The Hour has Come for Bold Choices in Philanthropy

SELCO Foundation
3 min readFeb 23, 2023

Rohini Nilekani and Carol Gribnau in conversation with Harish Hande on the need to work together in solidarity and be bolder in thought and action.

In the matter of development, the indisputable fact is that failure is inevitable, it is in how we respond to failure wherein lies the impact we hope to achieve, and the difference we intend to make. The opening panel of the Impact Failure Conclave 2022 examined the need for fearless philanthropy in an ecosystem that is built on trust and partnership. Rohini Nilekani wore her philanthropist hat and Carol Gribnau took her seat as the Executive Director of DOEN Foundation, in the session on The Decade of the Bold: Failures in Philanthropy. The discussion was moderated by Harish Hande, Founder of SELCO Foundation, who underscored the need to do more as we inched dangerously close to the most critical decade for us as humanity.

“The reports are fantastic, the photos are great, and if we add all the impact numbers it is more than the population of India, yet, why is the ecosystem afraid?” he asks. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation that followed.

In her address, Rohini shared her experience of recognising her own failure as a philanthropist, “Philanthropists get tied to a big idea, there is an unshakeable belief that we are going to solve something and that it’s only a matter of time. You have to take stock and let go. Sit back, take a deep breath, take off your hubris, put on all your humility and listen, listen, listen again. The failure of philanthropy everywhere is that we get attached to certain ideas and missions that are our own and don’t necessarily belong to the people in whose name we do philanthropy. It is important to take a step back and look at that with deep humility and an open mind.”

She also highlighted the need for donors to whet their risk appetite, and for donor money to be used to its full potential,

“Can we step up as philanthropists? God knows there’s a lot of money sloshing around in this country all dressed up as philanthropy but with nowhere to go because we are not willing to let it go.”

Carol Gribnau acknowledged that social change is a complex ask. She said,

“In the world that we are seeing today with rapid changes and a lot of connections with the local and the global, it is very difficult to avoid failure. We really have an obligation to learn from these failures and question the successes. How is that journey being supported by funders? Funders are becoming results-oriented, with very little flexibility and trust in their partners.”

“At DOEN Foundation we really believe in the need for system change, really thinking about how we want to transition our world — a world where there’s the exclusion of many to a world where everyone is included, where there is solidarity, and where there is space for imagination and different perspectives, which will help us in being innovative and thinking outside the box. In that process, we support organisations that are bold, have innovative ideas, sometimes risky, but we are prepared to take those risks and to also grow.”

In conclusion, the panel also discussed how philanthropy in India is in the early stages and there are collaborative initiatives emerging. It was also pointed out there lies an opportunity and need to build bridges between philanthropies and private donors, old and new donors, both small and large. With a whole new generation of philanthropies coming up, the bricks of these bridges are going to be storytelling.

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SELCO Foundation

SELCO Foundation seeks to inspire and implement solutions that alleviate poverty by improving access to sustainable energy to underserved communities.