Thoughts from the President of Vibha – Ron Victor

Why was Vibha created?

Vibha is very unique in that it was created to fill the desire of those who felt they could create change but were not able to for a plethora of reasons (location, lack of confidence, extremely daunting work, no support community etc.) Thus, while Vibha substantially impacts the lives of underprivileged children in India and the US, it does so by “educating”, “empowering” and “enabling” any individual that wants to make a difference in the underprivileged child. So, you have people in North America that want to do something about the plight of underprivileged children in India and you also have grass-roots entrepreneurs in small villages in India who believe they have a solution to a particular problem related to the underprivileged child – Vibha is the platform that brings these two desires together. Thus, the premise behind Vibha is “If you want to make a difference – come and join us – we’ll show you how! No problem of any size is unsolvable. It’s very doable, come and join the Vibha movement and we’ll make it happen together!”

Our current objective. What are we seeking to accomplish and what do we need to get there? 

Vibha vision is to ensure every underprivileged child attains his or her right to health, education and opportunity. Given such a broad vision, what do we do. We are nothing but a social venture capitalist. The difference being, our exit is not an IPO, but our exist is when we have found a sustainable, scalable, and replicable solution to a systemic problem that impacts the life of an underprivileged child. How do we do this? We seed, mentor, grow and scale solutions that can radically and completely FIX  a particular problem across India. This is best explained by an example. We have a couple of such examples. Take for instance Sikshana – it’s a fabulous solution which ensures that every municipal school in India provides what it is supposed to provide – a fabulous eduction to its students. Just because it is a municipal school does not by any means mean that results have to be sub-standard to private schools. We are now taking this solution national across India various states. It started of with 40 schools, then 90 and now will soon be implemented in 600 schools. Unicef now wants to work with Sikshana to take the solution even further. So what did we fix – we have found a sustainable, scalable and replicable solution to the systemic problem of underperforming municipal schools. Vibha seeded the social entrepreneur, worked close with him, brought-in required expertise from the outside whether management, financial – ensured the solution is sustainable and scalable and now we’re providing that solution to any organization that wants to implement it anywhere – take the formula and run. Another such example is DSS or “Door-Step School” which we will talk more on later. That provides a sustainable, scalable and replicable solution to the problem of educating the children of migrant laborers.

Leverage points that will make Vibha successful

Vibha have 4 pedestals – its Volunteers – its Donors – Its Social Entrepreneurs and its other NGO partners.

Volunteers – Vibha is a completely volunteer driven organization. The absolute core of this organization is the volunteers. Without the volunteers – there is no Vibha. These volunteers do everything from fund-raising, project selection, project monitoring, project visits, marketing, grant-writing and more. Also Volunteers beget Volunteers – thus Vibha in itself is un-sustainable if we don’t constantly keep recruiting new volunteers with new ideas.

Donors – Vibha’s donors enable Vibha to invest in the social entrepreneur to bring about sustainable, scalable and replicable change. The donor in Vibha is one who is investing capital that will be spend in a responsible manner on the social entrepreneur towards finding solutions for systemic problems.

The Social Entrepreneur – The grass-roots social entrepreneur is the change agent located on the ground. He or She is the person who believes that he or she can actually solve a problem. They may not have all the know-how, the funds or the tools – but they do believe that they can solve a problem. That’s the first step – if one doesn’t believe a problem is solvable, it will never get solved. The grass-roots social entrepreneur is the change agent that Vibha enables through tools, capital, know-how, experts, management practices, financial education and more. This pedestal ensures a cure to a systemic problem is found.

The last pedestal – partner NGOs – this is where the scaling up of a solution found comes about. Vibha is not in the business of finding a solution and keeping it to itself. Vibha is in the business of finding a solution to various problems related to the underprivileged child and then sharing this solution with whom-so-ever wants to implement it. A systemic problem can only be solved in a sustainable manner if all stake-holders in the problem play their part. A big part of that is community at large. Vibha alone cannot mobilize the entire community across India. This is where we enable multiple other NGOs to take solutions that Vibha social entrepreneurs have found and implement and scale them across the country.

