Back to resources

Rohini’s Comments at SVP, Bangalore All Partners Meet

Strategic Philanthropy | May 7, 2020

Rohini’s comments at the SVP, Bangalore All Partner’s meet.

She discusses:

  • How one can reconcile funding decisions against the context of immediate COVID19 related relief and program continuity.
  • How philanthropists can think about long term program continuity.
  • How do we create resilience in the NGO ecosystem going forward.
  • What are good ways to deploy limited resources and think strategically about the future, both in terms of funding and tackling complex challenges.

 

Transcript

00:00 Rohini Nilekani: Okay, thank you so much Jogen and namaste everyone. I hope you’re all safe and well. Thank you for joining this session so early in the morning and I’m very happy with this opportunity to come back to all of you four years later. It was a great session, very interactive last time and I really enjoyed it, so thank you. I hope we can make this one also interactive though we can’t do it in person, but I hope you write in questions and I’ll be happy to engage in anything.

00:29 RN: So first of all I want to say thanks to SVP for all that you do because with your focus on livelihoods I cannot think of something that’s more important in this pandemic because recently, in fact, together with a media network, we did a survey and Dalberg executed the survey and there was an average reported loss of income of 63% and even the government’s cash entitlements covered only some 16% or 17% of that loss of income. So livelihoods are really on everybody’s minds and so this is a great opportunity I feel for SVP to think afresh, maybe pivot, maybe think differently.

01:18 RN: So that’s the right sector to focus on. And of course all of us have learnt so much in this pandemic. We’ve learnt about ourselves, we’ve learnt about our communities and our governments. We’ve learnt about the positives and the negatives of our public systems. Our activistic fears have also being revived so you see some of the ugliness outside. But our empathy has also been stirred. And it has been… We all really have internalized the mutual dependencies and interconnections that we have and as the mindfulness practitioners would say this is kind of an invitation to get away from our conditioned mindsets of avoiding difficulties and actually turning into the difficulty and welcoming the positive change that can come out of this. So I would say that even as governments have responded the best…

02:26 Jogen: Okay, I think we have some… Yeah we have lost…

02:27 Speaker 3: Lost the audio.

02:31 Jogen: We’ve lost Rohini. Let’s just… Please be online guys. I think she’ll come back in a minute. Sanjana is working on it.

02:52 RN: I’m so sorry for that. I’m so sorry for that.

02:55 Jogen: Okay, okay. Please go ahead.

02:57 RN: I suddenly got disconnected but as I… What I was saying was that you know governments has responded the best that they can, but also private philanthropy has really picked up and the corporations and philanthropic foundations have gone out of their way to rejig their portfolios to create a rapid response. And also individual giving, you all know how much retail giving has picked up. I was a part of a fundraiser just last week and we collected $7 million in those four hours. So people are really reaching out and I think it’s a great opportunity to do something before donor fatigue sets in. So how do you think that through?

03:40 RN: So I would say what immediate relief that SVP is doing in terms of giving the kits and the masks has to go on while the need is there. I would just suggest, make sure that you are not replicating what others are doing and really looking for the gaps to fill so that, you know, sometimes. Remember in the tsunamis etcetera, when people were asked to give clothes, everybody sent masses of clothes and it was not really useful because they needed other things. So even now people are saying there are shortages like sanitary pads which is really important and other things. So even if you want to do emergency relief, maybe you need to commission some kind of understanding as to what the emergency needs are right now because they may no longer be masks.

04:27 RN: So that’s one small input that I have to give you. But I was invited here to take a bit of the longer view and to reflect on what we, in the philanthropic community do next and how do we best serve the vision and the mission that we have set up for ourselves. So more of the detailed thoughts will be expressed as an answer to Jogen’s questions which he has promised to ask but let me put up a kind of a small framework first which comes from the thinking that through our philanthropy, through Nandan’s work and my work and the work of all our teams, we pooled all that thinking together and we call it societal platform thinking. Some of you may have heard about this, so I apologize for the repetition. But the idea is that societal problems are so complex that they cannot be solved by any one sector alone. Neither samaaj nor sarkaar nor bazaar. You really need all three to do the part that they do best in response to any complex societal problem.

