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February 21st, 2017
Finance • Justice

Dasra Foundation Catalysing Social Change in India

The Dasra Foundation was set up in 1999 in India to facilitate and guide social investment to help disadvantaged Indians out of poverty and to improve the nation's infrastructure. It focused on four main areas of concern: adolescent girls – who suffered from gender discrimination – sanitation, governance and other strategic aims.

The initiative

The Dasra Foundation was created by Deval Sanghavi and Neera Nundy to focus strategic philanthropic efforts in India on its most pressing challenges. “Established in 1999, Dasra has been working towards building a ‘thriving ecosystem' that enables knowledge creation, capacity building, strategic funding and collaboration to touch and transform the lives of 800 million Indians by focusing on four priority areas - adolescent girls, sanitation, governance and strategic giving.”[4]

Dasra drives collaborative action to accelerate social change. Its goals are to:

  • “Lead a strategic philanthropy movement with powerful partnerships
  • "Deepen impact in focused fields through scalable solutions
  • "Foster a trust-based network of stakeholders to grow social capital
  • "Nurture uncompromising competence in a team inspired by social change.”[5]

For the four priority areas set out above, Dasra has the following approaches:

  • “Adolescent girls - The Dasra Girl Alliance, launched in 2013 in partnership with USAID, Kiawah Trust and the Piramal Foundation aims to build a thriving ecosystem that empowers adolescent girls and improves health outcomes for mothers and children. By 2018, it aims to direct USD 38.5 million (INR 250 crore) to improve the lives of over five million girls, mothers and children.” [6]
  • “Governance in India - launched in 2014, the Governance Collaborative seeks to drive USD 7.7 million (INR 50 crore) over the next five years of Indian funding to this sector to - a) create a platform that enhances engagement among diverse stakeholders, b) channel greater, more focused resources to strengthen and scale non-profit organisations working on governance, and c) mainstream the importance of shifting mindsets and investing in governance solutions.”[7]
  • “Sanitation - Investing in better sanitation promises multi-sectoral returns. Dasra therefore continues to develop and scale models that take a value-chain approach and bring greater alignment between key stakeholders in the sanitation ecosystem.”[8]
  • “Strategic Giving - While India has some of the most pressing global challenges, it is also one of the centres of the global evolution in giving. To unlock the massive potential, we need to provide insight and information to understand and support givers. And by involving them and innovating new solutions, more funds can be unlocked quicker for greater impact.”[9]

The challenge

There are 800 million Indians living in poverty, making up about 60% of the population. "India has 113 million adolescent girls – which is nearly 10% of its population. Despite these numbers, they are a largely invisible group. They are discriminated against twice over: by gender and by age – programmes are largely aimed either at children or at [older] women.”[1] They live within a nation with a poor infrastructure and other structural problems. “Even after nearly seven decades of independence, India continues to lag on all aspects of human development. We still battle economic cyclicality, weak infrastructure, a challenging business environment, poor education and health outcomes."[2] Sanitation is a particularly urgent problem. “Poor sanitation means dying children, uneducated girls, vulnerable women and unhealthy living conditions. Sanitation gaps cost India a staggering INR 2.4 trillion each year – that is 6.4% of its GDP.”[3]

The public impact

The Dasra Foundation "has reached 17 million people, equipped 730 social organisations with management expertise to scale their operations, and mobilised USD55.67 million into the social sector and engaged 6,148 funders since its inception."[10] The educational aspect of its work is central. “Dasra's alumni have gone on to make significant strides within the social sector by founding organisations such as Mirakle Couriers and Ankur Capital.”[11]

An example of its work on behalf of adolescent Indian girls is indicative of its public impact. "A report that got much attention this year was titled Power of Play - Sport for Development in India. It features social organisations that are using sport as a tool to improve learning and foster gender equality. Delhi-based NGO Naz Foundation was chosen for a programme that seeks to empower underprivileged girls in the 12 to 20 age group, using the team sport of netball. Dasra has supported Naz Foundation to draw up a three-year business plan that will allow the programme to expand its reach from 9,000 girls (over the last six years) to 30,000 over the next three years. Naz will also roll out a partner training model that allows them to scale up across the country."[12]

