Maybe focus on depth v/s scale?

17.5 lakh cr philanthropy money spent in the social space in 2021.
12% annual growth expected for the next 5 years.
20 lakh social enterprises in India.

But average surplus per month (income less expenses) in rural India still stands at around 1K which also withers because of their debt cycle.

These are some numbers I pulled from the zillion reports out there on the world wide web. I think the writing is out there… amply … so I am not going to dwell much on the macro data.

Let me just focus closer home and talk micro and I am quite sure that the story’s very similar in other parts of the country.

There’s crores being spent by the Govt and private philanthropy over the years. There are organisations in the region who have been working with communities for 30+ years but the communities are still struggling in terms of livelihood. There are impact goals and subsequent celebrations for a mere 4K / month income generation. There are also daunting impact numbers of “10000 lives impacted”, “working with 150 villages” and so on.

I must add that this post isn’t to criticise but to question the status-quo and the methods. I concur that there has been some tremendous visioning behind these efforts which I respect and I believe we need efforts in multiple layers for the needle to move. But, maybe there’s a fundamental shift needed in the coming years to do more with less, to expedite the change journey?

I have observed that we have often measured impact by quantity or volume which means the focus has mostly been “how many lives”. Maybe we need to change that focus to qualitative which means “how well have we impacted these lives”?

Instead of working towards impacting 10000 lives with a <4K / month (inconsistent) income generation, maybe we should work towards impacting just 100 lives with a 40K / month (guaranteed) income? This will catalyse the real change in underserved communities - children will get better education, health & nutrition will improve, debt situation will change, there will be more focus on the future v/s just present survival.

If each of the social enterprises in the livelihoods space had this charter and we simultaneously worked towards increasing this pool of social enterprises to cover the length and breadth of rural india, wouldn’t the economic equity increase?

Something to ponder upon? Are there already answers? Else, thoughts?


The whole focus on measuring individual benefits x N ‘beneficiaries’ is a hangover from the savior complex era of charity and philanthropy. As we move to effective problem solving, scale or not in itself is not a question, but long term and wider impacts should be. This is especially true for something as involved as climate - the “satisfaction” that might come off “doing our bit” is insufficient esp in cases where there’s a possibility of a smarter way to push for a deeper, even systemic change. 10k vs 40k etc can be metrics, but, the other outcomes in terms of biodiversity, footprints, resilience of livelihoods, etc might be worth watching out for. Of course, given the climate and ecology focus of the foundation and this forum, a lot of the thinking comes from that space, and we tend not to think in terms of numbers of beneficiaries or the specific benefits to one set per se, but on the larger impact that can create and ecosystem and enablement of better outcomes along multiple dimensions, in a long term sustainable way that makes the extraneous input and help redundant to the extent possible.


I think numbers are certainly needed but like you said, as metrics. But I guess what’s more important is the thinking behind arriving at these metrics as they are key to achieving the larger outcomes, like the ones you have listed.

I also think that many take this quantitative approach to ‘comply’ with the ‘norms’ … they maybe actually thinking qualitative but are forced to take the quantitative approach because of the industry ‘norms’… or to be accepted.

Maybe speaking more about this should help with more people becoming more comfortable with this different view. And, I am not referring to the ‘doing my bit’ section … I think we are getting past that. Even in an inside out situation it will be a pity if the metrics get arrived at going by the conventional norm.

The issues are many with social philanthropy, and Sameer makes a great point on the savior complex.

There are many LoL moments in this. Let me recount a few:
I saw a few strange 10 x 10 x 4 feet structures in a village. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what it was. Then a villager told me that it was for keeping goats/sheep during the day when they were not out grazing. I asked why would you keep goats/sheep out in the blazing sun and what she did earlier? She said we used to use a bit of rope and tie them up earlier but now we have been given this by a trust. What does she do with the goats/sheep in the night. She has a safe room to keep them from the clutches of predators as does everyone else. Speechless.

There was a splendid program to distribute the best goats to farmers free of cost. So they procured it at considerable expense and transported it cross border. Once it arrived, it was end of the day, so the drivers went home. The next day, the famished goats were due for distribution but there was a curious problem. Most of the goats were dead or nearly so. Jugaad came into play. Insurance was claimed quickly and change of environment was quoted. Nobody to blame and everyone is happy.

I came upon a dairy collection center complete with state of the art equipment - a digital lactometer, cream separator, bulk milk cooler, generator!!, and the works. All of them were collecting the dust of disuse. When I asked why, the farmer collective had taken these in the phase 1 of the scheme but they had no way to transport the milk itself to this strategic location Hope phase 2 will be a chilled vehicle. Perhaps Phase 3 will be a driver for the vehicle itself.

I met a distinguished gentleman who happens to be part of the faculty in one of the premier management institutions of the country. He was puzzled on why the farmer needs a marketplace to sell goats/sheep because they are sold only on one day of the year - Bakrid. I kid you not. I had a tough time trying to explain to the gentleman that it happens every day. He wants to emancipate the farming community by teaching them management principles from the institution, well funded by government funds, no doubt.

Contrast this with a farmer collective I met. They had solved the problem of cooking gas. One of them set up a biogas chamber in his small dairy. He is supplying cooking gas in used vehicle tubes. The person comes to him with an empty tube, fills it and carries it back. Free of cost currently and he is wondering how to monetize it in the future. He is confident of selling the stuff but he says and I quote “humhe nahin chahiye 1200ka cylinder” Imagine what we can do with this guy.

Why does this happen? This is an extremely relevant question. Most of these projects are well funded but run with an extremely snobbish and elitist view. So these efforts are misguided at the very least. There will never be an SME better than farmers. This has to be written in block letters and hung up in front of every village so that we can save villagers from well meaning people who have never been in a village. Go to village, drink the questionable water, sleep on the floor, work in the fields, graze the livestock and we just might learn a thing or two.