Out of the box experience: a look inside the unique business value of social development sector
Abhishek Sharma
March 12, 2018

“NGOs are in the business of trust” streamed the bold voice of Annabel Mehta, President, Apnalaya. This statement struck a chord with the diginatories from the social development sector, who all had gathered in the Wodehouse Gymkhana hall in Mumbai for ToolBox’s annual event ‘Out of the Box’. The event had brought together discussions around building capacity and strengthening of organisations and the role of society and funders. ColoredCow found a place among the social changemakers as ToolBox’s technology partners. And to be honest, we couldn’t stop nodding our heads at the reality of those words to define the position of NGOs in the society.


ColoredCow with the ToolBox team


The discussion progressed to add more weight to the value of trust. NGOs’ audience which is the social community they want to target, and the funders or donors need their accountability and trust to work in collaboration with them. To build trust, the NGOs need to demonstrate complete transparency. When it comes to how the funds are being allocated, they need to be transparent about where the money is going, with a requirement to keep all bills recorded and scanned. They must assure that the money is being spent on the programs. When it comes to showcasing the impact made at beneficiary’s end they need to capture, measure and analyse the impact data. Since the funders play a big role, they need to be shown the reports diligently and walked through the utilisation of the funds and the impact.


There were concerns about the nitty gritty of their work, in the event . For example, each bill scanned and recorded may feel like an overkill and losing position because of minor slips and errors can be disheartening for honest and diligent NGOs. While there’s an expectation of trust from the supporting organisations too, the NGOs can be empowered for what remains to be done on their part to maintain and create an infrastructure to build trust further. Working with ToolBox to create tech solutions opened up ways and realisations for us to do that. The NGOs’ capability can be enhanced through technology or other mediums in the areas stated earlier, to improve the hygiene of the work, to ensure good governance and to execute their mission more efficiently for greater outcomes.


Social development sector dignitaries

Discussion panel for the event


There are other factors influencing an NGO’s trust that the panel brought to attention, such as its sustainability and scalability. And there were different takes on the matter of scale, whether it should even be a considerable factor for trust in extending support to an NGO. Some organizations may not find themselves ready to scale as Amit Chandra and Archana Chandra illustrate in their article. Here they said that they were not ready when asked about their NGO, Jai Vakeel’s plan to scale. And this makes perfect sense; there may be challenges and requirements specific to NGOs that need resolution first. But the thing holding the organisations back shouldn’t necessarily be the resources, skills or digital infrastructure.


Being in the business of trust is an enormous social responsibility. NGOs and changemakers must create this business value in their own way by building greater capabilities.


ColoredCow being from the technology domain, being in that hall listening to and understanding the position and concerns of the NGOs, having worked with many esteemed organizations in the social sector, can make a case for alleviating many challenges through technology. And join the cohort of many evangelisers of digital technology(example) already in the sector. Though what the sector needs is the right approach, that is weighted and debated but also fast and ambitious. Like, solving the specific needs instead of adopting solutions that are misaligned. Or creating solutions that can benefit the sector at large.

All in all it’s a great event that closes with realising opportunities rather than despairing dead ends.