In a country where more than 300 million people live below the poverty line, more than 50% of the population is illiterate and millions are deprived of food, education, healthcare and livelihood, NGOs play a key role. Yet, they struggle to survive let alone scale their impact.
As we looked around for an innovative approach and business model that would allow us to create large scale social change, we realized that there already existed a million social organizations working at the grassroots. Instead of setting up yet another organization, it made sense to start off by supporting the existing change agents with information, financial and non financial support and incentives essential for them to sustain themselves and increase their impact. Over time we would build a better organized, more accountable, efficient and effective social sector.
We began by conducting an online survey of 330 NGOs in collaboration with NGO Post, to identify pressing problems. This was followed with a phone survey of 65 organizations. We asked simple questions – What do you do? What challenges do you face? What do you need? How can we help? Most NGOs had similar needs. They wanted reliable sources of long term financial support, experienced and committed talent that was willing to accept lower than market salaries, reliable service providers, market linkages, knowledge resources and advice from experts. A common complaint was the absence of an enabling support system.
In parallel, we conducted an online donor survey in collaboration with our partner, The Global India Fund. 120 donors responded within 2 weeks. Donors cared about credibility and wanted periodic feedback to understand how their money was being used and its resultant impact.
We also interviewed several social entrepreneurs to understand if their needs differed from their non-profit counterparts. While their capital needs were different, their organizational requirements were similar to those mentioned by the NGOs – they too need high quality, affordable talent, mentors who could shape their organization, reliable service providers and market linkages.
Our first initiative, Samhita, an online portal was born out of the hundreds of suggestions that we received. While our online technology allows us to reach organizations across the country and engage people from all over the world, our offline support services help us understand our stakeholders better and provide personalized support. Samhita will address the most critical needs faced by NGOs – funds, talent, knowledge, market linkages and reliable service providers. In parallel, we also want to ensure that anyone who wants to learn about and engage with the sector is able to do so – easily and effectively.
We want to organize the sector – by making updated, reliable information readily available to the masses, by ensuring that the NGOs that are profiled are credible and transparent, by providing them with a wide range of support services, by helping them use these resources effectively, by encouraging them to build organizational capacity and create lasting social change.