05:29 RN: So what is societal platform thinking? It is a way to reduce the friction to collaborate between samaaj, bazaar and sarkaar because there’s so much friction that even though they want to, these sectors don’t collaborate very easily. And so what does it mean when we say, “How do you reduce the friction to collaborate?” We keep some questions and philosophies close to our heart. So some principles that guide us are, what kind of… We see our work as creating open digital public goods that allow people to participate to solve complex problems and so we believe that we need to be technology-enabled but we are careful not to be technology-led because technology is not the solution, it’s just part of a complex process that you need to set up so that people can continue to build their own agency and that control and authority doesn’t just come to one side of the spectrum.

06:30 RN: So how can we… Something that we hold very dear is that instead of always trying to push a solution down the pipeline, how can we distribute the ability to solve? So it goes back to giving people more and more agency. How do you design a tech infra, a digital infra so that you are distributing agency and distributing the ability to solve rather than pushing one solution. Because often when we think of scale, we think of cookie cutter scale whereas the scale we need to think about is scaling up diversity, because most problems are best solved in their context. And so to allow contextual solutions to emerge, we must think of scale as diversity at scale. And that’s what our tech platforms try to enable.

07:23 RN: And also data, how do you allow data to come out as an exhaust wherever actions are happening, so that that data is useful at all levels and it’s not just the top that can see and observe, but that observability, searchability, discoverability is spread through the entire network throughout the platform. So these are some of the design principles by which we are working and EkStep Foundation, which we… Our goal is to enable 200 million children to have increased access to learning opportunities in five years, and we are finishing the five years pretty soon, and we think we will have met our goals, thanks to the platform that we helped government to design, which is called DIKSHA, some of you might have heard of it. And it is reaching millions of teachers and children around the country.

08:20 RN: So EkStep has been an instantiation of what we call societal platform thinking. I’ll be happy to either answer more questions later or to introduce SVP to the fantastic tech team that we have, the societal platform team that we have that is led by Sanjay Purohit. I’ll be very happy to do that. So extracting for SVP from this whole societal platform thinking, I’m going to say two, three things which I hope you will find useful. I think the pandemic has given us an opportunity to design a new normal. Because remember, the old normal was not that great for millions of Indians, right? We don’t have a very just or equitable society. So there’s no point rushing to go back to the old normal. We really have the opportunity to design for a new normal. But that’s very easy to say. And how do we do that? So some of the thinking the team has been doing is like this in three words: Responsibility, Responsiveness and Resilience.

09:22 RN: So until now, our samaaj sector, our social sector, was very much focused on responsibility. So in the past few decades, we have created this whole regime of rights. And we have put into place policies and laws that address the issues of the underprivileged, the vulnerable, and a whole thriving civil society has emerged around these ideas with a mission to create justice for all. And that has led to system… To the focus on system responsiveness. Okay, you have all these laws, but how are they going to get implemented? Where is the gap? How effective is the system? How can we make that governance more effective? And again, the states, the local governments have responded, but there is much gap because of the revolution of rising expectations. And so new civil society institutions, new funding organizations like yours emerged to increase the responsiveness of the system.

10:18 RN: But then finally, as issues of climate change, especially came to the fore, people realized that it’s not just one kind of responsiveness that is going to crack it. We need to design for resilience and if change is the only constant, then we need the skills to adapt quickly and innovate through the change. And so the debate has begun on how to build resilience. I’m a strong believer in community resilience and we just published a report on that, which I’ll be happy to share with you later. And so we have moved from this… In this journey from responsibility to responsiveness and now to resilience and we all together have to rethink what are the meanings of these things? What is responsibility post-COVID, for example, because after all, a regime of rights will not be enough because of the scale at which vulnerability has increased, right?

