Unlike my earlier posts, this is as much an internal memo and a note to self as it is a blog post. The reason I decided to share this was to make this a conversation with my network and enrich it with your thoughts and feedback.
I remember reading a Guy Kawasaki article which said (something to the effect of), “while your vision and mission statements can inspire the world, how you make money has to be as straightforward as possible”. It is unambiguous and does not require 10 slides. As someone who has worked with the social impact ecosystem, I have seen that this is especially important for organisations working on social impact (including Sattva), because it is very easy to mix the world changing, inspiring vision that drives us everyday with the value proposition that the market is willing to pay for.
So, what is our value proposition that market is willing to pay for?
We help funders improve the social return on their investment.
In other words, funders including philanthropic organisations, corporations and investors are investing to further social impact. However, there is a gap between the intended impact they would like to achieve to the actual impact on the ground. Sattva helps address this gap by improving the impact for every rupee invested by the funders. These funders, in our experience, are broadly of three categories:
1.Funders, who are looking to create innovative solutions to large-scale problems, pilot them on the ground and demonstrate potential to scale.
2.Funders, investing in innovative organisations that have the potential to create scalable solutions to large-scale problems.
3.Funders, investing in replicating proven solutions in their circle of concern (such as their local communities), and in the process strengthening the execution capacity of the organisation.
How are we able to do it?
We do that by focusing on three specific aspects – all of which fundamentally define the people we hire, and the culture we build at Sattva.
Strong implementation focus
During a recent panel discussion I moderated, NK Chaudhary, the Chairman of Jaipur Rugs, spoke about his efforts to build a world-class value chain in Jaipur Rugs that can rival international enterprises. When asked about what are the challenges in building this, he spoke about how there is always a gap between the professionals (such as the Supply chain experts) who bring the frameworks and the expertise and the artisans who work on the ground. While they bring their relative strengths, the chasm between the two is the hardest to bridge.
And my personal experience has been that this chasm is true (if not truer) for the overall social impact ecosystem. And so at Sattva, we consciously try and be the organisation that is able to play a hands-on role on the ground and bring those insights back to the strategy table. In every interview I take, I clarify to those applying to us that it is quite unlikely that anyone from Sattva is ever going to transition to a pure play strategy consulting firm after this. But they will surely be an effective COO for any social organisation that wants to manage complex operations on the ground.
Cross-sector & Cross-stakeholder Approach
The solutions to the complex problems that funders are keen on solving today are inherently cross-sector and cross-stakeholder and require multiple entities to work together across focus areas. Hence there is a need for an orchestrator, who has the ability and the mind-set to bring these stakeholders together and ensure that the overall solution works well. One of Sattva’s core tenets since the inception of the company has been to take a cross-sector, cross-stakeholder approach towards social impact and design an organisation to be able to co-create solutions together with varied stakeholders.
The singular challenge that we face in effecting such solutions on the ground is the lack of trust among the stakeholders. Hence one of the most important qualities that we seek in people we hire is empathy – The ability to not only engage but collaborate as a partner with varied stakeholders within the ecosystem – across corporations to social organisations – and keep a clear focus on impact, which brings me to the next point
Strong focus on outcomes
Today, funders increasingly bring greater understanding of the nuances of sector and are able to spot the blind spot. Sattva’s ability to take that insight several notches deeper, to engage on the ground and action those insights to outcomes is today our strongest differentiator.
As an insider-outsider on the ground, Sattva is able to not only able to align stakeholders on the key measurable outcomes but also bring the relevant process rigour and outcome focus during the execution. And within the organisation, it is an ongoing effort to instil that focus in every employee to keep the outcome in mind at all times. As we continue to grow, this will become the one of the most important aspects we institutionalise as part of our culture.
Timing is everything
Back in 2009, when we started Sattva, these were the beliefs that defined our approach because we fundamentally believed in it. While these have held us in good stead over the years, I am also acutely aware that, unbeknownst to us, we got the timing right.
The Social impact ecosystem is going through a radical shift. Multi-lateral and bi-lateral funders such as DFID and USAID are redefining their approach towards India, Corporations are starting to play a stronger role in social impact projects, market-led solutions for social impact are emerging and social organisations are increasingly focusing on sustainability. The solutions and models that are being implemented today have not been tried before. This requires social organisations to hire different talent, have different perspectives in steering their organisations.
Sattva’s experience of working with different stakeholders, our strong market and outcome focus and our ability to work effectively in the intersection of business and impact are more relevant today than anytime before. And hence it is critical for us, to always keep this value proposition (and the “whys”) in mind and ensure it is reaffirmed in everything we do at Sattva.