September 2014 saw three mental health professionals from Manas Foundation en route to a residential workshop in Manesar for four days with no idea what we were in for. “Financial Resilience” — the undeniable need for any organization to be able to stay afloat to do its work not just passionately but with strategy, efficiency and longevity — the idea drew us in. The introductory session by Ellen and Dale was … strangely comforting. We realized that fundraising, budgeting and struggling with what we’ve now learned to fondly refer to as “the back wheel of the bicycle” were challenges and not problems. These were things which could be approached with clarity and focus, and would help propel our work further forward, and help us do more with our skill sets and hands-on orientation.
Over the next few days, we learned how to speak about our work intelligently and holistically, and develop an unforgettable case – interweaving stories of what we do that would appeal to the head, heart and gut of the listener, learning how to make a potential donor want to contribute to our cause. We learned how to make smart budgets, financial dashboards, and opened up to an understanding of the world of non-profit organizational finance. All that we learned from the Spring team was lined with applicability and aliveness, with wonderfully elaborate role plays on scenarios that we have all faced in the non-profit sector. Each organization's work was so motivating and it was great to be facilitated so wonderfully on learning best practices from other civil society organizations in the room.
Since our experience with Spring's FIRE program, now five years ago, we're proud to say we've grown. We've learned how to ask for what we need from donors, and to shape our interventions more efficiently when pitching for funds as well as when executing. We've understood the difference that regular and quality follow-up can make in strengthening grantor-grantee relationships and we've strengthened our organizational capacities on many of the learnings we had from the program.
The initial awkwardness we felt when talking about money for doing socially relevant work has been replaced by an innate comfort dignity, which has made us feel a greater pride in what we do. Perhaps this has been the deepest learning: understanding, intrinsically, the importance of both integral aspects of running an organization — the passionate direction of the work we do (the front wheel of the metaphorical bicycle), and the stability and longevity needed by the back wheel (financial resilience) — both of which are integral to springing forward as an organization.
In very concrete terms, the insight from Spring's FIRE program led us to explore a type of funding that had previously seemed unapproachable by us as an organization working in the area of mental health and gender justice. We're proud to say that we've been able to expand our donor profile to include CSR funding for our gender sensitization training with Delhi's public transport drivers.
Manas Foundation works with the Transport Department of the government of Delhi which provides access to public transport drivers, and a CSR partner who provides funding. In this one-of-a-kind program, Manas engages auto-rickshaw, bus and taxi drivers in promoting behavioural activation that results in pro-gender behaviour and prevention of sexual harassment, making Delhi a safer city for women commuters and creating safe spaces.
The triangulation of government priorities, CSR funding and NGO implementation is now activated in over 30 cities, reaching more than 750,000 rickshaw, taxi and bus drivers since Manas started in 2014. And the private sector has started taking notice too: when Uber realized the impact of the program in 2018, they contacted Manas Foundation and said: "our drivers want to be trained by you." Uber now makes gender sensitization training a requirement for drivers in almost 40 cities across India and as of 2020, Manas has trained over 50,000 Uber drivers.