11:14 RN: So, for example, are we now going to think of societal responsibility as say, universal basic income, because partial things like NREGA will no longer suffice? The demand will be so high that a scheme like NREGA will just not be enough for jobs, right? So we have to start thinking completely differently because the problems are growing exponentially, and we can’t have linear responses. So the mindset has to become much more flexible and urgent, because, and I’ll close very soon, we know that these things that are being set into motion now, these ripples, right from the recent disturbances can turn into tsunamis and we have to stop, stem some of that now. For example, we all know about health. The first 1000 days of a child’s life are so important. Now if that is getting neglected because of the pandemic, you can’t turn the clock back. That child loses those two years and you can’t get that back. And there are instances like that everywhere, in education and in everything else where if we don’t stem the tide right now, these ripples can turn into tsunamis.

12:17 RN: So, how do we start to think? And let me last focus on resilience. We are very lucky that we have the world’s best digital infrastructure and I’m both proud and humbled to say that Nandan has been very much part of this and earlier I really fought with him about privacy and surveillance on this, but now I realize what an advantage it is because while America is still trying to put cheques in the mail, we have been able to do millions, hundreds of millions of cash transfers in the last two months to people. And that’s because of the digital infra. So that kind of infra allows us to build some forms of resilience. So I would ask SVP to think on this, how will SVP now begin to make it pivot towards creating resilience, because this is not the last crisis that we are going to face. Climate change is already upon us, who knows which other pandemics are waiting.

13:22 RN: So this is what we must think through together, how can we enable the social sector and the state sector to build more resilience. So sorry for being long-winded in the beginning, but I wanted to place this larger picture and then we’ll come to your other questions. Thank you very much.

13:40 Jogen: Thank you, Rohini. This was fantastic. So responsibility, responsiveness and resilience. These are the three Rs that I’m gonna take away. And I’ll not ask a lot of questions on what you just said because I’ll leave that to the partners. I’m sure there are a lot of questions everybody has. So let’s talk a little bit about the current state, right? How do you distinguish between the immediate needs and the long-term needs considering that there is only a certain amount of resources that we all have.

14:11 RN: Yeah.

14:11 Jogen: So what’s your concern?

14:13 RN: So, look, there are hundreds of millions of dollars that have been committed by CSR and big philanthropy foundations to the immediate response. So if we add just one more drop in that bucket, it may or may not make a difference. It’ll make us equal.

14:28 Jogen: Yes. Yes.

14:29 RN: And we should do some of it because it’s important to connect at the heart level, but I think that it’s time now to start thinking mid-term and long-term because those problems are going to be much larger and longer. So I would say if you have already done what you wrote to me that you have done, maybe now is the time to switch, either to find the real gaps in the immediate response or to now switch to thinking what will people need in the medium-term because this is not going away soon.

14:55 Jogen: No, no.

14:55 RN: And some of us, at least I have been holding my firepower rather than responding with immediate things because I know that donor fatigue will set in and people’s needs will increase and not reduce. So I think that’s how you should do the balance.

15:10 Jogen: Yes. It’s a fantastic insight because the general feeling would be to rush in because of the crises but then it’s important to understand the long-term. And this is where my next question comes in because I’m from the healthcare so I can guarantee you the virus is coming back at some point in time, right? There’ll be a plateau, it’ll go down and it will become part of our system, at some point there will be herd immunity. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. So how do we create that resilience in ourselves as well as the NGO community? I mean, I know we need to do it and we all know we need to do it but can you give us a few pointers on what specifically we would need to do?

15:54 RN: So one thing that has become very clear, that even though I must say, there has been a lot of pressure on civil society institutions over the last few years. So much more government, sort of regulation and not always very fair regulation. I mean, a lot of things, that should have been different. So the sector is under tremendous stress, also because many foreign funders have moved out and Indian philanthropists are not as generous as they need to be. So the social sector has been under stress. But look what happened in these last few days, how they rose to the occasion. They have been the first responders because they reached the first mile, the citizens, they have direct connect. So it’s been most gratifying to see that the samaaj sector has been the sector that holds the trust of the community.

