Monday, 14 February 2011

The Importance of Strategy

Why do we do anything? Generally we've got an end result in mind. It's pretty unusual to do something just for the sake of it, right? Well, that's what I thought before I got here!

The organisation I work for have some really talented individuals. They're passionate about their raison d'etre and they know what they're doing once they get out there into the field. So why am I here? Well, let's just say that planning isn't exactly their speciality!

I was quite shocked at first, but after thinking about it, I can understand how they've gotten to this situation. The organisation is young – 10 years old. They've built themselves up fairly quickly to be running a number of projects at the same time, spread across the state of Jharkhand. As with most organisations, in their early days they will not have been picky about projects – in fact it has probably been a bit of “take whatever you can get”.

Now, some people are probably questioning that approach already. Well, in the UK I'd agree, it can be a dangerous tactic and lead to your organisation taking a direction you don't want. However, in India I can completely understand it. These people left relatively high-paid jobs to start an NGO, they had families and the organisation was created by a group of friends – none of them could afford it to fail. If funding was available, that equated to dinner on the table – not something to be turned down.

Today, it's a different story. The organisation is generally well-funded, certainly compared to its peers. Which leads me (in a rambling way) to my point. Strategy. They don't have one. They're still grabbing at any potential funding they hear about, with little regard to whether it really fits with what they want.

Case in point. An industrial company is running a project locally. They want to do their CSR bit and put out an EOI for bids on a project to promote literacy in the area. Now they want to cut the budget by 80% and the aim is now to enable people to sign their name, not be able to read/write. My opinion – this is a worthless exercise, it's a waste of our time and won't achieve anything sustainable or useful. It's now a small amount of funding and doesn't fit into any sort of long-term strategy for Srijan. In fact, it would probably harm our “brand” to be associated with this project. I'm recommending against the project.

This thought never occurred to them. They were looking at how they could cut costs to meet the new budget. 100% coverage was dropping to 40%. The “educators” were being replaced with cheaper alternatives. Teaching people how to read was being replaced with giving them cards with their name on to learn to copy. My organisation were compromising their principles simply to get some funding that they probably didn't even need.

This is the danger of not having a strategy. You lose track of what you're aiming to do. When you're putting together a proposal you need to ask yourself “does this fit to my strategy?” - if the answer isn't a resounding “Yes!” then this project probably isn't the right thing for your organisation.

No comments: