What is the role of philanthropy? Have we become too caught up in our notions of failure? If philanthropy doesn’t take risks, who will? Do we get too caught up with the numbers?
For Pakzaan Dastoor of Dasra, these were the questions surrounding her perception of failure in philanthropy.
Donors, philanthropists, venture capitalists all form an important role in the ecosystem of the development world. When the objective is development, does this pose something of a conflict? Whose interests are served? Is it those who need it most, or those that want to see returns?
In such an environment, we might become more and more wary of risks. We seek comfort in chasing numbers that reflect growth without pausing to think if we’re taking the right steps.
The Dasra foundation plays a particularly interesting role in this setup, acting as an intermediary between donors and NGOs while also receiving funds to sustain it’s work.
In Pakzaan’s view, NGOs start taking on the role of the government in such an ecosystem, where they be prefer to be managers who eschew risk. But who is to take risks if not NGOs?
Instead, NGOs prefer to position failures with a positive spin for the benefit of donors, as opposed to a transparent environment where failures are discussed to grow and build organisations.
Another flaw that Dastoor points out to is our need to be consistent with our growth in such an environment, everybody eyes goes for numbers driven targets, and exercises a good deal of tunnel vision to get there. This process and method is also acquired by the NGOs they fund, leading to a counterproductive cycle. Whether conditions are ideal for scaling aren’t considered, with organisations opting to go for the growth model.
Dastoor believes that in order for risks to be taken we need to change our notions about failure, that failure is a very necessary element of development. She argues for an idea of development that takes the longer, more qualitative route, one where NGOs are allowed to pause, reflect and take their time with interventions.
To bring this about, she suggests by starting that we look towards more like-minded donors, where the objective is the same, leading to a higher level of transparency and trust when it comes to failures.
She also stresses the importance of establishing that numbers driven targets should never be the end-goal right at the outset, but rather working towards creating a better environment for conversation, planning, openness and making important decisions together.