Sunday, 15 February 2015

Aditi Bulletin Issue 1


Dr. Jai Asundi
Principal Research Scientist, CSTEP

It is hard to believe that Aditi is almost one year old! It is a proud moment indeed for us to see that Aditi has been well received by the community, and is coming into its stride as it enters its second year (baby steps notwithstanding). As the proud “parents” we would like to believe that Aditi has a bright future as it continues to engage its audience and stay relevant in the years to come.

Aditi was conceived with the idea of creating a platform where matters concerning the viability, success and sustenance of Think Tanks could be discussed in an open and collegial manner. To highlight the importance of policy research and strengthen its practice as we improve the perception of Think Tanks among various stakeholders. While the heads of various institutions get a chance to discuss these issues at various local, regional and international meetings, we believed that opening up this discussion to a broader set of participants was much needed. It was hoped that this platform would allow for  free flow of ideas and let all researchers become aware of the issues associated with running a Think Tank. Wouldn't it be wonderful to discover that a Think Tank in India learned from a particular initiative at a Think Tank in South America or Africa and vice-versa? And that this learning came from a researcher within the organisation looking globally for best or innovative practices?

Think Tanks in the developing world face a number of challenges - be it, primary research quality or the day-to-day operational issues associated with running a fund-constrained institution or even being able to engage with and create policy impact in their respective environments. Highlighting the importance of policy research and strengthening it as a discipline is a collective responsibility that we all must bear. 

Through Aditi, we explored a range of subjects and were happy to get contributions from all corners of the world. The manner in which the larger community came together and participated in the dialogue was heartening. It impressed on us that there is a need for a platform of this type where knowledge on matters not usually discussed can be shared. 

A grant from IDRC’s Think Tank Initiative program was instrumental in conceiving and giving birth to Aditi and we are grateful for their support. In the next phase, Aditi will undergo a number of changes that will (hopefully) make it more interactive and reader-friendly. For one Aditi will become a purely web-based publication which will allow individual articles to be shared and cross-referenced. It will also include multi-media content such as interviews in audio/video form. A moderated area for discussions will also be enabled. 

From the perspective of content, we start with the issue of fund-raising and philanthropy. We will also explore more operational issues with respect to Think Tanks and a discussion of the challenges faced by them. In coming issues we will take up matters related to operations as well as communications and policy engagement. I look forward to contributions from you – not just written articles but also audio/video presentations. 

Aditi is growing up and transforming. This is “our” platform and I hope you will join us in shaping it to become the go-to place for Think Tank related discussions. I look forward to your continued support.


Random Personal Musings of a Senior Program Officer, TTI
Dr. Samar Verma, Senior Program Officer, IDRC

Domestic Think Tank Funding: what can foreign donors do?
Enrique Mendizabal, Founder, Director, On Think Tanks

Community Speak: Funding Concerns
Arushi Sen, Media Coordinator, CSTEP

Recipe for Writing a Winning Funding Proposal
Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head, CPE, CSTEP and Bhawna Welturkar, Graphic Designer, CSTEP

Sketch by Bhawna Welturkar, Graphic Designer, CSTEP

Interview with Ruth Levine

Interview with Dr. Khalida Ghaus

Interview with Rohini Nilekani

Book Review

Revealing Indian Philanthropy
Reviewed by Dr. Sujatha Byravan, Advisor, CSTEP

Random Personal Musings of a Senior Program Officer, TTI

Random Personal Musings of a Senior Program Officer, TTI

Dr. Samar Verma
Senior Program Officer, IDRC

One of the first pieces of data that struck me early during my current role was how overwhelmingly dependent Think Tanks are on bilateral and multilateral sources of funding, and how insignificant is the funding support from their own national governments and domestic foundations. Admittedly, the data I looked at can in no way be called representative of the entire Think Tank universe in India. However, today, after over half-a-decade in my current role, I am confident that this is true in each of the South Asian countries, with India perhaps leading the list. Yet, interestingly, for the policy making community in South Asia, Think Tanks remain the most important and valued source of research and evidence for their policy making work.

