Season 1     EPISODE 1
October 15, 2021

To fail is to have dared | Rohini Nilekani

Philanthropist, author, and former journalist Rohini Nilekani speaks to India Development Review (IDR) co-founder and CEO, Smarinita Shetty, on why failure needs to be underwritten in the social sector, and how philanthropists must develop more patience and create a space that normalises failure in the context of nonprofit work.

2 min read

Rohini Nilekani is chairperson of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies and co-founder and director of EkStep, a nonprofit education platform. She is also the founder and former chairperson of Arghyam, a foundation she set up in 2001 for sustainable water and sanitation. From 2004 to 2014, she was also the founder–chairperson and chief funder of Pratham Books, a nonprofit children’s publisher. A committed philanthropist, Rohini also sits on the board of trustees of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), an environmental think tank. 


“We need that patient philanthropic capital to allow organisations and missions to go through some failures, some learning, some experimentation, and pull out the things that succeed and will become socially sticky.”

“But the philanthropist and the organisation need to be very sure that failure is not glorified. We are not trying to achieve failure, we are going to fail because it’s not always possible to succeed, but we are not trying to fail.”

“The goal of the social sector should be to ensure that even if organisations, institutions, and leaders fail, which they might, how can we make sure that the mission or the public, societal goal doesn’t fail? Or doesn’t fall by the wayside because some organisations failed? How do we keep space for others to continue the societal task?”

Read more

  1. Read Rohini’s full interview on Failure Files.
  2. Read more failure stories on Failure Files.
  3. Check out some ideas and tools from Fail Forward to help your organisation take risks, learn, adapt, and fail intelligently.
  4. Learn why talking about failure is crucial for growth.
  5. Learn more about Rohini Nilekani and her work.

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