maybe we could start with you?

Reshma: Fundamentally, philanthropy is a voluntary initiative. And it is an endeavour by individuals and institutions to provide solutions that can actually help create a better society and ensure that no one gets left behind when it comes to what actually qualifies for dignity and quality of life for all. And I think different institutions and individuals have their own barometer and their own reasons or compelling motivations to do so as well. It’s about choosing a cause or a problem that you want to solve for and then defining a road map in terms of how you want to get there. And I think that’s broadly the role of philanthropy. It’s about what we’re trying to do in our individual and institutional capacities to be able to make this a better world for everyone.

Anand: I can try to simplify this a little bit. And I think it sounds a little bit crass, but it’s essentially about writing cheques for issues that you care about. I think philanthropy is the intersection of people who care and want to change things, want to have an impact, which in general is society at large. Something that everyone aspires to do is to create change and have a positive impact on the world. But it’s that intersection of people who have the means to do that in a significant way. And therefore it is sort of saying, “Where is it that your commitment, your aspiration, your interest lie in terms of what it is you want to change?” You pick something as a philanthropist. And I think I’m thinking of it probably more as a private philanthropist or as private philanthropy, but I think this applies to anyone who is in the donor space or in the funding space. It’s that intersection of how do you apply your resources and the considerable means that you have to issues that you are committed to and care about?


Smarinita: Given that you have outlined how you see the role of funders and philanthropists, Reshma, I know that the organisation that you’re part of—Hindustan Unilever Foundation—has this very strategic approach to philanthropy, saying “How can we make it result-oriented? How do we make it outcome-oriented?” Would you like to explain this concept of philanthropy as you practice it? And what are you seeing as the benefits to this kind of a model?

Reshma: Often the mismatch between the ambition and the method of giving is the reason we see a lot of stress and tension in the sector as well. And I think that this is really where it’s important as institutions, as funders as well, for us to kind of recognise what is it that we want to actually solve for? And, therefore, our means of providing for resources and support to individual actors and institutions—are those aligned? So when we set out 11 years ago, we knew very little about the space of water. But what we recognised was that we needed to participate meaningfully with other stakeholders who are far more invested—whether it’s government or communities—in the issue. And, therefore, we had to actually define a space for ourselves, right? What can we effectively contribute?

One of the key things that emerged was that our business DNA has actually trained us to do things at scale, and so a lot of conversation with our partners was, “You’ve done this well. What is your definition of scale?” Not just an operational definition of scale—numbers of structures, villages, and people—those are metrics that can actually be abused very effectively. But, as organisations, when would they be convinced that they’ve solved the issue and that now they’re reasonably redundant. And I think that conversation really prompted very different pathways in which we could support organisations that are working on the issue of water. And when I say ‘various ways’, it’s as simple as codifying solutions that work so that everybody’s not reinventing the wheel. It’s bringing in very strong digital capabilities, which are strong enablers for people who are very close to the ground and need complex data to take decisions. It’s about looking at models that can actually be replicated, which are more market-based. But to do them at scale with the kind of methods that business teams can actually support and bring together. It’s about looking at human capabilities, and how do you actually equip and skill people who are at the front line. It’s really about moving from activities—how many structures are you doing and how many farmers are you working with—to shifting gears and saying how are you actually enabling the key actors on this issue, which is citizens, government, and markets? And how are we making sure that there is this cohesion in the way different actors are actually trying to solve for the issue of water? So I think, for us, that’s really been the journey. Simply put, what’s in the way? As a mission-driven organisation in the water space, what’s your roadblock within your organisation and in the larger sector that you play in? And we have always asked ourselves, how do we help remove these bottlenecks? How do we remove these roadblocks?


Smarinita: Anand, the Packard Foundation has over the years moved to a slightly different approach, right? Something that is now known as the ‘trust-based approach’. So would you like to kind of speak a bit to that and explain what that means. Because, again, it’s a term that’s being thrown about very extensively across the world.

Anand: It’s important to recognise that this is not an either/or situation here. I think the strategic philanthropy that Reshma has talked about is very much part of the DNA of even the Packard Foundation. It is sort of an anchoring philosophy. I think our exploration and our recognition of trust-based philanthropy is something that we are studying and trying to become more mindful about.

One thing to recognise is that trust-based philanthropy is not new. It’s a term that’s new, but it’s something that we’ve always been doing.

I think one thing to recognise is that trust-based philanthropy is not new. It’s a term that’s new, but it’s something that we’ve always been doing. And that is the role of philanthropy itself. It is to find and enable partners who you believe have the vision, the capabilities; hand them the resources with actually very low levels of accountability in terms of the flexibility that’s provided for them to use it. I think some of the interpretations of trust-based philanthropy assume it involves boundless quantities of unrestricted funding for multiple years, and [that] it’s easy. And that’s probably one side of the spectrum. But it’s not just about the funding. I think it’s a lot to do with the philosophy too; it’s about trying to find and work with partners who have a commitment and a deep understanding. Because just going back to what I said in the previous question about the role of philanthropy, if we are saying that the role of philanthropy is to write checks for issues that you care about and that you think are important, then the recognition has to be given that the people with the expertise, the people with the commitment, the people with the in-depth knowledge are the people who are actually receiving these funds, not the people who are giving the funds. The people who are giving the funds have the funds, but they don’t have the expertise, they don’t have the insights, and they don’t necessarily have that level of commitment that people who are actually receiving the funds and can affect change have. How do you go about building that relationship so that it is not seen as a financial business-based relationship? How do you build a relationship that is truly empowering, that is truly sort of lending the space, handing over the voice, and handing over controls to the recipients is what one is exploring in this area of trust-based philanthropy.

Trust-based philanthropy is a lot about the consistency of having a relationship. So you’re trying to have relationships that last for a long period of time. I think that’s something that many foundations aspire to. It’s not a lazy giving away of money in that sort of way that says, “Do what you want with it.” I mean, I think the other term that we’ve been using with trust-based philanthropy is power sharing. It is about how you equate that balance of power, because the power dynamics in philanthropy are severe. It really does emanate in a downward flow. Someone’s got the money, someone’s telling us what to do. So I’m going to write a grant for it, they’re going to give me money, and I’m accountable to them—upward flow, etc. How do you make that vertical relationship into something that is more equal and horizontal? I think it requires a significant change in the ways that we do business and in the ways that we try and hold each other accountable. And that means that the mindfulness of those who have resources—the funders—needs to be really, really heightened to think about each and every thing you do and how that power thing plays out. Because it’s a constant factor. Something that we’re always trying to figure out is how do you become respectful? How do you become more inclusive? How do you give space? How do you give a voice to partners? And I think there’s sort of different means and ways of doing that more than anything else. But, as I’m saying, just because this programme is called ‘On the Contrary’, it does not mean it is contrary to strategic giving at all, okay? It is very much part of that same spectrum.


Smarinita: You have also seen the limitations and downsides of this approach. Can you talk a little bit about that? I mean, where does it not work entirely?

Anand: I think it assumes a strong relationship and it assumes that there is the basis of trust. So, it’s like, everyone comes in and says, “Well, I want to be a trust-based grantee. I want to receive funds.” And it’s like, well, no, you need to build that trust and you need to earn that trust. And you need to earn that trust both ways. It’s not just the recipient who has to earn the trust. As a donor, as a funder, I know that I need to earn the trust of my grantees so that they can actually tell me what they’re feeling, what they’re seeing, and what they’re hearing. And it’s not a pretentious relationship which is based on reporting. That’s hard. It’s not something that comes easily. And it’s not something that happens by itself.

When you’re trying to practice trust-based philanthropy, you will also limit the questions that you ask and how hard you push people for answers on various things.