Stakeholder engagement

Dasra has various stakeholders, including funding organisations and the social enterprise organisations with which they collaborate as partners. "Dasra has partnerships with about 27 large funders, and has engaged 6,148 funders since its inception. It partners with various social organisations like Magic Bus, Teach for India, SOS Children's Villages India, by providing them with funds and management advice to scale the model."[13]

Three examples indicate Dasra's range of partnerships with its many stakeholders:

  • “Dasra launched the Dasra Knowledge Hub with the support of Tata Trusts. This online engagement platform that houses information on credible social organisations, social sector insights and Dasra's research reports is a critical tool for philanthropists to make informed giving decisions. The Knowledge Hub allows stakeholders to delve deeper into sector issues and learn about innovative organisations based on their area of interest...
  • “The Dasra Social Impact Accelerator Program (DSIAP) is designed for professionals working with Indian non-profits. DSIAP 2015-'16 was created to serve as a platform to support the work of non-profit organisations that work with girls and build a thriving ecosystem of stakeholders for this cause...
  • “Dasra has engaged with other key stakeholders on Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) to increase awareness about the sector. A notable undertaking on this front has been Dasra's engagement with the India Sanitation Coalition (ISC), a multi-stakeholder endeavour which spans non-profits, institutional donors, corporates and the media. Dasra is presently co-chairing a taskforce on partnerships and collaboration, and intends to leverage this to foster greater awareness and action in sanitation and allied areas.”[14]

The fact that it has persuaded organisations as influential as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to become partners speaks volumes for its successful engagement of stakeholders (see Feasibility below).

Political commitment

The Indian government does not give Dasra direct funding. However, there is positive cooperation in that Dasra has been actively engaging with government in the sanitation initiative, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and the ISC:

  • “In October 2014, the Indian government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan scheme to help address the problem of sanitation in the country. The government called for action from both, local governments and corporate CSR programmes to help build and manage separate toilets in schools. Dasra has Sanitation as one of its major priorities, and has written a white paper outlining the rationale for better school sanitation, highlighting government initiatives that foreground sanitation as a national priority and drawing a roadmap for private sector investment in the sanitation sector.”[15]
  • “Spearheaded by Ms Naina Lal Kidwai, the ISC was established in 2015 with a vision ‘to enable and to support an ecosystem for sustainable sanitation'. Dasra is one of the partner in this coalition and is involved in a) Advocacy , Branding and Communication, b) Identification and Dissemination of Best Practices, and c) Engagement with Central and State Governments.”[16]

Public confidence

The Dasra Foundation's work does not have widespread public awareness, but the direct impact of its initiatives on the public suggests that the organisation has been able to reach a large part of the country's population, while it has created a favourable impression on its partners, for example:

  • "DSP Blackrock believes that it is crucial to invest in adolescent girls, given how valuable a resource they are and how little they have been served traditionally. In Dasra we found the perfect partner to raise awareness about this issue as well provide the right avenues for investing in it." Aditi Kothari; Executive VP, DSP BlackRock Investment Managers."[17]
  • “Dasra has been a strategic partner of SNEHA since 2011. They have helped with budgeting, staff training, bringing new donors on board and providing SNEHA with numerous platforms to talk about our work. Dasra takes the trouble to understand ground realities, and provide valuable inputs and support to help the organisation find solutions.” Vanessa D'Souza; CEO, SNEHA[18]
  • “The Dasra Giving Circle is a lot like what we do in the private equity world - you don't just give money to an organisation, you also support it to meet its goals. Concentrated and long-term giving to one organisation should create greater impact than cutting a cheque to various non-profits.” Fiona and Luis Miranda, Dasra Giving Circle members[19]

