July 28, 2022

New Bridgespan Report Describes Pathways to Social Mobility for Members of the Dalit and Adivasi Communities

A number of funders and NGOs demonstrate ways to help communities co-create solutions to economic and social barriers.

MUMBAI—July 28, 2022. Despite constitutional guarantees, well-intentioned government policies, and dedicated efforts by funders and NGOs, social mobility remains out of reach for most of India’s 300 million members of the Dalit and Adivasi communities. But a number of funders and NGOs are showing how an equity-centred approach to programme design and implementation helps to overcome historic caste and tribal inequalities, concludes a new Bridgespan Group report, which was launched during at a webinar on July 28.

“We hope this information will spur more NGO leaders and funders to lean into community-driven change and adopt the mindsets and pathways the report surfaces as critical to doing this work well,” said Soumitra Pandey, a partner in Bridgespan’s Mumbai office and co-author of the report.

While Dalits are officially recognised as Scheduled Castes; Adivasis, India’s Indigenous population, are officially designated as Scheduled Tribes. Both groups have experienced material poverty throughout their lives due to entrenched inequities and systemic discrimination.

Bridgespan’s report describes how philanthropy can partner with NGOs in creating effective ladders of mobility for these communities. “The answer we heard repeatedly in interviews with more than nearly 40 Dalit and Adivasi leaders, funders, academics, and intermediaries: centre equity to maximise the conditions for social mobility;” says co-author Riti Mohapatra, partner at Bridgespan. “An equity-centred approach starts by taking the unique histories, aspirations, and needs of Dalit and Adivasi members into account when funding, designing, and implementing programmes. And it also means co-creating solutions with these communities.”

The authors showcase ways to centre equity that stand in contrast to the more traditional approaches that involve subject-matter experts pushing solutions down to communities. They say that an equity-centred approach acknowledges that the lived experiences and specific needs of the Dalit and Adivasi communities differ by state and within states and emphasise the importance of recognising the capacity of individuals and groups to identify their own solutions.

Co-author Rishabh Tomar, manager at Bridgespan explains, “Their collective ambition is not just for economic benefit, but also for dignity and agency—the ability to take action, be effective, and influence their own lives. Reaching these goals calls for changes in the societal mindsets and values that perpetuate these groups’ marginalisation.”

Among the practical steps they surface to guide funders:
  • Developing leaders and role models at the community level, and strengthening their identity and agency through collective action and celebration of their culture
  • Delivering contextual, quality education and vocational training initiatives relevant to the aspirations and context of different communities
  • Promoting equity in programme design by co-creating solutions and enabling community ownership
  • Supporting Dalit and Adivasi-led NGOs with access to funders, and building their organisational capacity
  • Supporting evidence building and filling social mobility research gaps, and changing mindsets of privileged communities through targeted interventions
Equity in other forms is a more familiar topic for many funders. Over the past two decades, gender equity has emerged as a broadly accepted concern for the social sector. “Based on our analysis of publicly available data, roughly three-quarters of the largest 62 philanthropic organisations operating in India (including global, domestic, and corporate social responsibility foundations) have an intentional gender focus in their programmes,” said Tomar. “Many of the NGO leaders we spoke with noted that this has spurred the right conversations. It is time, they say, to elevate equity for members of the Dalits and Adivasi communities.”

Download the full report here: https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/library/philanthropy/pathways-to-greater-social-mobility-india

About Bridgespan
The Bridgespan Group (www.bridgespan.org) is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organisations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, and San Francisco.

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.
The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.