16:45 RN: So first thing that philanthropic institutions must do is to start again from a point of trust with civil society institutions, okay? And so right now, some of us have released a kind of a pledge that for the next few months or years, whatever it takes, we will be much more flexible in the kind of reporting that needs to be done. We will give a lot more choice to the CSOs to deploy the funds. I mean, they may have said they need it for something, but then they find they need it for something else. So, really be a little more trusting and allow a lot more flexibility to CSOs because that’s what helps them to build the resilience that they need.

17:28 RN: We need to create these networks of trust before the next crisis hits so that when the crisis hits, we can do a rapid response much more effectively. So that’s my big takeaway that be much… Coming from a position of trust, I’m not saying don’t look at the finances but that’s one thing. And secondly, is within your portfolio, look at your portfolio, look at your institutions and find a sort of… Catalogue the assets that your CSO partners have. Some of them may be very good at one particular thing like finding people who need loans or matching livelihoods to geographies or whatever that might be, and then help them to make that a horizontal across your portfolio so that everybody learns from each other. I think that… To create that shareability, discoverability is very, very important to build these networks and nodes which allows other response. And that’s why you are going to have to start thinking about platforms. And they’re going to have to be digital.

18:32 Jogen: Yes. And this is fantastic. This is what we have also seen in the last three, four months as our uniqueness, because we’re able to… Just, just funding is just no longer enough and there are a lot of other people, but just connecting one NGO’s capabilities with the other.

18:47 RN: Exactly.

18:48 Jogen: And creating a platform where everybody feeds off one another.

18:51 RN: Yes.

18:51 Jogen: That’s one way to create resilience and we’re trying very hard to figure that out.

18:56 RN: Right.

18:56 Jogen: And there have been some success.

18:57 RN: And invest in capacity building, you know.

19:00 Jogen: Oh yeah, yeah.

19:00 RN: When any capacities that they need, it could be even as simple as storytelling…

19:05 Jogen: Yes. Absolutely.

19:06 RN: So, build those capacities, yeah.

19:09 Jogen: Absolutely, absolutely. Okay, so my next question is, you know India directly spends about 1% of it’s GDP, from 0.7% to 1%, and 25% of that is private philanthropy.

19:20 RN: Yes.

19:21 Jogen: While if you look at outside, they spend about 2.4% of the GDP and 70% is private philanthropy and this is percentages, so we can’t get away by saying we are a poor country, so… Etcetera. This is percentages, so this is a priority. How do we use this opportunity to effect change in this because without that there’s nothing that can work. And on the other end, as you mentioned, a lot of our point of care contact is a private hospital, so there is this weird problem in distribution.

19:51 RN: Yeah.

19:52 Jogen: What do we do? Tell us a little bit of your thoughts on this.

19:54 RN: Oh, I’m no expert on this, and there are many other experts who have spoken on this a lot. I’ll just tell you what we are doing because I’m not a healthcare sector expert, but Nandan and I are funding as part of Co-Impact, an organization called ECHO, it’s truly a marvelous organization. I urge you to look at its website. So one of the things they do in India, I mean, they are in many, many countries in the world and the main thing that they do is guided mentoring. So they have this rigorous process where every week nurses, doctors, ASHA workers, whoever is required to be responsible for a certain healthcare activity, they meet digitally and exchange notes in a very rigorous process.

20:40 Jogen: That’s nice.

20:41 RN: And it is really a fantastically effective way to do, what they say and what we have learnt, is move knowledge, not people. And that’s a very important thing across all sectors. Move knowledge, not people. You can’t have millions of doctors going into all the villages nor is it wise to move all the patients into the city’s hospital.

21:04 Jogen: Yeah. Yes.

21:04 RN: So how do you… This is also… We have distributing agency. So that’s what they focus on, moving knowledge, not people. I don’t know if SVP will be able to play a big role in shifting the GDP numbers but if you look at things like this which have been effective to distribute agency in the healthcare sector, that might be useful. And another thing is Nandan’s larger tech team and group, iSPIRT and others, have also… Are building out the National Health Stack. They’re working with the government also on that, like the India Stack and the idea of that is to build trust and transparency and to increase the system’s efficiency, the health system’s efficiency. And of course, there’s a lot more information that I can share if you want to. So that’s all I want to say on the healthcare sector. My work, my investment in healthcare has been through water and sanitation which is really a foundational thing.

