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A catalyst for social change

Dasra works with philanthropists and social businesses to bring knowledge, funding and people to institutionalise social change in India. Dolly Mirchandani reports

When a New York-based venture capital firm decided to launch a $1-million project to strengthen the NGO sector in India, Deval Sanghavi was hired to manage the venture. This was India’s very first venture philanthropy fund that provided funding as well as non-financial support to charitable organisations. They selected eight NGOs—among them were Magic Bus, Villgro, Akshaya Patra and Anjali—for funding commitments for three years. These NGOs went on to become leaders in their respective fields.

The knowledge and experience Mr Sanghavi gained on this assignment helped him understand the scalability parameters of social work. Thus began Dasra, a foundation that works with philanthropists and NGOs to help them grow and strengthen their impact and outreach.

Dasra is now India’s leading strategic philanthropic foundation. It was founded in Mumbai in 1999 by Mr Sanghavi, formerly an investment banker at Morgan Stanley in US. Dasra helps philanthropists and social entrepreneurs connect with each other and provide NGOs with strategic and networking support.

“Traditionally in India, donations are generally given to individuals or religious institutions. There is mistrust for the large, ungoverned non-profit sector,” says Mr Sanghavi. “One of our major challenges is building trust and convincing philanthropists that by giving to good organisations they can help more people. Another challenge is persuading people to support NGOs to grow and improve their efficiency.” Donors often restrict their donations to programme costs and this can negatively impact the effectiveness of an organisation’s work. Dasra’s challenge is to ensure that funding is long term.

Mr Sanghavi believes that if philanthropists and social entrepreneurs get the required skills, support and networks, their efficiency and effectiveness can be enhanced. “The key task is to connect the right people, so that maximum social impact can be achieved which can then be scaled up using effective models,” he says. Before providing funding to an NGO, Dasra looks at how the NGO is managed. It also looks at the organisation’s plans, existing model and its long-term sustainable goals. Dasra has worked with a large number of NGOs like Aangan Trust, Magic Bus, Educate Girls, Mann Deshi, Prerana and Sabras.

Dasra is registered as a Section 25 company in India; they have a centre in the UK and the US as well. In India, it runs two key programmes: Dasra Social-Impact—an executive educational programme for NGOs—and Indian Philanthropy Forum (IPF)—a networking platform for philanthropists. An individual can be a part of Dasra by joining either of these or by joining the fellowship programme.

Dasra Social-Impact was launched in 2008. Thirty organisations were selected for the course that helps organisations to develop business and financial plans, funding strategies and ensure their implementation. IPF was launched in March 2010. Dasra provides IPF members with the latest information on NGOs and social businesses. The annual membership fee of IPF currently is Rs20,000 which will be increased to Rs50,000 starting March 2011. In October 2010, the first Dasra Giving Circle was launched which focused on urban education. Ten IPF members chose one NGO eligible for a grant of Rs3 crore over three years; 10% of this will be disbursed to Dasra each year for providing 250 days of management assistance to the organisations.

Members of Dasra’s Giving Circle are anonymous donors. Many are young professionals with successful careers looking to get involved in philanthropy at a relatively early age. Earlier, most of Dasra’s donors were philanthropists and overseas foundations. However, with the launch of IPF, many private and corporate donors have shown interest in Dasra. Donations to Dasra are exempt under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.

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