Tata Trusts is going digital to drive collaboration, measure the progress and impact of its social uplift programmes, and to ensure accountability
At Tata Trusts, people are checking their Facebook feed more often these days. Why, you may even find some of them playing games on their smartphones. That’s perfectly acceptable work behaviour — because the philanthropic agency has taken the digital highway, and Facebook and gaming are among several new tools adopted by the Trusts to drive its journey of organisational transformation.
The strategy for going digital is linked to the Trusts’ mission — to touch 100 million lives by 2021. A 125-year old philanthropic organisation, the Trusts can trace its heritage back to 1892 when the first one, the JN Tata Endowment, was launched. Today, it operates in a wide range of intervention areas — from healthcare and education to conservation of India’s art and culture, and in alleviating rural and urban poverty — and with a pan-India footprint.
The larger mission to positively impact 100 million lives meant that the Trusts had to re-imagine the nitty-gritty of how it operates, and re-engineer itself to think bigger. “The mission implies scale, which means doing programmes that impact multiple communities, and being able to quickly learn and replicate these successes,” say K Raman, head of strategy at Tata Trusts.
For decades, the Trusts operated as a grant-giving organisation, working through NGO and civil society partners on the field. Since 2014, it has redefined the way it engages with the community, and works to catalyse sustainable and positive change. Technology is a key enabler for this. Lakshman Sivasubramanian, the head of strategic initiatives at the Trusts, puts it simply: “The technology transformation has become more important today since we are no longer just a granter organisation; we are implementers in many cases.”
Technology is critical because of the complexity of the Trusts’ engagement with communities and partners. The Trusts has over 1,000 people and it works with 450 implementation partners to drive over 900 projects across India. “The type of scale and sustainability that we are talking about can only be brought about by improving collaboration, and ensuring accountability and transparency within the organisation, and with our partners and the community. The adoption of technology is the only way to drive this complex interaction,” explains Dr Devsen Kruthiventi, who joined Tata Trusts as chief technology officer over a year ago.
This required a platform that would promote sharing of information, learning and best practices quickly and seamlessly. That’s where Facebook came into the picture. It was a solution suggested by Trusts employees and it made sense for strategic reasons — Workplace by Facebook was mobile-friendly, easy-to-use, visually strong, and an enabler of instant conversations.
The new customised platform, branded as Tata Trusts Connect and launched in December 2017, has seen complete buy-in from its employees and partners. “People put up posts about their activities that are noticed and read. They seek information, offer advice, and connect with each other. Earlier, information had to flow through a fixed set of channels. Today, it is open to all. Collaboration has become totally horizontal and seamless,” says Mr Raman. To illustrate, he takes out his smartphone to check an early morning post on an Odisha project by Tata Trusts where portable digital microscopes are helping eradicate malaria. Case workers use the microscopes and an app on their phone to conduct instant blood tests. The learnings and responses to the Odisha project on Tata Trusts Connect could help boost malaria eradication efforts in other states of India, Mr Raman explains.
Another strategic reason behind the adoption of technology platforms is to ensure greater accountability in the work done with the community. A new performance management system called i-360 has been rolled out recently, which captures commitments made to the community as KRAs (key result areas) for Trusts employees. “This system helps in measuring impact, progress and achieving our objectives,” says Dr Devsen.
Technology also enables timely and more effective measurement of progress and impact. At the Trusts, grassroots field work across the nation comes alive through data analytics and dashboards. An example of this is the Data Driven Governance programme, which throws up granular details of the needs of its beneficiaries, down to the gram panchayat level. “The dashboard highlighted the fact that even in a district that was declared open-defecation free, there was a need for 14,000 more toilets. Data helps us measure and focus our efforts,” says Dr Devsen.
The Trusts is also looking to digitise the financial aspects of its operations. Last year, it disbursed over 10 billion in funds towards community development and social welfare activities across India. This year, the Trusts’ financial management system is moving to an Oracle platform. “We are in the process of establishing a scalable, flexible and secure solution to improve all our financial processes. This solution is capable of supporting high transaction volumes, multiple ledgers, currencies, entities and accounting standards,” says Rukshana Savaksha, the chief financial officer at Tata Trusts.
