As most of us were returning to work after a well-deserved winter holiday, a small group of SVP partners and staff crossed time zones to India to take part in the first national convening of affiliates around a single goal: one million livelihoods by 2020. The traveling cohort joined SVP India Partners and staff from chapters in Pune, Mumbai, Dehli, Bangalore and Hyderabad and nonprofit, government and corporate sector leaders for a think-tank summit, The Million Jobs Conclave.
In addition to the summit, the cohort spent the week visiting SVP India Investees and getting to know the partners who bring the work to life. It was a trip that not only reinforced the humility, vision and gumption necessary to make change in our communities, but also the powerful outcomes we have when we bring together individuals committed to doing the work. Partners like Ravi Venkatesan and Ganesh Natarajan who effortlessly empower those around them. Below, SVP Portland Senior VP of Impact Lauren Johnson shares what she learned.
I had the privilege of spending several days with a brilliant and wise SVP Lead Partner, Narendra Goidani (“Naren”) during my week in India. Naren is the founder and CEO of Life School, a world-class Indian leadership development and training institute for adults and young people, from which he brings tremendous experience and expertise. Between visits to multiple investees we had extensive conversation about our practice of venture philanthropy and the importance and opportunity of the lead partner role. I gleaned a plethora of lessons relevant to our deep capacity building partnerships. Here are just a few:
Invest in those closest to the issue you are trying to solve.
Time and time again Naren has seen that organizations cannot achieve scale without “grassroots reach,” or the trust factor in a community. Therefore, SVP India seeks to partner with organizations that have strong relationships and demonstrable trust within the community they aim to serve. SVP then invests in proven or emerging leadership to enable the organizations to do what they do best, at scale.
One of Naren’s greatest gifts to SVP Pune Investee Jagruti, a vocational training and healthcare center, was pushing the scale of their thinking. Instead of growing from 25 in year one to 35 in year two, he encouraged them to envision what would be possible if they could eventually train thousands and then work backwards. Leadership was initially nervous, but with SVP’s assistance with planning and resources, over the course of two years they grew from 25 to 150 to 400. While the goal is to train 600 this year, he is confident they are now positioned for even higher aspirations. Consistently, I heard examples of SVP India pushing its own thinking for what it could accomplish on a national scale (e.g. creating one million livelihoods in five years), what investees could accomplish in partnership with SVP (i.e. re-envisioning what is possible), and how many resources SVP could leverage. In fact, at SVP India they have established a ‘10x’ goal. They help investees strategize around, “What if we could have 10 times the impact we are having today?” When partners invest, they commit to recruiting 10 of their professional friends to contribute to the cause. And after the investees deliver a proof of concept and develop a plan for scale with SVP’s assistance, partners leverage their investment by recruiting ten sources of funding to actualize the scaling vision. Partners do not consider themselves successful until they reach the 10x multiplier.
Authentic relationships are essential for progress.
Naren believed that as a person of privilege from the corporate sector, he needed to focus the first year of the partnership of building trust. As such, he showed up at the investee often simply to observe and deeply listen in order to understand their perspective. The second year of the partnership he focused on building the organization’s confidence to aspire for impact at scale. The bold visioning work was possible because of the trust built, and together these established a foundation for transformative leadership development, building systems, evaluating financials and developing revenue models. In the year to come, his focus will be building true ownership by the investee, thinking about legacy, and sustainability of the program at scale.
We are “all in.”
Across investees, I witnessed deeply committed SVP Partners demonstrating sincere ownership around the success of both the partnership and the investee’s goals. This “all in” approach was truly catalytic for developing a meaningful partnership and accomplishing the goals set. SVP India has taken this so far as to only accept individuals into the SVP partnership who are truly passionate and serious about committing to significant human, social and financial capital to achieving the goal. The idea isn’t simply to attract people for whom SVP’s mission resonates.
Don’t just count what’s measureable, or you may miss what really matters.
SVP and investees were initially narrowly focused on counting “jobs created.” They later realized that while this number is important, it’s insufficient and misses the mark on what really matters. A person can be effectively trained in a technical skill, but without the life skills of self-confidence, self-advocacy, persistence, resourcefulness and creativity, the skill may not translate into actually being “employable,” generating income to sustainably move one’s family out of poverty. The key question has shifted from “How much can a person earn today?” to “What kind of a difference can a person make to his or her family and community?”
Naren cited an Indian proverb: “Inside every seed there is a forest.” His paradigm for every individual, every investee is: How do we help it grow? Across SVP affiliates I observed this same strong belief in the worth and potential of every human, regardless of caste, gender, education or level of poverty. This humility, respect and optimism about the ability of all humans and organizations to identify and work towards their aspirations – given the opportunity – was tangible and inspiring, and translated to truly transformative impact for individuals and organizations in which SVP has invested.
Considering this wisdom, I challenge SVP to reflect on the following questions:
- What is your SVP’s “grassroots reach”? Are we invested in leaders and programs closest to the issue we aim to ameliorate?
- What if we set an explicit goal of achieving 10-times the impact we are having today?
- Early on in our partnerships, how could we intentionally work to build greater trust, such that we could achieve more, faster over the long run?
- Does each SVP Partner feel truly committed to achieving SVP’s goal? If we each invested 5% more, could that drive exponential impact?
- Is your mindset limiting your impact, or is it maximizing your potential as a key partner in our work?
Lauren Johnson is SVP Portland’s senior vice president of impact. She first joined the Portland team in 2012 to help launch the Ready for Kindergarten Collaborative, facilitating collaboration between cross-sector partners. In her current role she provides strategic guidance and operational leadership for SVP’s capacity building investments.
Learn more about Lauren here.