ATMA | 28 September 2021
Written by Vanita Kariappa, Lead Consultant
If you are an existing or an aspiring Consultant in the social sector, this article is for you! With a mere 4 years of Consulting at Atma, I have learned so much about this sector, the leaders and entrepreneurs of NGOs, the job of a Consultant, and also the vision of providing quality education to all children. I hope this article is able to give you an insight into being an Atma Consultant and to do that, I have listed 7 Best Practices that every Atma Consultant must follow and these best practices can also be applied in your day-to-day work if you work in the social sector.
What sets Atma apart as an accelerator programme is our laser-sharp focus on organisations working in the field of education, hence every Consultant must believe in this vision. This gives us the daily dose of motivation and trust in the work of our NGO partners who have dedicated their life towards this vision.
Read about the problem of educational inequity in India and its long-term impact. Talk to the NGO partners you work with and understand the day-to-day challenges that the child faces. Define for oneself what it looks like if the problem of educational inequity is not solved. Reflect on the role that you play to solve this problem in the short and long run.
A Consultant may be excellent at their job but if the buy-in in the vision is missing, you may lose motivation in the long run. The problem of education in- equity is complex and may take years to change and that’s why really ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” to provide clarity on your own motivations so that you can clearly see where you fit into the puzzle piece of solving the problem of education inequity.
While there can be so many other stakeholders who contribute to meeting the vision, the primary stakeholders that Atma works with are education NGOs. We believe that they are the agents of change and we build their capacity so that they can become bigger, better, and stronger. An Atma Consultant must be able to see them in the same light and must accept that NGOs are the experts of the ground reality and all we do is support them to meet their goal by bringing data, research, years of experience, and perspectives.
Read about the role of NGOs in India. Understand the impact that is created by the various NGOs. Talk to the leaders and understand their vision for the organisation. Draw similarities and differences in the interpretation of the vision. Reflect on the roles that government, private institutions, communities, and civil societies play in this vision.
Bringing about change is a difficult task and we understand that sometimes NGOs fail. If a Consultant lacks faith in the work of the NGO, it may demotivate them and also make them feel that the NGOs should not exist. Success and failures are a part of any organisation and a Consultant must be able to stand by the organisation through ups and downs.
A Consultant is solving many problems and building capacity to help the NGO solve it independently in the future. You must realise that you cannot do it alone. A good Consultant is able to identify their strengths and also leverage external resources to fill the gaps. This is the mindset you must possess and also develop in the partner NGOs.
Have a good understanding of your own strengths and areas of development. Constantly look for opportunities to collaborate with others. Learn from successful and unsuccessful partnerships and share these learnings with others.
Excellent quality outputs are only created if inputs have been taken from various sources. Not being able to do so may create an average-quality project that may only be useful to the partner NGO in the short term. Additionally, the NGO partners learn from the Consultant and hence when they see collaboration and partnership used extensively by the Consultant, they are more likely to do it themselves as well.
The leaders and entrepreneurs that we work with are generally multitasking and dealing with multiple dilemmas in the organisation. For smaller organisations, the leaders are running programmes as well as operations due to a lack of resources and lack of access to expertise and advisors. We need to know that they are humans and are bound to make mistakes, as a Consultant, we really must empathize with them and support them to move in the right direction or slow down if needed.
Show verbal appreciation for the work the partner does before you start to disagree Share ideas and show a keen interest in their work and in their life. Understand what inspires them. Offer additional support in your own capacity such as checking in weekly through phone calls, messages, acknowledging the organisation’s work on your social media or send small gifts on special occasions (At Atma, we also call it Atma Love!) Communicate clearly and communicate often.
While you may be a great Consultant achieving high outputs, not understanding the human aspect of your NGO partner leader will slow down the trust-building process for you which will hamper the relationship in the long run. I would like to quote Maya Angelou here, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The NGO partners will rely on you for the knowledge and perspective to make very critical decisions in the organisation. This is the value add that a Consultant brings as well. Hence, being up-to-date about the various things happening must be prioritised by the Consultant.
Do note that you are not an encyclopedia for information but when your NGO partner asks you about something and you don’t know about it. Please read and come back to them with thoughts. Proactively share the trends in the sector that you think may affect the partner organisation.
Not being aware of the trends and making decisions and recommendations
based on them will make you lose your credibility faster than you think. There
are tons of Consultants out there, what makes you different is your valuable
insight that is aligned to the present-day scenario.
As Consultants, we are constantly building processes for the partner organisation. The processes are sometimes based on our past experiences and sometimes on others. It is important to create processes that are based on the needs of the organisation. Involving the organisation’s key stakeholders in the process ensures the success of the project.
Start any project by asking the partner and the stakeholder about what they are expecting from the project? Define what success looks like for them if the project is completed and implemented. Take active feedback while working on building processes.
The biggest impact of not including your key stakeholders will lead to something that we commonly call “scope creep”. Scope creep is harmful because it distracts you from the actual project planned and then you spend more time understanding what they need than actually doing the project. It may also lead to high delays and even if you complete the project, believe me on this, the partner NGO will never end up using your project. Such a waste of time, isn’t it? So just ensure that you do this from the start!
Networking is an important skill in any field but especially important for Atma Consultants because the partner is constantly in need of various things and we cannot provide all of them. Relying on other people’s networks is an alternative but it does not always work in your favor. Hence, a Consultant must actively build their network.
The magic of networks is only understood when you really need them. I, as a social sector professional, realised this a little late in life, so my advice to you is – don’t be me! Start early and ensure that you are making more friends in this space.