22:00 Jogen: Yes.

22:00 RN: In this pandemic, we have seen how much water and sanitation is the key to containing it and in the summer months, you know what India goes through in terms of water, so that’s been my investment. So these are the only things I know about the health sector. [chuckle]

22:16 Jogen: Thanks, Thanks. I’ll ask one more question and then open it up. I see a lot of questions coming in on the chat. So then that is a personal question and that when this pandemic hit, a lot of us were in a bubble where we were in control. Right? We were in control, we were working with NGOs, helping them scale up and when this pandemic hit, that bubble burst because a lot of these NGOs came up… I know some who said, “I need 10 lakhs next week to give salaries to my people.” And everyone came back to us and we froze and it’s a massive lack of control that we felt. We finally figured out that… And I think we figured out how to help all our NGOs. But how does one deal with that because this is a fairly unfamiliar feeling for most of us on the call. And is that something that you can relate to or is there something that you can throw a little bit more light? This is a personal question, not related to anybody else.

23:14 RN: Okay. No, of course, we’ve all gone through this and I had written an article called “The End Of Secession” a couple of years ago that…

23:22 Jogen: Yes, I know that.

23:23 RN: I said that the air pollution has finally told us that the elite can no longer secede, you know.

23:29 Jogen: Yes.

23:29 RN: Between the air pollution, the pandemic and climate change, you can sit in your air-conditioned rooms but you can’t escape the reality. So how do we think differently, right? The only way is to really understand that we are all in it together and we can get out of this together. So it’s very good to have that kind of panic and loss of control because we are not. In any case, control is a bit of an illusion.

23:50 Jogen: Illusion, yeah, yeah. Got it.

23:51 RN: So it’s very good to go through that process of fear, especially adaptive fear. So fear is a useful tool, and so long as we analyze that our fear is being adaptive, that’s fine. But the minute our fear turns into negative fear which is awfulizing, catastrophizing, it doesn’t help. So just keeping that in mind and over the last few days, two things I’ve never seen more relevant to me which is “Karmanye Vadhikaraste” and “Vaishnava Janate.” So if you think on those two, you really get a feeling of… You get some capacity to remain centered in the eye of the storm instead of sort of getting blown away here and there. So, I would say that once you are past that initial panic, once we get out of the… Being like a deer caught in the headlights, it’s actually a great opportunity and it’s for all of us individually and all of us as a group to really dwell on the power of our intent and then to seriously focus with joyful responsibility on the grammar of that intent because intent alone is not enough.

25:05 Jogen: Very, very nice. Thank you. That was… I liked the answer for this. I’m going to now shift to that questions that have been coming in.

25:05 RN: Okay.

25:05 Jogen: The first question is from Rishi Krishnan, who’s our SVP partner. He has asked, “does our focus on livelihood need a change?” What would we do differently from now on? You’ve answered partly a little bit but is that… Is there a more broader focus that one keeps because livelihood is one piece of the larger puzzle there, as far as…

25:38 RN: So, but because livelihood as I said in the beginning has become even more important now.

25:42 Jogen: Yeah, yeah.

25:43 RN: Maybe re-imagining the idea of livelihoods. You see, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months because migrants have suddenly recalibrated their sense of home, then their sense of what they need.

26:00 Jogen: Yes.

26:00 RN: And we don’t know when… I mean, I read in the papers that the government is trying to stop them and I think that is just the most inhuman thing to do. And I think all of us need to put our voice forward to say…

26:12 Jogen: Absolutely, agreed.

26:13 RN: That it’s like, it’s like legitimizing bonded labor.

26:17 Jogen: Yes.