There is a business model of philanthropy that exists, which trust-based philanthropy and power sharing disrupts a little bit, and it’s not always easy to do. A case in point is when we approach many of our grantees and say, “Look, we’re thinking…we’ve known you guys and we’ve worked with you guys for a long time. We like what you do, we think we’re strategically very aligned [in terms of] our values, etc. We want to give you flexible money, general support grant, etc. So write us a proposal.” And the idea is that you’re going to write us a proposal now, based on what is the vision of the organisation, and the funder will support that. That’s it. The funder is not telling you what the objectives are, what you’re going to do, and where we want those funds to go. Many grantees will still come back with the same proposal that they wrote us in the last cycle, which was very programmatic-based; this is my log frame, these are the outcome indicators, this is what the funder wants, so I’m going to submit that proposal. You read the proposal and you say, “No, but this is sort of just reflecting what we talked about three years ago or four years ago.” What is it that you as a grantee want to do? Where do you see…if this pot of money just suddenly lands on your bank account, where is it you would go on your own? That direction is not always well formed for all partners. For some it is. I think there are some people who are very clear, who have their rainy day ideas in the back of their head all the time. It’s like the minute I get some money, I know exactly what I want to do with it, and I will go and run with it. But I think it also assumes that there is a risk of failure. And we live with a significant risk of failure, because sometimes these relationships are disingenuous. They’re not true. People are reading what the funds are like, how much accountability comes with it, [and whether] it is easy to use it in various ways. And I think when you’re trying to practice trust-based philanthropy, you will also limit the questions that you ask and how hard you push people for answers on various things. So it becomes a very polite dance. And in that polite dance if everyone is not upfront, then it can become quite messy.

Reshma: You know, all philanthropy is trust-based. We’re all taking a leap of faith, including when you go and donate at a place of worship; you’re not going to ask the powers that be to send you a utilisation statement on whether your wishes are fulfilled or not.

If you’re going to be in the space of giving and receiving, taking this leap of faith and trust is going to be almost a non-negotiable.

So, again, when we look at the world of giving, there’s no collateral, there’s no share of the organisation. In most cases, there are no board seats, either. If you ask me, we have no control. Once the cheque has gone, the money’s gone. That’s the end of it. Are you going to chase with reports? Are you going to chase with auditors? What purpose does it actually serve? So, I do believe that fundamentally…and this is, I think, a very important value to build in the industry overall, that if you’re going to be in the space of giving and receiving, taking this leap of faith and trust is going to be almost a non-negotiable. Because otherwise we’re just going to complicate our lives with reporting and acrimonious relationships, which actually does not serve the larger purpose of why we’ve come together. So I feel that there’s an intrinsic element of trust and it plays itself out in different ways. I think a large part of this is really about recognising that we’re getting together because intrinsically we’re aligned to actually solve a certain issue. So the ‘why’ should be consistent between the two parties. The ‘how’ has to be the mandate of the institution that’s closest to the ground and is actually more well versed with what it’s going to take. And I think it’s the ‘how’ that funders need to get out of. The idea that you fund pivotal spaces for your partners, that’s really going to set them up for long-term strength and success. I think those are the spaces that become really interesting. They’re also messy, and Anand actually alluded to this. How do you, for example, define the returns on organisational development? Let’s say you did provide for that. Or in building digital capabilities, or in actually setting up an entire team of paraprofessionals that didn’t exist before. So I think those are elements where you’re saying “We’re going into unchartered territory, and we’re willing to learn jointly from that experience as well.” Anybody who believes that they will be able to use reporting and data as a surrogate for trust…I’m not sure it’s going to happen. One has to basically come to a place with purposes aligned. Methods and means have to be left to the organisations who have dedicated their entire lifetime to kind of address some of these issues. And I think the question that funders should ask is, where do I play a meaningful role (to the cause and to the institution)?


Smarinita: Welcome back, Anand and Reshma. We know that both your foundations have supported a range of organisations through the years. So, I want to ask, and this question is addressed to the both of you, do funders have to go on a journey before they become strategic givers or trust-based givers? Similarly, do nonprofits have to be at a particular stage of their evolution? And when I say ‘evolution’, I don’t necessarily mean the number of years they’ve been around, but more in terms of their thinking and how they approach their work. And what happens to those who don’t fit in to either of the approaches that you have?

