Letz Dream Foundation
The organisation is leading social transformation by facilitating accessibility of funds to promising non-profits and enhancing livelihoods of underprivileged
It all began in 2006 when Vikrant Bhargava, an overseas citizen of India, decided he was going to play his part towards improving the lives of the underprivileged in his country of origin. At that time, over 55 per cent of the Indian population (nearly 640 million) was living in poverty. It was this passion of his that gave birth to Letz Dream Foundation (LDF).
In the beginning, LDF provided support to promising grassroots non-profits. It wanted its partners to grow alongside and therefore helped build their capacities, supported them in networking and increased their impact. More importantly, LDF worked closely with them to understand and learn from their outcomes and its own grant-making decisions.
After the initial five to six years, LDF focussed its efforts on enhancing the livelihoods of the rural poor. As a pilot, a gram panchayat (GP) in Alwar, Rajasthan was adopted, where its partner NGO, SPECTRA, worked intensively with nearly 1,250 households. Women Self Help Groups were created. Financial linkages were developed, improving their access to funds as well as livelihood practices and in the process increasing their income and standard of living. The SHG witnessed a 160 per cent increase in income in just two years and continues to be LDF's project area along with expansion into another five nearby GPs. The outcome caught the attention of the Rajasthan government. This was seen as an opportunity to scale the Alwar programme in partnership with the state government. An arrangement was entered into with Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), the state rural livelihood mission, in 2016 to improve governance at 42 Cluster Level Federations (CLFs) and enhance the livelihoods of nearly 1,60,000 households in 10 districts. This set off a public-private partnership that was both unique and innovative at that time.
This was also the beginning of LDF's livelihood programme. The idea was to partner directly with the state rural livelihood missions. The impact model involved the government as well as the community. It revolved around setting up and strengthening community institutions, improving governance and unlocking public funds thereby increasing access to funds to the last mile. Capacity building and handholding support around the productive use of these funds through sustained farm interventions was an intrinsic part of this approach. All this led to enhancing livelihood development.
The RGAVP-LDF programme witnessed tremendous success. There was 55 per cent increase in income over two years across the 1,60,000 households and more than Rs 61 crore of public funds were unlocked. Additionally, for the first time, intervention clusters were made the primary implementing agency for MGNREGA which resulted in 40 per cent higher fund disbursement than other clusters.
When repayment rates touched 95 per cent, World Bank withdrew 50 per cent of fund support as a sign of financial sustainability. Now all the intervention CLFs were generating sufficient revenues from repayments, to cover 50 per cent of its operating cost. Moreover, in exit mode, RGAVP, recognising the success of the model, replicated it by hiring professionals as cluster-level managers across all its clusters and districts. It also set off an example for Haryana to emulate.
In a similar partnership with Haryana State Rural Livelihood Mission (HSRLM) since 2019, the initial groundwork was on setting up and strengthening 31 CLFs in six districts, impacting nearly 90,000 households. This resulted in a massive 207 per cent growth in the CLF corpus in just two years, with SHG access to government funds increasing from 31 per cent to over 80 per cent. Agriculture witnessed 52 per cent incremental income in the first year itself whereas diversification into vegetable cultivation saw an exponential increase of 95 per cent over the baseline.
The learnings in working with this model helped LDF realise the far greater impact that could be achieved by data-driven governance through the leverage of public funds and efficient public service delivery. It also underlined the importance of programmes being scalable, replicable and sustainable when undertaken in partnership with the government. And this crystallised the organisation's partnership model in which all its grantee partners work in a public-private partnership, in close conjunction with the government, towards policy advocacy and addressing policy gaps.
LDF handpicks its partner organisations relying on five basic questions — What is the number of people that will benefit and by how much? Is this the most effective thing that we can do? Is this area neglected? What would have happened otherwise? What are the chances of success, and how good would the success be?
To date, LDF has funded more than 100 NGOs. LDF co-creates strategy along with its strategic programme partners, with a strong focus on improved governance. Swaniti Initiative has been one of the core partners over the last five years. In its SPARC (Supporting Parliamentarians in Analysis and Research in the Constituency) programme, it worked both with communities and directly with members of Parliament to deliver on development solutions. Their intervention in BOCW (Building and Construction Workers Act) and PMEGP and maternity benefit programme resulted in Rs 150 crore of government benefits being accessible to the most marginalised. Currently, Swaniti is working in Andhra Pradesh along with the rural development, agriculture and skill departments to overcome gaps in policy implementation, provide policy recommendations and ensure appropriate budgetary allocations for some key schemes in livelihood like watershed management, MGNREGA, Unnati and RythuBharosa.
RightWalk Foundation (RWF), a partner of LDF signed an MoU with the Uttar Pradesh government. They are working towards the effective implementation of the Chief Minister Apprenticeship Promotional Scheme (CMAPS) and the National Apprenticeship Promotional Scheme (NAPS). Set to impact nearly 50,000 youth, RWF is working towards policy recommendations in scheme gaps, along with improving awareness among students and institutes and increasing industry enrolment. The long-term objective is an assured livelihood — employment either through absorption in the same company or through finding a new job post completion of the apprenticeship, with a targeted 50 per cent conversion rate for the programme.
LDF strongly believes that without government support or effective policy implementation, social transformation is not easy. With strategic and meaningful partnerships, LDF has generated evidence of systematic changes that have resulted in bridging the gap between law and implementation.
Letz Dream Foundation presents an excellent example of Nexus of Good. They have managed to demonstrate that good work can be scaled through a public-private partnership. They have gone a step further by supporting civil society organisations in their effort to bring about a positive change.
Views expressed are personal