Riti Mohapatra is a partner at Bridgespan and joined the organisation in 2021. She has deep experience in the strategy and implementation of long-term government initiatives across India and South Asia. Previously, she worked at McKinsey & Company, where she led the strategy development of marquee government projects like the school transformation program in primary schools of Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Here, she talks about the social issues she’s most passionate about, Bridgespan’s multi-year community-driven change work, and more.
How did your journey in the social sector begin?
When I was a teenager, I realised there were two kinds of people in the world: the ones who took the existing world forward, and the ones who ensured that nobody got left behind. I've always seen myself as more of the second than the first, even as a kid, when I had all these great ideas about how I wanted to change the world. At McKinsey, I spent a number of years working in the social and public sector. In 2010, we worked on a municipal school education program intended to cover 1,400 government schools in Mumbai, to help improve learning outcomes for students. I've seen schools on top of restaurants with leaking roofs, with barely any infrastructure but with teachers. The big question was that if there’s access, how do you improve quality? And our program brought together—quite ahead of its time—multiple NGO partners to work in different parts. It was a collaborative of sorts.
Within the social sector, which issues are you most passionate about?
Two issues, both with an equity lens. The first is gender and, serendipitously, the work that has come my way at Bridgespan has had the common thread of gender. Such that we not only incorporate it as an afterthought but throughout the programme cycle—from the design to the solution to having the right voices involved. That’s something I hope to learn from and influence more.
The second thing is working on behalf of other marginalised communities to ensure that the sort of conversation started on gender also starts on the other axes of inequity. One of the key findings from our work on social mobility for Dalit and Adivasi people was the need for moving closer to the communities—not thinking of programmes that will, with a broad brush, solve the issues faced by communities in one go, but instead see them in their different local contexts and build the solutions ground-up.
Tell us more about Bridgespan’s multi-year commitment to community-driven change.
We're in year one of the work, and one of the key questions we are asking is where community-driven change is applicable. What's the impact, and what is the approach? Research has shown that programmes at scale reach 70 to 80 percent of the intended constituents. Several nonprofits told us that reaching the remaining 20 percent is always difficult because of structural barriers like marginalisation.
Taking a community-driven lens is an important consideration for nonprofits as well as funders. How do you ensure that everyone who is an intended user or intended constituent gets access to what you're bringing for them? A community-driven approach can enable lasting intergenerational impact because you're working to build leadership, and cohesion, and supporting the community to increase their power and assets that will serve them not just in the near term, but also set them up for future success—success that is on their own terms and not defined by any external entity.
What do you enjoy the most about working with Bridgespan?
The depth and diversity of content, and the people—and learning from both of those things. I enjoy speaking to proximate leaders and experts in the field. It’s an inspiration to hear of the journeys they have taken to be able to help others.
Bridgespan India now has a team of more than 50 people. What do you see in the organisation’s future?
I hope to see two things—one, shaping the ecosystem in areas where we have expertise, insights, and the conviction that we believe the sector should head this way. We're already doing that with some of our multi-year initiatives like Pay-What-It Takes India, trying to influence best practices. The second is being an organisation that attracts great people, develops great people, and sends great people out into the world.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
My priority is spending time with family, especially my six-year-old daughter. I’ve read research that says you have time with your kids only until they are nine or 10 years old; after that, they become their own people. So I want to maximise that time. I also love art. In fact, this was my fifth year of participating in Inktober, an annual art challenge where you sketch or create art based on a prompt every day for the month of October.