February 24, 2024

Neera Nundy first experienced the reality of rural India when her mother set up a school for Adivasi children in West Bengal. Her experience led to her empathising with the lives of others and she eventually made the shift from having a job in investment banking to co-founding a philanthropy fund with her husband Deval.
Nundy began Dasra India in 1999 and aimed to enable social entrepreneurs and funders with support so they can achieve big goals in areas such as gender, urban resilience and sanitation through system change and collaborative philanthropy. By investing in early-stage non-profit organisations, Nundy ensures that non-profit organisations (NPO) can continue to provide help to those who need it.
In 2016, the MBA holder from Harvard Business School created the initiative Dasra Adolescents Collaborative which worked toward adolescent empowerment. Nundy also initiated and lead the launch of the Dasra Social Impact Leadership Program, an executive education program for social sector leaders in India.
As the co-founder of the philanthropy, Nundy works toward funding non-profits to scale their impact on the lives they serve.
SheThePeople spoke to Neera Nundy about her experiences running a philanthropy fund, her journey as a female entrepreneur, and the importance of adopting a gender lens to grant making.
“Growing up in Toronto, Canada, I envisioned myself as a professional in a business suit, working in New York. And I was indeed living my dream,” Neera Nundy said.
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She and her husband Deval were both working at Morgan Stanley at that time and often spoke about the merit of applying investment banking practices to the social sector to help non-profits strengthen their management capabilities and scale impact.
“We created a PowerPoint presentation about the cause and went around our office asking for funds, managing to collect $500,” informed Nundy. They found the courage to approach Richard B Fisher, the former Morgan Stanley chairman and received a check for 1.15 crore rupees and a commitment for 37.5 lakh rupees annually for five years. With the help of the initial support, they relocated to Mumbai to start Dasra.

Gender Lens And Philanthropy

As a female entrepreneur herself, Nundy has had a unique perspective she brought into running a philanthropic fund. She has seen a lot of challenges women face primarily driven by mindset and rigid societal biases in India. “Women bring their unique perspectives, skill-sets and understanding to decision making and even with several cases made globally for the value of having equal representation, we continue to trail,” feels Nundy.
To make a change, there needs to be a continued focus on educating, empowering and building agency amongst girls and women. There also needs to be a radical shift in the mindset of men, to ensure India truly moves forward towards an inclusive society that thrives on dignity and equity for all.
Nundy is proud of how Dasra adopted a GEDI (Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) lens when it comes to philanthropy to ensure that no section of society was neglected in its philanthropic efforts. She said that it is “critical” that organisations, especially grant-making organisations adopt a gender lens to ensure that gender-sensitive issues are tackled.
Nundy added that GEDI forms the core of Dasra’s strategic philanthropy practice and it is “implemented across thinking, programming and collaboration”. The organisation adopted a gender lens to guide funders toward causes and challenges that are specific to women and girls.
But why is it so important to implement a GEDI lens when it comes to grant-making? According to Nundy, in Indian societies women and girls are placed at a greater disadvantage and without interventions that are specific to their needs, they will continue to face a disproportionate burden.
Nundy says, “When we started on the GEDI journey, we realised that before advocating for it and recommending it as a lens to our funders to adopt, we must ensure we have the cultural context right and are practising it ourselves. We conducted a series of interviews with leading foundations in India to craft strategies that all grantmakers can adopt to make their own organisations and those of their grantees, more gender aware.” Thus, the Dasra Girl Alliance was launched in 2013 to direct awareness, funding and resources to the field of adolescents in India.
There is a reason that achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Nundy said that recognising female role models is critical, it exemplifies what agency building, education and a nurturing ecosystem can do to a girl child’s potential. It can make her and her ambition big enough to support the family and community. That’s why it is imperative to have a GEDI lens embedded across all aspects of work.
Dasra aims to empower women through their philanthropy by creating opportunities. She said, “One of the ways we endeavoured was through The BackThefrontline campaign. This COVID relief initiative provided funding to several women-led NGOs to ensure their work continues, and to prevent an absolute collapse of the communities they serve.”
Dasra also launched a “Women on Boards” program in collaboration with the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM) and Governance Counts, to provide opportunities for women professionals to become a part of the transformation by taking up board roles in Social Impact Organisations (SIOs).
As Nundy said, “There are several interventions that address health, education, and sanitation separately but what remains obscure is the intersectionality of it all.”
She added that while they were searching for solutions to improve the lives of adolescent girls, they realise that they couldn’t rule out men and boys. “Their education and mindset shift is equally critical in building inclusive and better communities. And therefore, it remains core to our interventions,” said Nundy.
Suggested Reading: Philanthropy Caught In The Crosshairs Of Society’s Obsession With Celebrity
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