26:18 RN: It really shocked me to the core that any state could even begin to think like that. But they will go. And when they go, maybe there’s a chance to rethink the rural-urban question and think of more regenerative, sustainable livelihoods in the rural economy. And what would that mean? How do those innovations, that entrepreneurship, how can you support that more? Because we are going to see a sea change in the way cities are going to be run. So, it’s a new opportunity.

26:48 Jogen: And we have to get out of our cities and visit and be in those villages in order to see it, right? And that’s for all of us.

26:52 RN: Nothing is better than going to the field. You can sit here and read the papers and you feel so depressed. Everytime I go out and meet real people and see what’s going on in this country, how much innovation, how much optimism, when I come back, I really come back to do my work with much more girth.

27:10 Jogen: Yeah. Yeah. There’s nothing like a field visit. So that brings this to Malini who is our investee in [27:17] ____. They have women and men producing everything from cloth mask to sanitary pads and so on and on. And her question is, can the world 2.0 have people staying back in the village and connect and train with technology? So what’s the technology… Are you… Is there any technology that is being developed to address this new world where rural people can stay in the rural areas and still be connected to the ecosystem of society?

27:46 RN: Yeah. Really Nandan has been talking a lot about this and again that’s not my area of expertise, but very clearly, you are going to see the world moving to digital in ways that we could not have imagined in December. And already we are seeing massive increases in digital transactions of all kinds.

28:07 Jogen: Yes.

28:08 RN: Really, I should leave it to Nandan because he has all the numbers, of course, much is happening in the digital world. So, we have to re-imagine that so that people don’t experience loss of control in any form. We have to make it inclusive. That’s going to be India’s digital challenge. That how do you not further the digital divide? So, access to markets, everything we have to think in a way which is more inclusive. But yes, of course, the world will go much more digital very, very rapidly.

28:41 Jogen: You’ve said about help in addressing gaps. We started with… Let SVP be now… Not to the short term stop but figure out how to address gaps. I think that question came from Maken, are there platforms that let us listen to citizens etcetera, which can help us identify gaps? How do you… It’s an absolutely correct thing to do. How do you actually get out of where we are and getting to the place where we are ready for this?

29:15 RN: Yeah. I think all of you with all the professional talent that you have, if you all could invest in actually commissioning research to find the gaps and that would be useful. There are intermediary organizations. I support several organizations like Reap Benefit, Sattva, a lot of them that are able to connect with citizens and get them… That build very strong feedback loops. Maybe you all need to start thinking of how you all can use your capacity to do analytics, so that you can tweak what you are doing to be more effective. Use data, commission research, meet these bridging organizations who have the reach to get the feedback loops to know where the gaps are.

30:04 Jogen: And that we have seen poor acceptability of migrants, which is something that you just talked about, in local governments as well as society, right? They’re all very useful when they are building the building that we live in, but then, once all of this is sorted out… And this is a question from Ramaswamy, which is that current vote bank politics don’t allow this, that allow this problem to get solved because they have not moved this further. How do we… What do we do in such a situation you think?

30:38 RN: Well actually, it’s not really vote bank politics when it comes to the migrants in the city. Bangalore has more than 50% migrants and those migrants can’t vote here. So in that sense, it’s not really vote bank politics. They vote back from wherever they are, which also we have to think through. But… So more than vote bank politics, it’s where the… Our complete inability to respond with the right public infrastructure. Where is… We need more land reform, we need so many things, we know what to do but we seem to be in “the big stuck” like Lant Pritchett says. And it’s a flailing state. So anything we can do to build state capacity, any work we do to build state capacity is going to have the biggest bang for the buck. So thinking about investing in advocacy institutions would also be useful so that we are not just complaining about the problem, but we are trying to be part of the solution.

31:21 Jogen: That’s actually important point. I have lots of questions coming in. I’m trying to combine all of these so that it’s easier. And one of the questions that is actually from Ganesh Natarajan, who’s our India chair, is that given the limited health infrastructure everywhere, this is actually a health-related question, wouldn’t we be better served allowing the young to go out and keeping over 65s and under 18s at home, can we evangelize this to stop the rampaging new cases? I have something to say, but I’ll give this to you.

