What Can Businesses Learn from Ahilya Mahila Mandal sample essay

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Ahilya Mahila Mandal is a NGO in Pen. It was founded in the year 1996 with a mission of “Empowering Women”. I have had the opportunity to closely observe and study the functioning of Ahilya Mandal for more than a decade now. I am awed with the dedication, planning skills and the way they execute various programs, with a very small pool of voluntary members. The purpose of this note is not to list the various achievements of Ahilya Mandal (and they are many!!!) but a selfish one. I want to share the lessons learnt from the study of Ahilya Mandal’s Organizational Model from a business management’s perspective. As compared to any business, Ahilya Mandal is a clear leader in the area of strategy and the effectiveness of the governing body. It also excels in the area of employee motivation and productivity.

They are pioneers, in their own right, at devising policies and procedures that we in business have not even thought of. Ahilya Mandal runs a dozen odd programs under four clearly defined avenues of service. In all these programs a commitment to management is clearly evident. Sixteen years ago when Ahilya Mandal started, “management” was a dirty word in a NGO set-up. The stigma of this word in still prevalent. However, without the pressure of a bottom line many NGOs get undisciplined. Slowly many NGOs are realizing that they need management. Ahilya Mandal realized it long back that “good intentions” are not a substitute to organization, leadership, accountability, performance and results.

Clarity of Purpose:

The first thing a business needs to learn from Ahilya Mandal is their clarity of mission. “Empowering Women” is so simple to read but is so actionable than most of the missions we read of big businesses. The clarity of purpose has helped Ahilya Mandal define the 4 Avenues – Education, Self-Reliance, Health and Social Security and the various programs that are ran under them. This has helped them concentrate their resources in their focal areas without thinning them on seemingly interesting or noble programs. Most of our business programs or projects start with an inward view or with a financial goal. Contrast to this Ahilya Mandal’s programs start with the needs of the community, their problems and their aspirations. They have done it without using superfluous words like being “Customer Centric Approach”. Here are few examples of how Ahilya Mandal changed the rules of the game to meet the requirements of their customers. When the Hetawane Dam was being constructed; some 8 kms from Pen, many people from the irrigation department were moved there. Their kids and the kids from the families relocated because of this dam had to commute to Pen for their schools. Ahilya Mandal set up a primary school in Hetawane and has been successfully running it, without any government support, for more than a decade now. As an effect of urbanization expenses of families have shot up.

Couples have to go out and work for their livelihood. Big houses and maids have become unaffordable. Suddenly, there is no one to take care of an aging father or a mother. The Old Age Homes became too expensive. Ahilya Mandal started “Sanjeevan Vrudhashram” for such people. It scaled up its operation from 4 to 44 in few years and today has more than 100 people on their waiting list. Compare these programs to our corporately touted “BHAGS” (Big Hairy Audacious Goals”). The well-defined mission has helped Ahilya Mandal not only to focus on customer needs but also on setting up their metrics to measure performance. They are one of the few organizations, that I know who measure the impact of their “business” outside their Organization, as a measure of their success. Do you know any business that dares to do it? A clear mission has helped them to innovate and convince people to go against tradition, if need be.

To illustrate, consider their “Anandi Vasati Gruh” program. Ahilya Mandal realized that it was futile to try and convince parents from tribal community to send their daughters to schools because these girls either earned an income for the family or took care of the younger kids. They decided to move the girls from their environment to “our” society and enroll them in “our” schools. All the expense of these girls was taken care of by Ahilya Mandal – Education, Clothing, Shelter, Food and Training. Ahilya Mandal customized a program “Swanand Sanskar Warg” for the urban “latch key” kids. Through this program Ahilya Mandal has been able to get the couch kids together for outdoor activities and helped them not only get friends but also understand the meaning of friendship.

Effectiveness of Governing Body:

Ahilya Mandal has an elected President who is answerable to the board. Her performance is reviewed half yearly. What is even rarer is that the performance of the Governing Body is assessed annually against preset goals. Effective Boards is thus the second lesson for the businesses to learn from them. In business entities the board is the managing organ of the organization yet there are hundreds of example of tussle for power and independence within the board. Also, if we look at many big corporations from Satyam to Lehmann Brother and others, the board was the last to realize that something was seriously going wrong. In Ahilya Mandal one of the reasons the Governing Body is so effective is that these members have served and are serving as volunteers for many years. They have deep knowledge about their organization unlike an outside director in a business. In Ahilya Mandal neither the President nor the Governing Body is the “Boss”. They are colleagues working for the same goal but each having different tasks. The President has the authority to decide the tasks for the Board as well as her. How many businesses review the performance of the CEO or MD? How many organizations have a truly functioning Audit Committee? Evaluation of the performance of the Board is non-existent.

Satisfaction of Volunteers (Employees):

In a business we can motivate people with a carrot or a stick. In case of Ahilya Mandal, like any other NGO, this is not possible. Since the volunteers are not paid for their work how do we ensure performance? Ahilya Mandal has a very different answer to this question. They say that since the volunteers are not paid they need to make sure that the tasks assigned to them are challenging and invigorating. The outcome should satisfy the volunteer. This also has helped Ahilya Mandal to transform their volunteers from amateur member to trained, professional yet unpaid staff. This development is significant when compared to the growth of an employee in a business setting. With more and more couples having to work for their livelihood and with their job and family chores filling all available 24 hours in a day it is difficult to find full time or part time volunteers. With money in ever short supply Ahilya Mandal cannot add paid staff. As needs of the community are changing and increasing they need to add more and more activities. Ahilya Mandal has achieved this by making their volunteers more productive.

They have entrusted their people with more work and more responsibility. One significant difference between an employee and the volunteer is that the impetus for change has come from the volunteer themselves. Ahilya Mandal has many women members who are educated and trained, some from pre-retirement age, some in their late sixties, many baby boomers. These women are not happy being just helpers. They are skilled and professional; more like the knowledge workers in software industry. Ahilya Mandal has made sure that the competence and knowledge of these women is fully utilized in its functioning. Seasoned volunteers are appointed as mentors for the new members.

They also convince competent women to join Ahilya Mandal and try their hands at challenging assignments. The new members then move up the ladder and demand more and more challenging assignments. Ahilya Mandal has also sent its teams to Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini for systematic training in managing the NGO. With their help they have also launched their website ( ). As these volunteers get trained they expect to be consulted in the decision-making process. This in turn has developed excellent bench strength for Ahilya Mandal.

Lesson for Businesses:

Ahilya Mandal has translated the unpaid volunteers to unpaid professionals. This is a significant lesson for the businesses. In a society that is fast losing its value base and is decaying morally, Ahilya Mandal is providing a ray of hope. They are truly empowering women. The biggest lesson for the business community is that it would become more and more difficult for businesses to manage the knowledge workers with the same tools of yesterday. Money alone would not provide the solution. Businesses would need to set clear missions, select the people, trust them, train-train-train them, give them authority and hold them accountable for the results.