What makes Vibha effective?

In the case of Vibha “effective” means different things to different stake holders in the Vibha eco-system. Since Vibha is completely volunteer driven – are we using our volunteers’ time effectively is absolutely key. How do we measure that – we try and measure it volunteer satisfaction. By providing a volunteer a platform that he/she can be part of and thus becoming part of the solution v/s part of the problem in itself is effective. Now if volunteers spend a large amount of time on a small fund-raiser – is that effective? In some cases it very much is because it sparks off the attitude that says “Look – we can solve this!” In some instances it isn’t where that time could have been spent more effectively on something else.

Effectiveness of Vibha when it comes to the project and the grass roots social entrepreneur is something else. Here – it’s about the best use of limited capital and resources. Should Vibha fund one solution or the other? Which one is more scalable, which is more replicable, how long will Vibha need to be involved before the solution is self sustainable. These factors determine the effectiveness of our donor provided capital. Our projects team looks at all of this extremely carefully on a regular basis to ensure the most effective use of our capital.

Effectiveness of Vibha when it comes to the solution found – is purely based on how far and wide can the solution be implemented through partner organizations. While impacting one single neighborhood is very important, we measure the effectiveness of the solutions Vibha enables finding, by measuring how far has the solution scaled or can be scaled. We want to ensure that existing infrastructure in the form of partner organizations can be used as effectively as possible to disseminate a solution.

What are the metrics of success for Vibha?     

We track success in multiple ways as described above:

  1. Is the volunteer base growing or shrinking?
  2. Are there more Vibha action centers getting started or not?
  3. Are we using volunteer time effectively?
  4. Are we generating funds in tune with our disbursal rate?
  5. Are we seeding enough projects to find the appropriate solutions?
  6. Are the projects we have funded delivering to their fullest capacity?
  7. Are the solutions we have found scaling to the levels we’d like them to?
  8. Are we using govt provided and other local resources effectively?
  9. Are we networking enough with partner NGOs towards scalability?
  10. How fund-raiser-centric are we? Are we ensuring that we are not solely depended on fund-raiser events to survive and continue what we keep doing?

These are the kind of factors we use to track the organization’s success.

Some aspects of Vibha that are not common knowledge or sometimes are commonly misinterpreted.

Vibha is not a hand-out. Vibha as I mentioned earlier is a social venture capitalist looking to implement sustainable, scalable and replicable change. All donations into Vibha are an investment that can be used to bring about that change. We are a platform that bridges a gap between those that want to do and those that have the resources to enable those that “want to do” to actually “do”. This can be in the form of “time, talent or treasure” Some have time to give, some have talent to give and some have dollars to give. We have a way to use all of the above in a creative manner to bring about sustainable, scalable and replicable change. Thus the most subtle point here is noted in our mission “To educate, empower and enable “anyone” that “wishes to” make a difference in the life of the underprivileged child”. This mission stems from the philosophy that it takes a community to cause change and we need to get more and more and more people involved in bringing about long-term sustainable, scalable and replicable change.

Vibha’s major accomplishments?