Reshma: I would say that we’re very focused on one issue. And when you’re focused on a particular issue, which in our case is water security, we might pan out in adjacencies, but there’s almost this invisible line. So I think that, it’s a defining boundary for us. I think the second challenge is that it does require organisations that have self-awareness, right? They’ve actually kind of gone on their own journey, saying, “Do we want to be in this constant hamster wheel of this endless churn of proposals? Or do we actually want to build an institution that has strong underlying assets?” And those assets could be our people, could be the tools, could be our relationships, could be our way of working with government, could be about capacity building. And this is scale and size agnostic. We work with small organisations that are extremely powerful in the way they engage with local government at the grassroot level, and we have organisations that have the power and the capacity to convene a large number of organisations in the sector. And I think the power of strategic philanthropy is that size is no bar. It’s really about helping organisations regardless of their vantage and scale to actually recognise whether they have an underlying asset which is underleveraged, and can we help the organisation really deploy its strengths to its full capacity? So I think it works very well at an individual organisation level.

We’re still trying to figure out how this works effectively in building partnerships. We’re still trying to figure out how this can work in terms of mobilising an entire sector and industry; we’re still to cover that journey. But I’ve seen this play out really well. And it’s hard work. One of the ways in which we get a taste of our own medicine is when partners also push back and say, “Why should we do this? What’s the purpose of all of it? Why should we be investing in it?” It’s really hard…For example, there was a lot of pushback on digitising data systems, but COVID actually created that flip, because they realised that it’s actually an enabler. It’s helping them do their work on the ground very effectively and also on almost a real-time basis. So the kind of agility and responsiveness that’s required can be achieved. So it’s quite fascinating that a classic programme’s call for proposals gets a lot of responses. But if you say, “Hey, would you want to figure out how to design your organisation for the future? Are there competencies that you’d love for your organisation to build? Is there a visioning piece that you would like to do?” And there’s a little bit of hemming and hawing that we kind of get to hear. But I do believe that the last two years have been extremely disruptive in a good way as well, because there’s a greater consciousness among organisations that all of this is as valuable as just getting a grant for programme implementation. So, that’s happening. That shift is something we’re also seeing slowly, but it’s happening.

Anand: I think it assumes a certain journey and level of maturity on both sides. And as Reshma pointed out, the journey is probably a little bit longer on the funders’ side. Because the changes that need to happen internally with funders in terms of their own evolution of how they think of accountability, the management of grants and grantees, etc.—that’s a journey that even we, the Packard Foundation, are still on. To me, it’s a little bit of an evolutionary…In your own learning process as a funder, it is something that hopefully evolves over time as you become more comfortable with that role. It’s something that’s hard to do overnight. And I think there is tremendous pushback at times internally as well, saying “Just a minute. I know exactly what needs to be done. I know exactly where these funds need to go. I know exactly the partners to do this. Why do you want me to now let go of that?” Why do you want me to now dilute all of that, and say, “Hey, I’m going to give this all away and it’s all about trust-based philanthropy, etc.”, when I’m so sure about it. So that journey is a really difficult one for funders to cross over into, because that’s the mindset that we come from. Not speaking for everyone, but many times that’s what I’ve noticed. And I know that that’s been a personal journey for me as well. When we’re on the brink of making those flexible grants, unrestricted funding, etc., it’s like, “But I know what we want them to do.” It’s hard to let go of that kind of thing on the funders’ side.

On the grantee’s side, it’s as Reshma is saying. I think there needs to be a clear conversation that’s happening internally that’s really scraping at what is it that I want? What is it that I feel for? What is it that I’m committed to? Where is it that I think I’m best placed to change? That really requires an inward look and a reflection point rather than trying to respond all the time to the bars that other people have set for you, the hurdles that other people have set for you. And so you’ll build those muscles and say, “Okay, I’m going to jump over these hoops that funders or whoever else has set for me,” versus saying, “I’m here, and I can decide what it is that I’m best suited to do and what I’m most committed to do.” We don’t always have the space to do that. We don’t always have the luxury to do that. I mean, again, personal reflection: when I’ve worked in implementing organisations and those kinds of spaces, if you suddenly got a pot of money to do this, it’s like, no, this is my job. My job is to implement a certain project plan and to figure out how to get from point A to B. Point A to B is defined by someone else. I figured out how to navigate from point A to B. But saying, “Okay, now you figure out what is point A and what is point B in that journey” is flipping the table and does require a certain maturity and level of commitment. So, I don’t think it’s for everyone necessarily. It’s for funders, who are interested in building institutions as Reshma is saying, in building movements, in building momentum, and not necessarily about counting service delivery, impact, and those kinds of outcomes as the only outcomes that you’re interested in. [Ensuring the] sustainability of civil society as a tool for development is important. It’s a tool that you have to build, it’s a tool that you have to support, and who’s doing that? I think, therefore, the focus on civil society is not [about] just [viewing them as] these great partners who will deliver these amazing outcomes, etc., but just thinking about who will actually sit down and build that. And that’s one of the changes we’ve seen dramatically in philanthropy in India in the last couple of years. I think just that recognition that…that is a support that’s needed…At least we’re beginning to talk about that.


