Business Today

Learning to lead

Manasi Mithel        Print Edition: Dec 11, 2011

In 2009, when Keren Nazareth first joined Saath, a Gujarat-based non-governmental organisation, or NGO, working to empower the urban and rural poor, she was given the job of managing a fund-raising campaign. She did so largely through e-mails and printed posters. In her first year, she was able to get just one person to donate Rs5,000 to the fund.

Nazareth then set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account dedicated to the fund. In 10 days, Saath had managed to raise Rs2 lakh from donors across the world. "A lot more people came to know of our work. Now people have started asking us what we are doing before we even start," she says.

Leadership development focuses on..

  • Self-awareness
  • Understanding the people around
  • Understanding the system
  • Developing communication skills
  • Developing negotiation skills
  • Increasing networking ability
  • Reducing turnaround time
But it was only after Nazareth took a course in leadership development that she realised the importance of using the right kind of media to communicate. "We didn't have communication in media as a budgeted activity earlier," she says. "But from next year, this will be a part of our planning strategy."

Many NGOs are slowly realising that, to be effective, mere good intentions are not enough, they need management skills as well. "People joining the NGO space are not receiving the kind of training their colleagues in the corporate world are exposed to," says Santosh Babu, CEO of OD Alternatives, a leadership development consultancy. "A leader of an NGO has to understand his organisation is dealing with multiple stakeholders from the funding agency to society as a whole." American Express, in partnership with Common Purpose, an NGO, recently conducted a five-day workshop on leadership development, attended by participants from 12 leading NGOs. "There is definitely a significant gap in leadership development in NGOs, especially in situations where senior leaders move on and mid-level leaders have to step up and take their place," says Venkatesh Raghavendra, Director, Common Purpose.

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Judy G. Tenzer, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, American Express, says NGOs today are more ready than before to accept this kind of training. "I think NGOs are evolving," she says. "Their structures are evolving and community needs are evolving, but the need for training remains," In 2009/10, Rashneh N. Pardiwala, Founder and Director of the Centre for Environmental Research and Education, or CERE, an NGO working to promote environmental sustainability, undertook a rainwater harvesting project to recharge nine defunct borewells in rural Maharashtra. The project was completed successfully and on time, but she was unable to retain her donor base for future projects. After undergoing training, she says a key takeaway for her was understanding the importance of donor retention, and how to achieve it. "I now look at my donors as stakeholders. I see them as partners," she says.

For Shayak Banerjee, Head, Programme Review and Management Team, Pratham, the largest NGO working on education in India, the training provided some very simple and applicable solutions for a grassroot-level initiative the NGO had undertaken in 2009. Pratham, for instance, had started a vocational skill development programme in 2009, covering 100 villages, for which it employed just one full-time staff member to cover 20 villages. The staffer had to mobilise village-level volunteers to teach students, and also monitor the classes. But daily monitoring of all 20 villages proved impossible. How to tell if the volunteers were taking classes regularly? The solution came out of a group discussion Banerjee attended.

Someone suggested the village panchayat or a group of parents in each village keep a record of the days their children attended classes. It proved most effective. "The most accurate data can come from them. This will majorly improve the quality of our training model," says Banerjee. There is, however, one problem. Many NGOs are cash strapped or else would like to use whatever resources they raise on the services they provide. It is difficult for them to invest in training programmes.

"The definition of 'leadership' is undergoing a change," says Rup Kumar Sengupta, Director, Human Resources, Population Services International, a global health organisation. "We are moving to an age of collaboration between all kinds of organisations. Training can help leaders to be more prepared for the future."

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