Disaggregation of funding support into funding types-core institutional support vs project funding- makes the excruciating reality of Think Tank’s fragility more apparent. With unrealistically low overheads, government funding is almost wholly project funding type, rarely even meeting the economic cost of the ‘service’ often demanded of think tanks. Barring a few notable and occasional exceptions, domestic foundations have by and large stayed away from supporting think tanks except through consultancies, knowledge products from which remain concealed from public domain.

The description mentioned above applies to social science research think tanks in South Asia, much in contrast to their science and technology counterparts. The multi-donor, global Think Tank Initiative (TTI), is in part a response to the situation described above, and a bold step in providing core institutional funding and technical support to competitively selected Think Tanks in a donor climate increasingly pushing for a quick turnaround with measurable indicators of success. The funded Think Tanks, after over five years of continued support under TTI, have indeed begun to show remarkable institutional success.

Except anecdotally, the causes for precious little institutional funding support for Think Tanks by national governments and domestic foundations remain poorly understood. The paradox is more glaring in light of the legacy in India of precisely similar institutional creation and long-term, meaningful support to numerous Indian research institutions, which the country is very proud of. But none of these top institutions were built without predictable and adequate funding support over several decades, significant portions of which came from government and domestic philanthropists.

A big part of the challenge is structural in nature. The Indian legacy of institution building would need to be revived, and attitudes of national governments and philanthropy would need to be fundamentally altered beyond national boundaries. In supporting the formation of the recently formed Asian Social Science Association (ASSA), and in working with national councils supporting social science research, TTI is making a modest effort to cultivate this attitudinal shift through increased advocacy for greater and more meaningful government role in creating and sustaining knowledge institutions. Think Tanks, on their part, need to more effectively and collaboratively demonstrate the research quality excellence that they espouse, global standards of research ethics that they practise, and the relevance and pragmatism of their policy advice. New philanthropy in India, renewed commitment and, more recently, a mandate for corporate social responsibility are opening new avenues for engagement with the private corporate sector. Media revolution and new engagement tools provide a historic opportunity to seek new interested stakeholders, and to reach out and renew engagements with existing ones in innovative and more effective ways.

In all of these, leadership plays a critical role, whether on the part of Think Tanks, or the philanthropists and government. Vision, energised by entrepreneurial ability and driven by a dynamic and committed team continue to remain core elements of a successful institution building strategy. On their part, on the other hand, the governments and philanthropists need to hone their ability to identify and then systematically support such leadership in Think Tanks over a sufficient period of time. This has succeeded in the past, during much more resource- and knowledge- constrained times soon after India became independent. With greater domestic resources, better knowledge and deeper experience, there is little reason why this would not wonderfully succeed today.

Note: This is the author’s personal view

Domestic Think Tank Funding: what can foreign donors do?

Domestic Think Tank Funding: what can foreign donors do?

Enrique Mendizabal
Founder, Director, On Think Tanks

This article focuses on what current foreign funders could do. Foreign funding for Think Tanks is a common occurrence in developing countries. Whereas The New York Times considered it a scandal that US Think Tanks were receiving funding from foreign sources to influence the American government, Aid agencies and foundations continue to fund Think Tanks in Latin America, Asia, and Africa without raising as much as an eyebrow.

However, foreign funding for Think Tanks, which has been a godsend for some, poses significant risks to Think Tanks.

Funding decisions at bilateral agencies are the consequence of political processes that take place well beyond the sphere of influence of the funds’ recipients. For example, Indian think tanks have no say over how much money is allocated to them, this is decided by  a political process that is beyond their control.

Funds come attached to conditions; whether we like it or not. This does not mean that all Think Tanks will have to re-focus their work, but some will be left wondering if, maybe, they should. In any case, everywhere in the world, the agenda of Think Tanks are often influenced (or at the very least informed) by their funders’ own interest and it is no different in developing countries. The trouble with foreign funders, however, is that they are foreign to the politics in which the Think Tanks operate and can therefore have an interference effect which can back-fire on Think Tanks’ reputations.