Smarinita: Thanks, Anand. It’s interesting to hear you both say that it’s not the size of the nonprofit, but the DNA and, more importantly, the maturity of the organisations—both on the giving and receiving side—that shape how this plays out.

I’d like to move a bit now to the question that all donors and their nonprofit partners ask of themselves—is the work they are doing and supporting really creating impact? In the approaches that both your organisations have taken, how do you measure progress? How do you understand whether change is happening on the ground? Could you speak to that a bit?

Reshma: So, I would put this in two very clear categories. One is the kind of markers that gets you the license to do what you’re doing. And Anand talked about the fact that even if money is flexible or unrestricted, it’s actually coming with a lot of strings internally because there’s a fair bit of stakeholder engagement that then we have to do as funders. So I think there is a set of markers that just builds overall confidence that the programmes are doing well or the institutions are doing well. And each foundation…I’m sure funders have their own set of indicators. We do as well, and a lot of it is focused on the volumetric capacity of water that we’ve generated. But we also take that number with enormous humility, because I think it’s not just about the numerator, it’s also about what is your denominator. And if you shift your denominator to population, if you want to solve a problem at population scale, it’s the most humbling thing you can do as a funder, because that number that looked very large, now suddenly looks very modest. So one is just in terms of making sure that you don’t lose the plot yourself in the pursuit of certain markers of what you believe is success and what our stakeholders also believe is success. But I think there are other very clear indicators. Again, we look at…we have actually very, very vibrant vocal communities. Is our agency in communities to actually solve these issues? Are programme teams extremely wired and animated—where nobody’s seeking permission to speak? Has there been a significant economic shift that we can see over a period of time? If you’ve done work with a certain density and with a certain efficacy, this is something that you don’t have to send a surveyor to figure out whether that change has happened.

If we want to change the world, then we’ve got to be in it for our lifetime.

So I think there are a set of markers that build stakeholder confidence that this is a cause worth pursuing and this is a way of working that’s worth pursuing. But I also believe we need to look out for whether organisations are thriving, whether communities have agency, whether teams on the ground are extremely animated, whether the issue is something that’s actually getting a lot of traction, whether we’re solving some of these challenges at scale, and whether those stubborn indicators that no one wants to talk about are actually moving for the better. It might seem like a bit of a balancing act, but this is something that we have to do. So get your license to do what you’re doing, but at the same time also understand that the denominator is going to always put you in a really humbling place. Therefore, are you seeing significant energy and momentum in your communities, in your organisations, in the sector, and in the media on the issue? Within government as well. And I think that’s the long game, which is why I keep coming back to this point—the mismatch between ambition and the method of giving is really sometimes the core issue. It’s not whether we’re doing long, unrestricted grants, or strategic philanthropy, or activity funding. If we want to change the world, then we’ve got to be in it for our lifetime. And, therefore, these periods of three years and five years will not work. If we want to solve complex problems, then we’re going to need flexibility; you can’t have finite, fixed line items. If you want sustainability and to solve redundancy, then we have to focus on enablers, we have to focus on capabilities. We can’t be fixated on activities. And I think this is the shift that will actually also ensure that we have the right indicators or if we’ve done our jobs effectively or not. And that, I think, is a journey that funders really need to take.