Clarity of objectives

Dasra has clearly stated what its four focus areas are, and for each it has defined clear measurable objectives. These focus areas address relevant social issues: the wellbeing of adolescent girls, good governance, sanitation and strategic aid. “Each of Dasra's initiatives is united by its guiding values of trust, dynamism, excellence, integrity and going beyond the rational reflecting organisation's commitment towards the mission.”[20]

One of its earliest initiatives was therefore to support Indian girls: “the Dasra Girl Alliance, launched in 2013 in partnership with USAID, Kiawah Trust and the Piramal Foundation, aims to build a thriving ecosystem that empowers adolescent girls and improves health outcomes for mothers and children. By 2018, it aims to direct USD38.5 million (INR250 crore) to improve the lives of over five million girls, mothers and children.”[21]

It has maintained its focus on governance. “Launched in 2014, the Governance Collaborative seeks to drive USD 7.7 million (INR 50 crore) over the next five years of Indian funding to this sector to:

  • "Create a platform that enhances engagement among diverse stakeholders
  • "Channel greater, more focused resources to strengthen and scale non-profit organisations working on governance
  • "Mainstream the importance of shifting mindsets and investing in governance solutions.”[22]

It has also maintained its commitment to improving sanitation (see Political commitment above) and strategic aid in general.

Strength of evidence

No evidence was found on Dasra's models in setting up the foundation.


After experiencing financial problems in its early stages, when funding began to fall away and Dasra had to cut staff, the Foundation has succeeded in partnering with important stakeholders:

  • In 2013, "Deval [Sanghavi] got USAID to join the alliance. This was the first time the US government agency had funded a private initiative."
  • "In March 2014, the [Dasra Girl Alliance] project got another boost when the Piramal Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Piramal group, committed funds to it. Having built up scale, they will now direct a funding of INR150 crore to empower adolescent girls, mothers and children. The target is to change the lives of one million girls by 2018."[23]


Dasra has a team of professionals from very varied backgrounds. “It has a team of over 80 passionate and committed change-makers who help create impact in the social sector. The team members come from a range of backgrounds including social work, consulting, media, technology, and investment banking; Dasra harnesses their diverse skills to provide customised services for all its partners.”[24]

The Foundation is led by Deval Sanghavi, who worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley, and Neera Nundy, who  studied at Harvard Business School. “The team includes graduates of Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School, Yale University, and many more Indian and international universities. Team members have worked with organisations such as Deloitte, Edelgive Foundation, JP Morgan, KPMG, McKinsey & Company and Teach for India.”[25]

It has a very collaborative approach to management. “Dasra's approach towards providing aid includes researching issues, building organisations by providing strategic support to scale them and giving aid strategically through the Dasra Giving Circle, which is a lot like the private equity investments, where the investors don't just give money to organisations, but also support it to meet its goals.”[26]


There are no specific metrics defined to monitor the impact of the organisation. However, Dasra publishes an annual report where it publishes its impact, financials and its initiatives for each financial year. The Dasra Social Impact Accelerator Programme (DSIAP) emphasises the importance of monitoring and evaluation in social investment. “The DSIAP is designed for professionals working with Indian non-profits. The programme was designed to help organisations scale their impact by improving institutional capabilities and emphasising monitoring and evaluation and increasing collaboration in the sector.”[27]


Dasra's various stakeholders are aligned with the organisation’s goals, and have cooperated effectively to achieve them. The stakeholders collaborated in providing funds as well as management and operational advice to social organisations for scaling their business models. They are well aligned with major philanthropists such as Tata Trusts and the Piramal Foundation, national bodies such as USAID and the Indian government, and groups such as the ISC. Their extensive network includes its former partners and staff. “Dasra’s alumni have gone on to make significant strides within the social sector by founding organizations such as Mirakle Couriers and Ankur Capital.”[28] They have also taken a prominent role in setting up social initiatives such as the Dasra Girls Alliance, working with other organisations to achieve its long-term goals.


Why Dasra? Dasra


Dasra Annual Report 2015-2016: An Enlightened Way of Life, 2016, Dasra


Dasra has changed the face of giving in India, Cuckoo Paul, 31 December 2014, Forbes India


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