But most importantly, foreign funding is risky because it is likely to diminish as countries develop and this can leave Think Tanks in a vulnerable situation. So what can foreign funders do to help Think Tanks re-balance their funding sources away from foreign sources and closer to home?
  • Raising the visibility of Think Tanks and their value by promoting initiatives such as national annual think tank awards -increasingly including the private sector as participants, judges and, hopefully, as sponsors of these efforts.
  • Working with future generations of philanthropists. For instance, setting up groups of young patrons to bring together people in their 30s to act as an informal group of patrons (contributing very little money) for the Think Tanks they support with the aim of ‘teaching’ them how to support research institutions. In the future they will be more willing to fund them. Individual Think Tanks could also take on this model. 
  • Work with future generations of Think Tank leaders to help them to think this through early on in their careers. This is behind the School of Thinktankers that On Think Tanks and Canning House have launched. The school will take a group of young future Think Tank leaders from Latin America (as a pilot) to London to be inspired by the Think Tank and policy research community there. 
  • Use foreign funding to leverage domestic funding. This may take more money but this is money that is already there. Initiatives like the Think Tank Initiative or the Think Tank Fund could organise dinners or conferences at which Bill Gates, George Soros, and other philanthropists meet their local counterparts and encourage them to fund their own research and research institutions. They could ask them to pledge, there and then, money to research and Think Tanks in their own countries. 
  • Another way of leveraging funding is to condition funding to Think Tanks’ capacity to raise domestic funds. It could start with small amounts (10%) and grow, year on year, until it eventually takes over. Multi-year initiatives should follow this approach to give Think Tanks time to plan ahead and encourage them to develop a clear strategy to achieve this. 
  • Reward ‘graduation’. Foreign funders could reward Think Tanks that no longer need them with a ‘parting bonus’. A one-off and up-front payment to build their reserves as a way of addressing the new risks that new funding sources may bring. This bonus could be on the condition that they would not return to the foreign donor. 
  • Fund research on funding models to make it easier to donate. It was interesting to find out that funding mechanisms that were quite common in the UK, for instance, were not known by Peruvian ministries or philanthropists. Something as simple as setting-up a large umbrella programme that would be charged with funding smaller projects instead of trying to fund smaller projects directly.
Think Tanks have a responsibility too. It is all too easy to benefit from relatively easy-to-secure foreign funds. Foreign funders are also much more generous than their domestic counterparts. Rather than wait and hope for a second or third tranche of funds, organisations should look for domestic alternatives and encourage their foreign funders to support them in this process.

Note from the Author: On Think Tanks has given the topic of think tank funding a great deal of attention. If you are interested in learning more about it you can read its Topic Page on Funding. But most of the articles written focus on what think tanks can do to raise funds and, more recently, what think tanks can do to generate domestic funds.

Community Speak: Funding Concerns

Community Speak: Funding Concerns

Arushi Sen
Media Coordinator, CSTEP

Debates on funding concerns of Think Tanks (TTs) across the world are revolving around a central theme: developing a sustainable funding model. Historically speaking, TTs, which started to evolve as the ‘third sector’ in Europe, UK and the US, were publicly-funded organisations. However, in the last century, as more and more TTs started coming up, despite being non-profit independent policy research organisations, their source of sustenance from public funding entered troubled waters. Corporate and philanthropic funding has now become the norm for a majority of these organisations and a large part of the money is given by foreign or international organisations like the Asian Development Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, International Development and Research Centre, etc. 

This trend of foreign funding has been rather severely criticised, and brought the integrity and credibility of TT research under the scanner. There is also a growing realisation in the TT community that in order to be financially secure, the heavy reliance on foreign funding needs to be replaced with support from domestic sources. However, commentaries in the media indicate that securing long-term core funding from domestic and corporate philanthropy remains a challenge. While domestic funders support eagerly support direct-intervention causes, they have little or no enthusiasm for policy research.

