Dasra, India


When two like-minded people, linked by a common heritage, met in New York, they used their business skills for the charity sector in India …

Deval Sanghavi, brought up and educated in North America, put his banking career on hold in 1999 to move back to India to volunteer with a number of grassroots organisations. With the support of some Indian investment professionals, he went on to launch Impact Partners, India’s first venture philanthropy fund, to provide consulting advice and growth capital to promising non-profits.

Deval met and married Neera Nundy in New York. An Indian by origin, she too had been educated abroad. In 2003, Deval and Neera left their investment banking careers to set up Dasra to transform giving in India. Both “saw the need to provide capacity building support and managerial assistance to enable organisations to reach scale. But they knew too that the issues were broader than just working with individual organisations. The ecosystem for matching capital and the best non-profits needed to be developed, otherwise their efforts would just be a drop in the bucket”.

In the early years, Dasra engaged mainly with small to medium donor agencies in capacity building activity. It became a notable provider of technical skills through Dasra Social-Impact, an executive education programme for a new generation of India’s non-profit and social business leaders. Realising more can be done to affect significant organisational development of the NGOs, Deval saw the need to mobilise a much broader group pf philanthropists. He wanted to make the donors excited about giving with impact and launched the Indian Philanthropy Forum. The forum is now a community of strategically-minded givers, who through thought leadership and research-based action are creating a platform for the development of modern philanthropy in India.

India’s largest collaborative giving effort, Dasra Giving Circles, emerged out of the Forum. A circle generally comprises 10 individuals who each commit 1 million Indian rupees (US$20,000) per year for three years. Eighty-five per cent of the collective donations is deployed as expansion grant capital to the NGO investees and the remaining 15 percent is used to cover the cost of Dasra delivering 250 days of non-financial support, through mentoring and technical advice, to each investee over the three-year funding cycle.

The whole process from the formation of a giving circle, selection of investee to mentorship and support given to the investee is a systematic one underpinned by rigour and research. Dasra’s advisory research team will first perform a comprehensive mapping of a particular social sector. A giving circle is then formed around each sector analysis, together with a shortlist of three non-profits which research has shown are making innovative efforts to address the chosen social issue and have a scalable business model. The initial task of the circle is to choose one of the three shortlisted investees for a three-year intensive support. Quarterly reporting based on an adaption of the Balanced Scorecard performance measurement tool is given to the giving circle to provide them insights and warnings on the investee’s progress.

Muktangan, an NGO that enables women from low-income communities to provide high quality English-medium education, is an investee of Dasra’s “Making The Grade” giving circle. The goal is for Muktangan to become an accredited teacher training institute that will provide sustainable careers to women and improve the education outcomes for thousands of Mumbai’s poorest children. In one year of support, Dasra disbursed $140,000 in grant aid coupled with 80 days of active consulting support. Individual members of the circle also contributed their personal time and skills, and opened up their networks to the NGO.

Suma Dagupt, Muktangan’s head of Planning, said “The contribution of giving circle members was important for us by building relationships with important people and government officers, it helped our advocacy and networking efforts become visible. Dasra’s consulting inputs help us become stronger in key areas like human resource practice and impact assessment.” Summing it up, Suma said Dasra staff and giving circle members have become our “friends and champions, something we valued most of all.”

Meanwhile, Nakul Toshnival, one of the giving circle members, notes that he has a “higher comfort level” funding an NGO, “because it has been evaluated by Dasra in terms of quality of the management team, the potential to scale up and potential social impact.” He appreciated the value of the circle in providing “a networking opportunity to help him understand a broader range of issues and how other donors look at their philanthropy.”

Since the launch of its first giving circle in 2010, Dasra has raised US$ 5.6 million of direct member contributions from 11 giving circles. The impact has been further leveraged by grant-makers who made funding of US$ 15.1 million into projects initially supported by the giving circles.


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