Dhun Davar, Global Head of Social Finance at UBS Optimus Foundation and India Head for UBS Optimus Foundation and Philanthropy Services talked to Rusen Kumar, India CSR. She shared how UBS Optimus Foundation India aims for India. She says, “We are committed to supporting the local communities in which we work. We aim to leverage philanthropic capital to catalyze public and private funding into SDG-aligned development outcomes.” Text of interview:
1. How is UBS mobilising the presence of Optimus Foundation in India?
UBS Optimus Foundation India aims to bring together philanthropists, corporates and civil society organizations to address quality education, health, economic growth, inequalities and environmental issues. We believe a collaborative approach will create an ecosystem that will benefit the most vulnerable groups. We intend to become recognized as an innovator, thought leader and collaborator of choice for impactful philanthropy and sustainable business practices.
All philanthropists want their giving to have maximum impact and we’ve learned that a focus on evidence, scale and innovative funding can do that.
How will Optimus Foundation use philanthropy as a catalytic effect in India?
In India, almost a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line with issues of health, environment, and education. Current philanthropy will only meet 3% of India’s needs to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. In addition, there’s a lack of alignment on ‘what success looks like when a philanthropic donation is made. Funding is often provided for short-term projects that don’t address systemic challenges with the time and rigor required to tackle them and bring about long-lasting change. There is a mismatch between geographic allocation and needs and a weak correlation between spending and results. We want to apply our global experience and local insights in transforming the approach to philanthropy.
Our three-pronged approach unlocks philanthropy’s catalytic effect. The Optimus Foundation in India helps philanthropists and like-minded corporates in building a philanthropic legacy. They can leverage the expertise of our global and local team to innovate and create models of ‘business for good’ and develop tailored programs. We offer our advisory services through philanthropy workshops, inputs on high impact models, exchange of best practices.
We layer this with our integrated philanthropic approach where we bring together skills and networks from businesses and employees that address the capacity challenges in the non-profit sector. This pooling of funds and skills enables longer-term commitment to complex problems.
How is Optimus Foundation planning to associate with the key NGO partners in India?
Over the years, Optimus Foundation has built a strong foundation in India and is already working with some of the most credible and reputed NGO partners in India.
We are keen to nurture our portfolio of grantees who have been long-standing partners of Optimus Foundation’s global network as well as locally sourced grassroots organizations. We are open to promising models that are worth piloting and incubating. We hope to learn together and support our partners in scaling up these innovations so we can bring about a long-lasting impact.
How will Optimus Foundation create opportunities and betterment for India through India Chapter?
We hope our efforts will bring about a sustainable improvement in India in sectors such as healthcare, education and environment and enable livelihoods for Indians at scale.
We also aim to create better lives for youth and children in partnership with other like-minded organizations and philanthropists where there is an impetus on evidence-based philanthropy and a culture of giving back. We aim to leverage technology to reduce the divide and improve access to information. Additionally, we hope to share the learnings and experiences of running impactful employee volunteering programs that not only provide a suitable avenue to employees to contribute their time and skills for social good but help in stretching the philanthropic contribution.
How has Optimus Foundation supported multiple sectors in India since 2002?
Sustainability and social impact have long been a part of our corporate culture. Since 2002, Optimus Foundation has provided INR 350 Crores (USD 47 million) for programs in India. This has grown steadily over the years, increasing significantly over the last five years. Our total funding in 2020 is over 6 times that in 2015.
The grants cut across multiple sectors but the majority are in education, with a growing focus on health and child protection. These programs have benefited 4.0m children and nearly 240,000 professionals have been trained in diverse sectors since 2015.
What activities have taken plan since the incorporation of Optimus Foundation in India?
Our first focus was to extend all the support in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with clients and employees, UBS has committed over USD 4.2 Million to counter the first and the second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic in India through the UBS Optimus Foundation. Our response plan focused on immediate relief, recovery and building long-term resilience in healthcare and education.
Some of the key programs supported by the Optimus Foundation in India are accelerating vaccinations for vulnerable people; building health worker capacity to improve vaccine uptake; improving social-emotional well-being and learning outcomes of children and young people in marginalized areas.
Optimus Foundation also brings alive the organization’s purpose of connecting people for a better world by offering multiple volunteering opportunities to UBS India employees where they contribute to a cause they connect strongly with. In 2021, our employees have already contributed 7000 hours with 90% volunteering in skill-based activities and 100% virtually. In consultation with our partners, many innovations have been added to amplify the power of remote volunteering.
We recently concluded UBS India CSR Day and APAC Regional Volunteering experience which offered a canvas of volunteering opportunities to UBS employees. All initiatives centered around the core theme of “empowerment” and were carefully curated based on the requirements of our NGO partners. Our employees helped in creating digital toolkits for teachers, addressed tech challenges faced by people with disabilities, provided career guidance to youth, and created a digital library of storybooks to reduce learning gaps for children in need. We are grateful to our NGO partners for giving us these opportunities where we can make a difference.
What are the 6 to 12 months plans of Optimus Foundation for India?
Over the next 6 to 12 months, Optimus Foundation will continue to build on the programs initiated in India and also identify other unique models and partnerships where financial support will broaden access to quality education and economic growth that help in reducing inequalities.
Through our philanthropy services advisory, we will collaborate with other philanthropists and foundations looking to contribute to a thematic area of common strategic interest.
What is the purpose behind expanding involvement in the social sector and social finance in India for the next 20 years?
We are committed to supporting the local communities in which we work. We aim to leverage philanthropic capital to catalyze public and private funding into SDG-aligned development outcomes.
While social finance may not be suitable for all social or environmental programs, the right interventions it can help multiply the impact of philanthropic giving. UBS Optimus Foundation is a pioneer in investing in successful models and is actively developing and piloting social finance instruments globally. The Quality Education Development Impact Bond initiated in India from 2018-2022 is the world’s largest impact contract in education to date. The initiative has already benefitted 100,000 children, with a program target of 200,000. The unprecedented scale of the challenge to meet the SDGs calls for a broader engagement of capital and collaboration within philanthropy and the investor community.
About the Author
Rusen Kumar is the founder and CEO of India CSR – The CSR Informer of India. He regularly writes on CSR, Sustainability and Environmental affairs. He brings an understanding of governance, leadership development, social development, human development, and strategic focus by serving boards. His leadership accomplishments in social enterprise, planning, and governance range from viable achievements in knowledge forum initiatives to advancement of corporate social responsibility issues in India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org