For this issue of Aditi, the editorial team decided to capture the voice of the TT community in developing nations through a survey. Unfortunately, the survey was taken by a small group of 12 people, although the geographic coverage was impressive as shown in the Figure.

Despite the small number of respondents, some of the surprises that emerged from an analysis of the responses received in the survey are mentioned below:
  • The lack of funding received from governmental sources was strongly voted to be a factor that highly affects the viability of a Think Tank; 
  • Influence of a funder’s request on the research of a Think Tank was voted to have low impact; 
  • The inability of a Think Tank to build financial reserves for emergencies due to their non-profit nature was considered to be a high impacting factor; 
  • Only one respondent indicated that ‘providing a transparent performance assessment of a Think Tank’ is important when approaching domestic funders for financial support; 
  • A majority of the respondents indicated that ‘showcasing impact stories’ and ‘building the organisation’s reputation’ with domestic funders are important considerations for fundraising.

The TT community needs to seriously consider engaging in collaborative projects with each other as one of the ways to ensure sustainable funding. Such collaborations can be viewed as a coin with two sides. On the one hand, the Think Tank Initiative experience has set in the realisation that a similar model of funding from domestic sources would ensure the financial sustenance of TTs in a country. But on the flip side of the same coin, TTs could set-up a funding pool that helps secure the financial future of policy research organisations.

Recipe for Writing a Winning Funding Proposal

Recipe for Writing a Winning Funding Proposal

Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander

Bhawna Welturkar
Graphic Designer, CSTEP

  • Strong idea- is required to ensure that you are in a position to convince the funder and also to showcase your expertise in the area
  • Evidence-based information-funders ideally like to look at information that is factual and not fictional
  • Feasible activities-ensure that the activities are completed and not just making commitments which may not be possible to achieve/complete
  • Knowing and understanding the audience-study your donor/funder expectations well, since most of them have a well-planned agenda on who, what and why to support
  • Effective graphics-numerical data, photographs, sometimes Tables can be introduced as additional information to further explain concepts 
Now that you have your ingredients in place, you need to start putting them together. A well-thought out idea will help you ideate and focus on the key facts and bring out an effective and winning proposal.

  1. Identify a strong requirement of your organisation-choose information carefully 
  2. Identify a probable/right donor or donors- do not write to each and every funding agency
  3. Understand their requirements and start writing-personalise and customise the proposal
  4. Plan graphics/images
  5. Write an introductory letter to capture the essence of what you are applying for
  6. Prepare a Concept Note to 
  • Highlight the main ideas in a nutshell
  • Convey a specific message or idea
  • Educate and influence a donor
Note: A Concept Paper is often considered as a better tool than a detailed project proposal for marketing. 

Types of Proposals: Broadly speaking there are three types of proposals:

Importance of Graphics

Proposals can include graphics as additional information or included in the format. Often a donor has very little time to look at a proposal, hence a good presentation not only make document easy to understand but also gives an impression of quality. 

The three important factors that proposal writing needs to bring quality are Graphics, Images & Colour. Graphics in the form of tables & flow charts helps to make statistical data more understandable and catch attention. They are also useful whenever there is page limitation and the data is tremendous to share. Use of simple graphs and flowcharts can simplify complex data. The example below illustrates the comparison and rate of increase in publications.
A proposal with a combination of text and strong visual design increases reading probability.
Today technology has potential that these graphics can easily be found or created.
If you follow most of the points/ingredients mentioned in the method, you are bound to have a winning proposal.

Interview with Ruth Levine

Interview with Ruth Levine
Director, Global Development and Population Program
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Q. Could you share with us what are the areas that Hewlett Foundation would like to fund?

At the Hewlett Foundation, there are five program areas in which grants are made and two time-bound initiatives. The five program areas are: performing arts (limited to the Bay Area around San Francisco in the United States), effective philanthropy, U.S. education, environment, and global development and population. I lead the Global Development and Population Program.

