New Bridgespan Study of Indian NGOs Reveals Systemic Gap Between Leadership Development Aspirations and Action

09/06/2017 | 2 min |


The Bridgespan Group surveyed close to 250 NGO leaders in India, and found that 97 percent recognize leadership development as vital, but many struggle with recruiting, developing, and transitioning leaders, and more than 50 percent do not believe that anyone internally could replace their senior-most leader 
Mumbai6 September 2017—The Bridgespan Group, with support from the Omidyar Network, has undertaken what is believed to be the first data-driven study of NGO leadership development in India. In this report, titled, “Building the Bench at Indian NGOs: Investing to Fill the Leadership Development Gap,” they identified a significant, systemic gap between the sector’s leadership development aspirations and the reality of efforts and investments by both NGOs and funders.
According to Pritha Venkatachalam, a partner at Bridgespan and one of the report’s authors, “The implications are hard-hitting, as the absence of a ‘leadership bench’ threatens these organizations’ sustainability and long-term scalability.” Bridgespan’s survey included approximately 250 leaders from Indian NGOs and the Indian offices of international NGOs—supplemented with more than 50 interviews of NGO funders and intermediaries and secondary research.  
A full 97 percent of NGOs surveyed said that leadership development is vital to their organization’s success, but more than half believe they are not capable of recruiting, developing, and transitioning leaders, nor have they received funding to do so. “The result is a trend of under-equipped NGO leadership, with high dependence on a single leader—often the founder—and no second line,” said Pritha.
After raising concerns about this underinvestment, the Bridgespan study also charts a path to address them. Said Danielle Berfond, Bridgespan case team leader and the report’s co-author, “We have seen some NGOs and funders taking the initiative to close the leadership development gap, and we believe these practices can be replicated across the sector to bolster leadership teams.”
The path forward outlined by Bridgespan emphasizes NGOs developing leaders from within and funders providing them with the money, motivation, and required supports.
For NGOs, Bridgespan proposes institutionalizing a set of “Four Practices”: building out a supportive culture and organization; mapping leadership development needs; providing development opportunities that emphasize on-the-job learning; and setting goals and monitoring progress.
“But NGOs cannot do this alone,” said Ingrid Srinath, director of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy (CSIP) at Ashoka University. “Funders must play a critical role in supporting NGOs and building the ecosystem for greater focus on leadership development.” The study presents six specific recommendations for funders.
“None of this will be easy or immediate,” said Pritha, “But Indian NGOs are entering an era when ‘doing good’ is no longer good enough. In order to increase impact, NGOs and funders need to invest today in practices that can nurture the strong leaders of tomorrow.”
About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a global nonprofit organization that collaborates with mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to break cycles of poverty and dramatically improve the quality of life for those in need. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights. We have offices in Boston, Mumbai, New York and San Francisco.
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