Francisco Noguera

Guest Post: Deshpande Foundation’s “Development Dialogue” Continues in Hubli?

Lesley2Guest Blogger Lesley Pories is a Deshpande Foundation Sandbox Fellow, working with the Water Literacy Foundation in India.

Before taking on this role, Lesley worked as a Research Analyst with the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute. A graduate of Emory University, she double-majored in International Studies and English and minored in French.

By Lesley Pories

The real “meat” of the action kicked off this morning in Hubli, when the 250+ participants separated into small groups to read and discuss case studies that highlighted challenges faced by the participating NGOs. While each NGO prepared their case study based on their own challenges, the problems brought forward were indicative of many other organizations.

The one I had prepared for WLF, for example, outlined the difficulties in management of an organization as it tries to make the important step from small to medium-size. Each case study has 2 opportunities to be the topic of a small-group discussion, and note-takers are provided to capture all the feedback. I wasn’t there last year, but this “case study session” idea was a direct result of suggestions from last year’s conference.

After the first session, participants returned to the auditorium for the official “lighting of the lamp” ceremony (a tradition in India) and opening remarks from Desh. It seemed like he was reading my mind, as the bulk of his speech was about the management challenges faced by many of the NGOs that the Deshpande Foundation supports.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of an organization,” he emphasized, and advocated for infusion of corporate-style management into the social sector. “[We need to] combine the passion of the NGO sector with the discipline and Darwinian nature of the for-proft sector,” Deshpande commented.

He also noted that the “best innovation comes from cross disciplinary collaboration” and highlighted the ability of “an outsider to look at a situation and ask the naïve question, ’why?’ to cause a major change.”

He went on to introduce the event’s Keynote Speaker, Prasad Ram, head of Google India. Noting that “the absence of use of simple technologies, like still calling someone instead of e-mailing them, is, to me, a problem in the NGO community,” Ram’s talk brought forward an innovation he is currently working on to address the technology deficiency in India’s NGO sector: a suite of world-class applications that are easy to use and affordable.

The rest of the day was filled with more case study sessions and some open discussions, followed by a late-afternoon NGO fair in which all 65 of the Deshpande Foundation-funded local NGOs had booths with information about their activities in Northwest Karnataka. A tasty dinner punctuated by a troupe of girl drummers also featured remarks by Paul Grogan, the President and CEO of The Boston Foundation, a close ally of the Deshpande Foundation in the US.

Paul was clearly moved by the breadth of the Deshpande Foundation’s work in India, declaring, “This [Deshpande Foundation in northwestern Karnataka] is one of the most important experiments in philanthropy going on at the moment […] partly for its geographic focus but also for its emphasis on social entrepreneurship.

He also called for NGOs to focus more on the outcomes and results of their work, noting that “NGOs are generally happy to talk about their activities, as opposed to their impact.”