In the Global Development and Population Program, we support organisations that work on expanding women’s choices and amplifying citizen voices. The work to expand women’s choices focuses on a combination of increasing access to family planning and safe abortion around the world, and on women’s economic empowerment. The work to amplify citizen’s voices includes a large portfolio of work that ranges from increasing transparency of governments and aid donors regarding what they spend and the impact of their spending, to strengthening the capacity of a wide range of civil society organisations – including Think Tanks – to inform and hold governments accountable.

Q. As a funding agency, what kind of evidence or stories from an organisation/fundraiser help you feel convinced about their work and motivation?

When we are learning about the work of a potential grantee, we are particularly interested in their “theory of change,” which to us means how they envision that the work they do every day – that is, what we would be funding – contributes to a larger and important goal. We tend to ask many questions about the way organisations set priorities, how they work within a larger ecosystem or community of organisations that have aligned goals, and what capacities they have and would like to build. While a track record of success is important – and that can be expressed either in qualitative terms or quantitative terms – what’s more important to us is that organisations have an ability to think strategically with respect to their larger mission and modify their work as needs change and opportunities appear. We are not usually interested in working with organisations that have a defined method or set of products or services that do not change even when circumstances do. 

Q. In your opinion, what is the best way to quantify policy impact?

I know from my own experience that it is hard to quantify policy impact. I think one way, although it is methodologically challenging, is to think through the potential benefits in terms of an outcome like household income if the policies that are recommended are taken up by government. That at least provides the upper bound on the potential impact, and helps one think through the potential causal chain. For example, if a Think Tank works on an analysis that shows poor targeting of a social protection programme, one can do a back-of-the-envelope estimate of the benefits to households if targeting were improved.

I think a lot of the impact that Think Tanks have is difficult to quantify, but I also believe it is useful for Think Tanks to identify a small number of big policy wins they have had – instances when they really believe they have made a difference through ideas, analysis and/or advice. They can take a careful look at what happened, what the facilitating circumstances were, and what real-world difference it may have made. I would say that if year after year there are no “wins” and/or the wins are very marginal and unlikely to make a difference, it would be a good idea for the Think Tank management to critically assess how it does its work. 

Q. Are there any strategy/plans that you (Hewlett Foundation) ensure that the pool of grantees is expanded as opposed to giving funds to the same organisation?

The Hewlett Foundation tends to be quite a reliable partner, and we often have long-term relationships with grantees. We find that this is more beneficial and less costly in staff time to both ourselves and the grantee than the alternative of having lots of new grantees every year. In any given year, something like 70-80 percent of our grants is renewals. We do, however, look at each renewal with fresh eyes, and assess the benefits of continuing the relationship with the option of investing in a new organisation or a new project.

Q. As a donor agency do you foresee any changes in the funding pattern observed amongThink Tanks?

I hope and expect that Think Tanks will find ways to diversify their funding base, and we’ve seen Think Tanks taking steps to attract local philanthropic and corporate support. We’ve also seen Think Tanks in developing countries taking advantage of funding opportunities that used to be restricted to organisations in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Those trends are positive, although taking money from any new source requires the Think Tank management to be careful about maintaining both the reality and perception of independence in their work. 

I think the major financing challenge for Think Tanks is not the amount of funding but whether the funding they do get is sufficiently flexible and long-term to assure independence and to permit investments in institutional capacities. I am hopeful that Think Tanks will be able to mobilise broad-based institutional support and therefore become less dependent on project support. This is one of the ambitions of the Think Tank Initiative, and we are working with partners to learn how most effectively to provide resources to promote institutional development and the pursuit of an independent agenda for policy research and engagement.