Smarinita: Thanks, Reshma. Anand, how do you think of measuring impact, especially when it comes to funding civil society institutions that are public goods, where outcomes are harder to measure and harder to quantify?

Anand: So there are a couple of thoughts I have, which are divergent thoughts in fact, on the question of measurement. One is that I don’t think that you necessarily have to look at the question of measurement differently for trust-based philanthropy. I think you have the same sets of objectives and outcomes that you’re looking at, because trust-based philanthropy is a value, is a relationship, but the outcomes that you’re looking for are the same. Where we aspire, and where maybe trust-based philanthropy helps, is to sniff a little bit deeper underneath those numbers. I mean, I think oftentimes I hear this, and I’ve said this a lot, I think a lot of our frameworks of monitoring data and impact are like feeding this upward monster. It’s like someone has to be given these numbers upstairs, and they keep on going up. And, you know, that’s your positive story that you have to tell. So we do that work, and that also helps us understand that we’re making progress, but it’s never the complete picture. Case in point: the National Family Health Survey results recently came out and showed dramatic improvements in many indicators, including reproductive health and maternal health. As a philanthropy that has invested in women’s health in Bihar and UP for so many years, it’s like, “Yes, we’ve done it. Job done.” But the conversations we’re having with some of our longer standing partners are, “Well, how did we get there? How did we see these incredible results come about?” That’s the flavour that one hopes to get when you have a relationship and when you have a commitment towards the change, not just towards the numbers. When you have a commitment towards the actual outcomes and the way that you want it.

We’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that how do you actually ask the community to give you feedback on your grantees? Have we funded the right partners? Have we given resources to the right people? The measurements that we will typically do is that we will ask the community, “Have your indicators improved?” Do you have more water? Do you have better health? Do you have better access to XYZ? That’s the outcome. But do you ask them, does XYZ partner respect you? Does XYZ partner think about you? Do you think XYZ partner is doing the work that they should? And actually think of them as a customer to seek customer feedback? I mean, I think that’s the other thing that we haven’t…we’re getting there a little bit, and that’s happening a little bit in terms of how we’re thinking about accountability, looking at community feedback, etc. But how do you really move that in our settings of low resources and low levels of education? How will people respond? How will people make a judgement? But they will, right? You know that they will. You know that they can say these things, as long as they can identify who you’re asking about and what you’re asking about.

Investment in civil society is about implementers, but it’s also about finding those champions. It’s about finding those people who will sustain and continue these initiatives, even beyond the cheque.

I guess the other impact is…this is one that many people do measure and I know that we put a lot of emphasis on it—are you creating champions? Are you creating voices? Because the investment in civil society is about implementers, but it’s also about finding those champions. It’s about finding those people who will sustain and continue these initiatives, even beyond the cheque. I think the true magic lies in terms of what happens beyond the cheque, beyond the value, and beyond the duration of that grant. And if those champions are being created, fed, nudged, and supported in the ways that they can, then I think that’s one of the strongest measures that we tend to look at in terms of whether we are seeing the sustenance of these sorts of relationships beyond our funding.


Smarinita: There is so much to learn when it comes to philanthropy, and you both have touched upon a number of crucial points. But if I were to summarise our discussion today, what I’m taking back is that, first and foremost, real philanthropy is about power sharing.

Funders need to understand that both expertise and knowledge lie with the organisation they fund. So, they must trust the recipient while also earning their trust. And that actually all philanthropy is trust-based philanthropy. At the end of the day, the funder and the organisation being funded need to embark on a journey together. They need to take this leap of faith that enables them to move beyond a relationship solely based on reporting and numbers and instead focus on the larger purpose of creating a just and equitable world where no one is left behind.

Thank you, Reshma and Anand, for an outstanding and thought-provoking conversation.

Read more

  1. Reflections: Philanthropy in India during COVID-19
  2. The Trust Based Philanthropy Project
  3. How funders in India can better manage the risks of big philanthropy
  4. Love, not log frames
  5. “Philanthropy is not only for the wealthy”
  6. Is philanthropy really changing anything?
  7. Making philanthropy more business-like is a big mistake

We want IDR to be as much yours as it is ours. Tell us what you want to read.