32:13 RN: Yeah, I mean, we certainly can’t stay in continued lockdown more. My daughter every day gives us a daily briefing on what’s happening in the world on the pandemic and one of the big mysteries is whether India, we have some advantage because we have a young population because compared to America, thank heavens, our numbers are so much lower, touch wood, and we don’t know what’ll happen if everybody goes off like they did to buy liquor yesterday and day before. But you’re right, that we have a young population and we should allow much more movement with precaution. And that will happen. I mean, people won’t be restrained anymore. I don’t think so.

32:51 Jogen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I’ll add there are two possible theories, one is this whole immunity, which is there are things that are being investigated with BCG and all these vaccinations, which are iffy theories in my view because vaccination doesn’t stay for a long time. And the other is that this is a generally new strain and we are just plain lucky.

33:14 RN: Yeah.

33:15 Jogen: Because there are other strains as well. Yeah.

33:17 RN: It’s a bit puzzling sort of virus so one doesn’t what to say, yeah.

33:20 Jogen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, what… I think there are a lot of questions coming from our NGO partners saying you’ve described a lot of this EkStep and a lot of tech that Nandan’s team is building, we have, at least 18, at last count NGOs which we partner with in Bangalore and across India… Much, much more. What if they need to get in touch with somebody, where they can leverage all this developments, what would they do, can you help us?

33:51 RN: Yeah. So, I can send you some links and resources later because everything that we are building is open, free to access, but we can’t hand-hold so many organisations, we’re already at peak capacity. However, all the assets that we are building are put in a place which I can send you all the links to, it’s called Space, and we have very detailed processes that you could follow that we have learnt from and people keep adding to. So I’ll be happy to share all that info.

34:23 Jogen: That’ll be fantastic, ’cause then if you can give it to Sanjana, she will be the gate holder for us.

34:28 RN: Sure.

34:28 Jogen: Really great. Okay, let me… Now, so what we’ve said, I’m just trying to summarize, because we’re nearing the end, is what you started is with, we need to figure out the responsibility, responsiveness and resilience. There has been responsibility in whatever they’re doing, but the responsiveness and resilience is something we need to work on and we need to actively reach out to find out what the gaps are, and as you said, the world of before doesn’t make sense right now. So the other question that came from Shashi, I could see it on the screen, but it just popped away, which is also something of great interest to us which is, and I’m going to guess what she has said… Ah, there she is, sorry. Just give me… Yeah, so given the current state of water bodies which are well-rested in the last 40 days, the pollution levels have supposedly come down, what can the government do as part of policies to keep it at this level because we’ve now seen very, very clearly air and pollution levels go down. So this is very, very specifically proof that we’re a part of the problem in a big way, but now with… That we are at this level, is there anything we can do to put a lot more energy to keep it at his level?

35:47 RN: Yeah, no, this is a very important question, because my big worry is, see in 45 days in Bangalore city, you figured out that your lakes can get cleaner and the Vrishabawathi river can flow clear again. Can you imagine? That mean… And the sewage has not changed in the city, so that means it’s the industrial effluents that have been making the city’s river frothing and black, and what it has given us is a vision. We are able to at least imagine a city like the European cities with a clean river flowing through it. Just having that vision is something very important that we did not have for decades, to be able to actually see that. So now it is really, the onus is on the samaaj to hold the sarkaar and the institutions accountable, because tomorrow in the name of restarting livelihoods and the economy, if you are going to throw away all your environmental norms, you are pretty much asking for the next crisis to come and hit you sooner than it otherwise would.

36:45 Jogen: Without a doubt.

36:46 RN: So now is the time to support institutions that are willing to be watch dogs, that are going to say, “how come so much effluent is going there? There are laws, there are institutions, there are governments, there are governance structures, what are they doing?” And also not just to blame, but what can, say CSR, what can be done to help the polluters to mitigate that pollution? You can’t do it without addressing that question, “how will small units mitigate their pollution?” So something needs to be thought through.