Interview with Dr. Khalida Ghaus

Interview with Dr. Khalida Ghaus
Managing Director
Social Policy and Development Centre, Karachi, Pakistan

Interview with Rohini Nilekani

Interview with Rohini Nilekani
Founder, Chairperson


Book Review by Dr Sujatha Byravan, Advisor, CSTEP

Revealing Indian Philanthropy, Edited by M Cantegreil, D Chanana and R Kattumuri; published by Alliance Publishing Trust, London 2013

Reviewed by
Dr. Sujatha Byravan
Advisor, CSTEP

This edited volume aims to trace philanthropic activity from recent Indian history through modern times. All the articles have been written by managers of trusts or foundations and industrialists of families that donate to philanthropic activities. The book is divided into four parts that cover the history and tradition of philanthropy in India, the role for business in philanthropy, modernity and tradition, and the road ahead for philanthropic giving in India. 

According to Non-Profit Institutions in India 2012, a handbook that offers an extended study of the sector from the Government of India’s Central Statistics office, the strength of the non-profit sector in India is over INR 330,000 crore and that donations and grants account for INR 232,083 crore. This fact alone should highlight the importance and growing size of philanthropy in India. 

One learns lots of titbits and stories about philanthropy in India from this book. For example, the Tata Endowment was set up as early as 1892; Birla’s money supported MK Gandhi’s effort towards the freedom movement; people of all incomes have been giving to temples, waqfs, and gurudwaras for ages; and more than two-thirds of foundations in India are new to the world of giving. Many donors are concerned about how effectively and efficiently civil society groups use their funds, whether they are accountable, and are also disappointed with how government departments use their funds and implement programmes. 

Since the 1990s, after liberalisation and with greater wealth flowing into industry, many corporations have set up trusts that donate funds for various causes, often carrying the name of the corporate head. New government rules on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) now require that companies with a net worth more than INR 500 crore spend at least 2 percent of the average net profit towards CSR activities. This rule has provoked a much needed national conversation on what entails corporate responsibility and has also induced industries to set up CSR wings that function separately from the business establishments. CSR activities are generally in areas of education, hunger or poverty alleviation and preservation of cultural heritage. 

Many philanthropic activities are distinct from the corporation’s sector of work, such as WIPRO’s Azim Premji Foundation that focuses on educational and related activities, and often an effort is made to integrate corporate management practices into philanthropic activities. A few foundations are trying to convert the beneficiaries of their social activities into customers by using a social-business approach. 

Some foundations have been seeking government funds to implement programmes, functioning more like operating foundations as can be seen in the case of Naandi which partners with various state governments, corporate houses, and development organizations for large scale delivery of public services. This has promoted new partnerships between government and private agencies for social change. How well such partnerships will work over time and whether conflicts of interest will arise with foundation activities promoting government programmes or promoting business profits still remains to be seen. 

As members of the Indian diaspora get wealthier, they too have been contributing to social change activities within the country. There are increasingly clear channels for such funds to flow through new ventures or groups that promote innovative approaches in education, finance, or even infrastructure.

Like many edited volumes, the articles in Indian Philanthropy are uneven in the quality of content and writing style. Many of them pay tribute to their own families for promoting philanthropic activities while a few of them, especially those written by fund managers, offer a little bit of analytical information on what areas draw philanthropic funding and why.

The burgeoning crop of next-generation philanthropists raises interesting possibilities for social change in India, especially in the context of new government rules on corporate giving. The new philanthropists are also more heterogeneous in their interests and do not have a family tradition of giving that they are compelled to adhere to, thus opening up new possibilities for philanthropy. Some of them are choosing intermediaries that provide advice or are outsourcing their giving.

While the rich will give to activities and causes they are most interested in, the sector does require further guidance and clearer strategies to identify what to fund and how best to be most effective.  A broad and detailed study that examines the main challenges of the country or the South Asian region, the numbers of people affected by them, government funding going towards specific programmes that address these problems and the potential opportunities to promote change is sorely lacking.  Such analyses could provide much needed social data on what exactly is required, exactly where, and also identify the best levers to promote change. This knowledge would sharpen or focus existing philanthropy and also expand it to a range of broader issues that need attention. These may include promotion of movements for change such as those that encourage scientific thinking to change harmful social practices, greater representation from marginal groups, sustainable agriculture among the youth and so on.