  1. A volunteer base of 800 volunteers currently with I would say close to 4 to 5 times that number that at some point have been Vibha volunteers
  2. Since its inception in 1991 Vibha has impacted over 150,000 under-privileged children in India and the US, by enabling, empowering and encouraging more than 190 social  entrepreneurs and projects in India and the US through over $8Million in direct funding
  3. The Vibha movement has now begun in 4 cities in India too. We are a team of over 800+ volunteers globally with action centers in 15 cities across the US and 4 cities in India.
  1. UNICEF adopts the Sikshana model for a pilot program in 40 Upper primary schools in the Partur Block, Jalna District, Maharashtra to improve the academic standards in the government higher primary schools. Sikshana is a  unique effort started by the Sikshana Foundation (aka Sivasri Charitable Trust) to improve learning levels in the government primary schools through better access and delivery of education. Sikshana aims to improve the quality of education in Government primary schools at a typical cost of Rs. 500/- per annum per child. The improvement is measured in quantified scales in each school under standard test conditions. Sikshana acts primarily as a facilitator and not as provider of solutions. Vibha has played a critical role in making this happen .
  2. SIKSHANA grows to cover over 600 schools and 75,000 kids, becoming one of the top intervention programs in the public school system in India! Vibha has been working with Sikshana since 2006 and enabled them to grow from 15 schools to their current size today.  As of 2011 Vibha supports 185 schools under the Sikshana project.
  3. HEARDS successfully ERADICATES CHILD LABOR from a slum in Andhra Pradesh! HEARDS – a project located in Andhra Pradesh has been funded by Vibha since 2005 . The main focus of the project is to eradicate child labor, rescue children, provide them with bridge-education and mainstream them to government schools. The project operated at two locations. Earlier this year, one of those two locations was shut down. This was possible because with persistent effort over the last several years, HEARDS has managed to SUCCESSFULLY ERADICATED CHILD LABOR from one of those two locations!
  4. Yahoo Employee Foundation re-invests in Vibha’s efforts by extending a grant of $30k for the academic year 2011-2012; validating Vibha’s model of lasting, scalable, replicable change
  5. Vibha voted to Top 200 charities in Chase Community Giving Drive. http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/223122761-help-them-grow-inc-vibha
  1. PRAGATI 2011 – (The second Vibha grass-root social entrepreneur conference held in Pune earlier this year) enabled 25 social entrepreneurs from all parts of the country to use Vibha as a platform to, share, learn and begin to implement Vibha’s scalable education programs across India.

Historical challenges or vulnerabilities that Vibha has faced?

Volunteers, Volunteers, Volunteers! The challenge of a volunteer-driven organization is always the same one and only one – How do we constantly recruit, train, sustain, and grow the volunteer base. That’s the most challenging part within Vibha. There are plenty of people globally that want to make a difference. How do we ensure they actually participate through Vibha and make that desire a reality. Everything stems from that one entity – the volunteer!

Another challenge is slow organic growth. For example – we know we have a couple of solutions ready to scale, however our fund-raising does not scale in a similar manner. Thus growing the fundraising base more so that we have the dollars to scale directly and through partnerships.

Another challenge is “grants” – We have fabulous success stories that can be scaled as I mentioned earlier. There are plenty of large grants out there available for such solutions. However, we have not been effective enough in that arena.

What would Vibha do with additional resources? 

Scale DSS (Door step school) – a project that bring the school to the construction site and directly impacts the live of the child of a migrant laborer. This solution is ready to scale nationally. We just lack enough resources to take it far and wide.

Seed more projects towards other solutions. We cannot seed a project unless we have at least 3-years worth of funds for it. Normally it takes up to 5 years to identify whether our investment is going to result in a sustainable, scalable and replicable solution. We today fund nearly 25 projects. We could do a lot more. For every 4 to 5 or even 6 projects we fund – we may find one sustainable, scalable and replicable solution that completely fixes a particular problem.

Hire one full-time person in India to take care of partnerships with foundations and other NGOs in India towards scaling Sikshana, DSS and HEARDS; as well as play the National Volunteer Coordinator role to capitalize on the energy we have developed within the volunteer base in India.

What are some gaps that Vibha could fill that we do not currently?

Implementing a strategy for taking Vibha global. We have requests from Australia, UK, Canada, the Middle East and more of people wanting to start Vibha action centers. We just haven’t had the bandwidth to look at all the legal implications on the same. As I said earlier, there are plenty of people that want to make a difference. We just need to ensure we channel that energy towards making the difference they desire.

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