37:20 Jogen: This is actually fantastic ’cause we…

37:21 RN: And last point, there are examples. TIDE, an organization, Svati Bhogle and all worked very hard with the Tiruppur industries to create common effluent control plants and for sometime, it worked well, then of course, things happened. But so there are precedents and ideas, but all of us have to hold people’s feet to the fire now, if we want better, cleaner air and water and surroundings.

37:40 Jogen: Agreed, agreed. TIDE was our first NGO that we worked with, so we’re intimately familiar with Svati’s team.

37:40 RN: Fantastic.

37:40 Jogen: We’ve got questions which I’ll combine from Ajit and Rathi saying, first of all, we ask the government for everything. What is our role as society members to clean the society? And secondly, how do we bring organizations together using the platforms? Can you give us like an example? For example, in water, where you’ve been able to do that? So these are two separate questions, but time is at a premium so I combined both of these.

37:40 RN: So in terms of getting organizations together I think anyone, anybody can take that sort of system builder responsibility to bring organizations together around a common but co-created vision. So I’ll just give you one example, in Arghyam, the water foundation that I set up, we began to work on participatory ground water management for several years now and we looked at all the hydrologies and typologies in India and organizations working there, we brought them together and they co-created common principles to apply for managing ground water better and that became sort of a portfolio and we kept on scaling that and today, every single government document on water includes that approach and principles. So, it is possible but you have to co-create the solutions. You can’t push solution, one solution, your own solution down the pipeline, so it’s very possible to do that, and yes, we in the samaaj, we don’t have any automatic entitlements to good governance. Together we have to co-create it. We are not consumers of governance, we are really co-creators. And so, just blaming doesn’t seem to work. Being part of the solution does seem to work, so that’s what we all are doing anyway.

39:45 Jogen: We, I remember, this is how Ravi recruited me saying, “we get the government we deserve and we have to work with the government to try and take it forward.” So this has been fantastic, Rohini. It’s so great to hear you, your optimism and your energy is infectious, and I hope to take that away with us. And there’s been a list of questions, we tried to address as many as we could, but any last thoughts from you before we close and go to the next session?

40:17 RN: No, I wish you all luck, I really think it’s an opportunity to rethink what you want to do and become even more effective. And anyway, my teams can help you. We’d be happy to connect. So, all the best, stay safe, and really thank you for having me.

40:33 Jogen: Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And we do hope you stay for a little bit for the next session, which is also an extremely important session for us.

More like this

Strategic Philanthropy

focus on philanthrocapitalism: myth or reality?

What Rohini Nilekani sees as innovative and different about the way she’s doing things is the way she has brought together the opportunities that coming into money has given her and her earlier work in the social sector, with ‘all its emotional charge towards equity’. View PDF
Mar 1, 2007 | Article

Strategic Philanthropy

The Art Of Giving : Nandan Nilekani & Rohini Nilekani

“Wealth doesn’t fully belong to us, we are only trustees. Our children knew that. Power to give away is the most important value of money,” inspiring words from Nandan and Rohini Nilekani, days after signing the Giving Pledge. As part of the pledge, they have committed to donate half of their wealth to charity. In […]
Nov 23, 2017 | Interview

Strategic Philanthropy

Rohini Nilekani's Comments on Philanthropy: It's Time to up the Game

Rohini Nilekani’s comments on a panel discussing Mr Azim Premji’s new commitment to philanthropy totalling $21 billion. The panel discusses whether there are lessons in compassionate capitalism here for India Inc? What is the future of philanthropy in India? What are the challenges? How can India increase the effectiveness of charity? The panel discusses what […]
Mar 14, 2019 | Panel Discussions

Strategic Philanthropy

Nilekanis pledge half of wealth for philanthropy

BENGALURU: Infosys co-founder and tech billionaire Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini Nilekani have joined ‘The Giving Pledge’, an elite network of the world’s wealthiest individuals committing half their wealth to philanthropy. The Giving Pledge website uploaded Nilekanis’ letter signing up for the cause. View PDF
Nov 21, 2017 | Personality