The new financial solution is expected to bring bigger benefits to the Trusts’ operations. “It will build transparency and seamlessness in the way we engage with our implementation partners and our donors,” says Dr Devsen. The Trusts is also digitising its grant management system to enable smoother tracking and monitoring of funds disbursed to individuals and institutions. “The new financial tools allow us to track projects, their progress and impact, and how they were implemented,” Dr Devsen adds. The new platform is also future ready — for example, if the Trusts decides to start crowdsourcing for funds, the software can handle that as well.
The ‘100-million-lives’ mission calls for employees of the Trusts to be aligned and engaged, and technology has come into play here as well. “We wanted to understand how our employees perform with respect to certain core competencies — how good are they with collaboration, alignment with values, entrepreneurial skills, etc.” says Barani Sridhar, project manager and member of the digital team.
Tata Trusts, in association with large organisations like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Google, has implemented several technology-rich initiatives in the field:
The employee profile at the Trusts shows about 60% of its staff as millennials or younger, who are certainly comfortable with technology. Hence, along with the conventional survey to assess employee competencies, the team also deployed a game-based assessment solution. The gaming app was piloted with around 50 Trusts employees in December 2017. It captures traits such as decision-making, stress management and leadership skills, and generates a report showing an employee’s strength and improvement in each of the identified competencies. “The results have been outstanding. We received responses from the survey and the app, and these show us what the gap areas are at a micro-level. These inputs have gone into the design of our learning management system, which will help us build the required competencies,” says Sheetal Pawar, the head of HR at the Trusts. The gaming app has been rolled out amongst employees and will soon cover all the 1,000-odd partners as well.
The app and the Trusts’ learning management system named LEAD (Learn, Explore, Aspire and Develop) are part of a new integrated employee management platform that includes HR Workline, i-360 and Tata Trusts Connect. “We wanted a comprehensive system that takes care of all employee needs — travel management, leave management, learning needs identification and performance management,” says Roma Bhujabal, lead of the digital cross-functional team.
The new suite of technology tools will eventually plug into an overarching platform called the Tata Trusts Resource Management Platform (TTRMP). “All of these systems are designed to improve productivity. They form the basic building blocks of the larger resource management platform that we intend putting in place within the next six months,” explains Mr Raman.
The vision for the TTRMP is that it will be an open source architecture that will bring the programme partners, Tata Trusts, donors and the community on to a single integrated platform capable of managing relationships and grant flows, capturing programme progress, obtaining media tracks and measurement of impact. Vinod Kamat, who recently joined the Trusts as head of technologies, says the platform design will be open and flexible to enable crowdsourcing of ideas and funds, and even volunteer participation in the second phase. “It will form the backbone of all that we do and measure at the Trusts. It will reinforce our position of being at the innovating, cutting edge of philanthropy,” says Anand Datla, head of assessment and impact measurement at Tata Trusts.
To support this technology transformation journey, the Trusts has been organising training activities for employees and for associate officers from its partner implementation agencies. Most of the training is being conducted by in-house volunteers — who act as ‘technology evangelists’ and host ‘train the trainer’ programmes for employees as well as participants from partner agencies.
This technology transformation exercise is all about creating ‘digital experiences with a human connect’ within the Tata Trusts ecosystem. Among the new ideas being tested is the use of virtual reality (VR) and 3D video technology to create unique and immersive digital experiences around the Trusts’ activities. “We want more people to engage with us. So, if we can create a ‘Day@TataTrusts’ kind of VR experience, it will build empathy and help our stakeholders understand what we do more clearly,” says Mr Kamat.
The technology journey could also help Tata Trusts in other aspects of its work, such as monitoring its work with communities at a hyper-local level. Mr Kamat shares an example of this from one of the Trusts’ ongoing programmes: “We have 110,000 women engaged as Internet Saathis to drive digital literacy among rural women. We track their engagement on a daily basis and are able to understand very quickly if there are issues at the field level. This helps us become more efficient in serving the community.”
Impact measurement of the Trusts’ programmes will get better through technology as well. “Measuring impact can be a complex process because there are degrees of impact. The new tools will help us define how we create impact of different degrees — for instance, it could be directly at an individual level, or indirectly through engagement with government bodies, which touch large populations,” says Mr Raman.
The scale of this technology transformation exercise is unprecedented. Not surprisingly, the belief at the Trusts is stronger than ever that this journey will help bridge the knowledge, transactional and geographical gaps between the organisation and its key stakeholders — employees, partners and the communities it serves.