Prolific donors like Chandra would like to see at least a few hundred NGOs operating on scale. His capacity-building forays are beginning to address shortcomings of NGOs that impede quick scale-up. Take Pipal Tree Foundation, which trains unemployed youth in the rural hinterland in skills like masonry, steel work for construction, plumbing and painting. It operates through 23 of its own training centres.
“Setting up a skills-training centre and making it viable is the most difficult in its first three years,” says Santosh Parulekar, co-founder, Pipal Tree. The dropout rates of students can be as high as 30% initially, sending the financials askew.
Chandra stepped in and helped design a slew of viability support strategies and also agreed to bear the entire running cost of new centres. Eight new centres are now sponsored by donors, including two by Chandra. Parulekar wants to grow to 50 centres in the next three years and reach 100,000 students in five years, against 12,000 today.
Simultaneously, a strong management information system (MIS) is under development. Pipal Tree has been generating huge mounds of data, but no attempts were made to analyse it. After creating an MIS and hiring an IT team, entirely sponsored by Chandra, Pipal Tree has turned more responsive. For instance, Parulekar, on scrubbing data, learnt that youngsters from a particular community had a bias towards painting and tiling skills, with a view to self-employment. This enabled him to design appropriate outreach and training.
‘People With Large Hearts’
In recent times, Chandra’s engagement with the Patna-based Shoshit Seva Sangh, promoted by retired IPS officer Jyoti Sinha, to educate children of Musahars from Bihar has been the most gratifying. “What I like about Sinha is his desire to go to the next level,” explains Chandra. “His is basically a community change programme using education as a driver.”
He has spent considerable time and money on the Sangh, right from helping hire a chief project officer, bringing Teach for India fellows to Patna, and also convincing one heavyweight apiece from industry and the social sector to sit on its board. An informal twinning arrangement between the Sangh’s school and the Riverside school in Ahmedabad, rated as one of the best in India, is on. “Such high quality resources can infuse a degree of freshness that can drive rapid change,” says Chandra.
Investing in human capital is key to longterm sustenance. On October 25, Sinha and his students will move to a new `13 crore campus. Right now, Chandra and others are evaluating technologies with Tata Interactive Services to wire up the school. “We are preparing our students for the digital world,” says Sinha, “We want to give them a level-playing field.” Sinha wants to scale to 1,000 students, from 350 today. He had started in 2007 with 30 children and a small premises rented for ` 8,000 a month.
A few weeks ago, Chandra visited the school to assess progress and was delighted to witness Musahar children enact Julius Caesar in Shakespearean English. These are first-generation school-goers of an impoverished community known for trapping and eating rats for survival. These are the many faces of capacity building. They are tangible. They can be felt, seen and cherished. “Only we need more philanthropists willing to take risks and support NGOs to build capabilities,” says Johar. “We need more people with large hearts.”