Next Generation of Non-Profits in India

As shared by Nagaraja (Naga) Prakasam, Advisor, Mentor in Residence at NSRCEL. 

Since 1999, the days of working with many non-profits at the ‘Association for India’s Development’ (AID), I started believing that the ability of non-profits’ to solve problems were restricted by the amount of donation they received. Having left a lucrative corporate job and a plush lifestyle in 2012, I chose to shift to begin my life in the social space. I thought by marrying the efficiency of the business and getting to the heart of non-profits, I could create social businesses where the scale depended purely on the execution, rather than donor dependency. I thought I had figured out something unique but, soon realized that ‘Acumen’ had been doing it for the past 15 years and hence joined hands with them as a partner and traveled extensively by visiting ‘Husk Power’, ‘Avani’, ‘Gramalaya’ and other such places. With this, I spearheaded Indian Angel Network (IAN) Impact intending to impact social businesses. I have invested in 21 businesses with most being in the social business space.

The experience of working with these social businesses has according to my mind brought out the importance of grants as they help in working out tough experiments. With this I realized that grants cannot be totally and completely done away with, hence my recent article in Forbes – Social businesses must receive risk capital from the government and CSR. Further, there are a few problems that cannot be solved by the market alone and need to necessarily depend on charity. I was further convinced when, Prof. Sabarinathan, enlightened me on the non-profit incubator at NSRCEL. At our first advisory council meeting, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) stated that “for non-profits don’t change any process that you do for, for-profits incubation”. With a combination of these insights we were able to set the following broad guidelines:

  • Non-profits businesses are similar to for-profits businesses except that in the case of non-profits there are two types of customers, one is the beneficiary and the other is the donor. If both the customers are satisfied with the outcomes they would be able to scale.
  • To bring in systems and processes that enable efficiency improvements.
  • Looking at the depth of the business to help become the category leader in problem-solving.
  • Increase collaborations to bring in more partners to help solve various problems.
  • In mature markets that are ready for solutions, try being a hybrid organization.

On setting these guidelines the aim was to attract one-year-old non-profits organizations to mentor. With their DNA being to solve social problems if they could articulate their business approach and succeed in their ventures, they could become the next Ela Bhatt, M.P Vasimalai, Harsh Hande’s, of the world

With Sattva’s help over 160 applications were received.  The shortlisted candidates were met by mentors and 25 of them were selected to go through a three-month pre-incubation process. Out of these 8 non-profits were selected for a grant of 18 lakhs each along with 18 months of incubation. I was truly impressed with the younger generation for having given up great jobs to work in the space of solving serious social problems. Thus India’s first non-profit incubator at NSRCEL Social took off!

I visited four organizations and was very excited to see the way they were solving problems. I’m writing about the organizations I visited. Hope to visit others soon!No daanta: In the startup capital of India two million people live in slums. In the labyrinth of Fraser town, I visited this affordable English medium school, where Mantra4change had been working for two years and it was time to exit. That’s what I liked about Mantra – they would work with schools and exit after they’ve enabled the school to operate on its own. I asked the principal,- what impact have you seen? The answer was-“no more daanta” in the school. What challenges did you face? The answer was -, “I can’t understand why the teachers are not applying what they learned from Mantra”. On hearing this I asked Mantra to stay on for some more time until I was able to figure it out. Mantra too was unable to answer the question and hence intended to organize an offsite workshop for the teachers to be able to analyze the problem.

Mantra4Change – Affordable English medium school, Bangalore

My school may not exist: I next asked them how they would replicate this. The answer came as a total surprise, as when Anthill invited me to inaugurate their 25th playground in Dommasandra School – not too far from Bangalore;

Anthill 25th playground, Dommasandra with Mantra4Change

I was surprised to see the collaboration between Mantra and Anthill. Mantra had selected Dommasndra government school cluster to transform and had created an Anthill playground in the school. I will dwell more on Anthill later. I attended the cluster’s Jeevadhare committee, represented by the Headmaster, Parents, and government officers. They enabled Mantra to transform the cluster. The committee proposed to Wells Fargo CSR, a list of their needs and based on their request they were soon given the required support.

Mantra4Change, Dommasandra

I asked the Headmaster “you have a government job, why do you won’t do this”. The answer was “in my 15 years here, the number of students went down significantly and we fear that this school may not exist if this continues”. The committee discussed conducting an admission drive to increase the strength. The committee revived the mid-meal process. I also partook in the meal along with the children. It was not at all bad especially when I compared it to the mid-day meal I ate during my school days in Tamil Nadu. What struck me here was that the local stakeholders were empowered to solve their problems on their own.

Edumentum Cohort, Mantra4Change

Edumentum: Mantra4Change invited me to address their cohort! Yes, it was very interesting how they were able to document the entire process of the School Transformation and Empowerment Project (STEP) program and now they are training other non-profit organizations in the education space using the same method. One of the Social cohort i-Shaksham was already a part of this. i-Shaksham was taking this model to Bihar, while another non-profit organization had taken it to Chennai. I was so glad to see this great role model!

Tarkeybein, Gurgaon

Calvin becoming Ram: With the new age development at Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi the capital of India, one can find tall buildings being constructed.  Behind the buildings is a small village with an even smaller affordable school for migrant workers children.  While the migrant workers work on various jobs at the building site, their children attend the school. Tarkeybein founded by Akanksha works with the school on teacher transformation. I attended an English class where the children were doing creative work. They were given a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon without any storylines and the students had to imagine the story. It was interesting to hear multiple versions of the cartoon substituted with names like Ram, Rahul, etc. The school administrator claimed that now there were more conversations in the classrooms instead of the monologue of the teachers. The children come from various regions and hence speak different regional languages, and owing to this do not fit into regular schools in the area. This school mainly focuses on such children. The school keeps growing as more construction workers are added. The school also moves when the construction site changes.

Anthill 1st Playground, IIT Kharagpur

Tires into playgrounds: Visited IIT Kharagpur for Hult Prize competition jury. In the competition, there was Pooja, who was the earlier Hult Prize regional winner and part of the jury as well. Pooja was an alum of IITK with an Architecture background co-founded Anthill. She took me to visit the first playground they built when they were students at the campus school for workers. After three years it was still in great condition considering the children played frequently. Anthill builds playgrounds in government schools up-cycling used tires.

Tire Sofa for Valley School, Anthill

Anthill sofa chair made of tires were so good, I had donated few to Valley School, that was received so well, thus a potential for-profit model of selling these sofas have started. Now Anthill got an order for 8 of these chairs from a co-working space! On their way to a hybrid organisation!

Navyug School, Delhi, Meraki

I want to be an IAS officer: Seemanth, Meraki asked me to come to Navyug school in Sarojini Nagar, Delhi to see his work. When I arrived I was wondering what an NGO is doing in this beautiful private school. Later I realized it was one of few well-run government schools. The parents were sitting in a circle and the team was explaining the importance of their involvement in their children’s education. It was for the parents of the first standard students, so parents could be involved from a young age with their children. After the session, I was talking to a child, who was accompanied by his parents. I asked him “what do you want to become when you finish school”? he said, “I want to be an IAS officer”. I asked him “why”, he said “My father is a security guard at an IAS officer’s house” and he explained the work that the IAS officer did and he said the officer kept motivating him to be one! The eight teams were doing excellent work, redefining non-profits in India. Time flies, the next cohort is being launched of inviting applications…apply here

    1. i-Saksham: Founded by ex-Gandhi fellows Ravi Dhanuka, Aditya Tyagi and Shravan Jha. It aims to enhance learning outcomes by training community youth educators using technology as the main facilitator. It enables these educators to run their own learning centers and meaningfully engage in various other educational activities.
    2. Meraki: Brainchild of Seemant Dadwal and Co-founder Ghajal Gulati, it offers solutions for intergenerational burdens that disadvantaged families carry, by equipping parents with knowledge skills and mindset to be able to transform their children’s lives.
    3. Mantra4change: It works through school transformation. Khushboo and Santosh, founders of Mantra4Change, explain that through an intensive two-year partnership with schools, Mantra4Change aims to transform aspects of instructional leadership, teaching-learning processes and the school culture.
    4. Tarkeybein Education Foundation (TEF): It develops English language learning tools and training programs for students and teachers. Learning tools are being co-created with children from low-income groups. The core focus is on children building skills of observation, interpretation and expression, and acquiring English language skills in this learning process.
    5. Superheros Incorporated: It aims to develop a success-oriented mindset and career readiness, along with strengthening technical skills in vocational trainees, to provide industries with a skilled workforce. Operating through various programs designed for the students at ITIs, it aims to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of skilled and trained workforce with enhanced employability.
    6. Guardians of Dream: It is working towards building an anchor institution to define and consolidate the childcare sector. It is also working to solve critical gaps in research, intervention design, implementation capacity and resource mobilization. In the initial phase, Guardians aims to create and deliver interventions within an institutional framework (children’s homes and orphanages).
    7. Bridges of Sports: Founded by Nitish M Chiniwar, it works with children from economically and socially backward communities in the age group of 8-14 years. A network of high-quality volunteers, athletes and teachers dedicate two years of their life to the fellowship program and post-fellowship, Bridges of Sports supports the fellows to become micro-entrepreneurs with a focus on building and accelerating the vibrant sports ecosystem.
    8. Anthills Creations: At Anthills Creations, Pooja Rai and Nancy Charaya, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, are determined to bring back play for kids through building sustainable playscapes by using recyclable material.
    Another two organizations, I visited but were not part of the final eight, they were one of the initial 24, organizations.
Art by Autistic, Sense Kaleidoscope

Emotions thru Art: Akshayee said that the art I was looking at was sold for a few lakhs of rupees, what was more wonderful than the art itself was that it was created by an autistic child. Akshayee, helps autistic children learn the art. When I visited her studio Sense Kaleidoscope, near Hebbal, It was really wonderful to see how she introduced art as a medium for the children to express themselves. Many parents were really happy about their child’s hidden talent that had come out in the school.

Art by Autistic, Sense Kaleidoscope
Art by Autistic, Sense Kaleidoscope

Each child had a unique signature art piece that they had produced. One drew only trains while the other was into animals. With this classy art, Akshaya was able to help them sell the art pieces as well. Thus these children who were once considered a burden in the family were now earning and handsomely too! Art also helped them calm their emotions, as they found a new medium of expression! What a great idea! With the success in selling the art, she decided she need not be an NGO, she could be in business!

Gubbachi Learning Center, Kodathi

Education for temporary migrant worker’s children: On my way to Dommasandara, I visited Kodathi where Gubbachi is running their learning center inside a government school. Gubbachi helps migrant workers children from all over the country to get age-appropriate learning, so when they get into government schools, they would be able to cope. Multiple level students are in one classroom and are taught various subjects. Vikas from Samastipur, Bihar wants to write his 10th exam in a few years.

Vikas, Gubbachi, Kodathi

He doesn’t want to go to a government school and would like to write the board exam through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). He is fluent in English and says he likes it very much. Anthill has also created a playground in school as well.


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