NGO Insights: Atma Education Trust

Dated : 04 Nov 2014
  1. Sector and Positioning:

Atma Education Trust (AET) is among the handful of non-profits in India working as a Tier II NGO in the social sector space. Tier II NGOs work with other NGOs or social enterprises, instead of working directly with communities at the grassroots level. AET’s direct beneficiaries are education-focused NGOs in Mumbai and indirect beneficiaries include students going to schools, vocational centers or informal education centers. AET provides consultancy to its portfolio of NGOs and helps them build capacity across 10 Organizational Development (functional) areas so that they can attain specific organizational goals. Interested NGOs have to satisfy AET’s selection criteria. Those selected, have to then undergo a six-phase accelerator program in order to demonstrate positive results at the end of Year 2 or 3.

Unlike other Tier II NGOs like Dasra, UnLtd India and Samhita, AET doesn’t fund its beneficiaries directly while providing strategic organizational inputs. However, while raising funds to support AET’s in-house program plus operating cost, AET recommends programs run by its portfolio NGOs to donors it is in touch with. AET’s strength is to reengineer operational processes to minimize inefficiencies, offer quality strategic guidance and excellent hands on training to its portfolio NGOs. AET gains immensely from volunteers across 20 countries who are roped in for six months to complete specific projects with portfolio NGOs. AET has 5 qualified social workers who manage the portfolio NGOs along with the team of volunteers. It also strives to place the best matched candidates with NGOs. AET’s endeavor is to strengthen organisations to positively impact education!

  1. Impact/Future Plans:
  • Since inception to March 2014, AET has worked with 34 education non-profits. Currently, it works with 14 non-profits and social enterprises.
  • AET indirectly reaches out to approximately 300-400 children through each of its portfolio NGOs, which adds up to roughly 25,000 since 2007 (as disclosed by AET).
  • Success stories since 2007: Umang, Masoom, Muskan Foundation, Oscar Foundation, Mumbai Mobile Crèches and CHIP.
  • NGO sources indicated that on an average since 2007, one or two (maximum) NGOs drop out or are dismissed from AET’s accelerator program. This could either be due to low engagement from the non-profits or conservative approach towards change adopted by the founding members of the NGOs.
  • AET has completed a base line study recently, and plans to expand its model to other cities. By early next year, AET will have a center in Pune or Delhi, while continuing to reach out to 1,500 untapped education-focused NGOs in Mumbai.
  • Atma Networks, is an online knowledge repository initiative that will allow access to modules developed for NGOs. The modules are user friendly and comprise a mix of written assessment tests plus videos. AET plans to launch this portal in Feb FY15.                            
  1. Financial Parameters:
  • AET’s total income at the end of FY13 stood at Rs3.6mn, a marginal 2% Y-o-Y increase over FY12. During FY13, 58% of total income was raised through foreign sources, 38% from domestic sources and 4% as interest income on investment of Rs1mn (Refer Fig. 1). This is largely in line with the trends for the past few years.
  • 69% of total expenses were spent on direct program activities during FY13. Salaries formed the major portion of this component i.e. 61% out of 69%. AET offers consultancy services which is human resource intensive, thus justifying its higher staff cost of 61% (Refer Fig. 2).
  • Spend on overheads has been irregular since FY10 ranging between 21% and 30%. It is essential for AET to set a lower cap on overheads to be able to curb its expenses and effectively increase overall spend on beneficiaries or on fund raising cost, that may fuel income growth in future. 
  • Cost of consultancy per non-profit in the portfolio is approximately Rs500,000 annually. As most of the portfolio NGOs cannot afford to pay this cost, AET collects a minimum of Rs5,000 to Rs15,000 from the non-profit annually. The financial position of the NGO is assessed before relaxing the annual charges. The shortfall is raised from donors to take care of AET’s operating and program cost.
  • We were unable to do a peer comparison as similar NGOs such as UnLtd India, Dasra and Samhita are not listed with us.   
  • Earmarked funds remained unchanged from the previous year at Rs1.7mn at the end of FY13. These funds are parked aside for implementing AET’s future plans like launching Atma Networks, expanding to Pune or Delhi and developing impact assessment tools.

  1. Sustainability Parameters:
  • 4-year total income CAGR stood at 13% during FY10–FY13. The Y-o-Y income growth rate has been erratic since 2010, indicating an urgent need for cash inflows to record a positive Y-o-Y growth rate (Refer Fig. 3).
  • Self Sufficiency Ratio (SSR) indicates an organisation’s ability to meet its operating expenses from its own income (service charges, interest income and individual donations). AET’s SSR declined drastically from 118% in FY12 to 38% in FY13 owing to substantial drop in contributions from domestic individual donors. SSR is likely to improve in coming 2-3 years as AET has initiated efforts to generate its own income.
  • Past donors include: Cathay Pacific Airways, Godrej, National Australia Bank, UPS, Godrej and Blue Frog among others. AET has international fund raising chapters in Canada, Australia, Netherlands and Hong Kong. They are also listed with Global Giving. Apart from cash donations, AET has been a recipient of donations in kind from several supporting partners. Despite having a strong base of donors in the past, it is critical for AET to identify new donors. 
  1. Major Challenges/Improvement Areas:
  • Fund Raising. Supporting AET’s programs requires support from mature donor communities. Unfortunately, in India the donor community is still reluctant to support Tier II NGOs where the beneficiary is not the immediate underprivileged citizen. To overcome this challenge, AET has started educating donors on the social impact made through their approach over a period of 2-3 years.  
  • Generate own income to become self-sustained. To address this, AET has started charging a nominal fund raising fee to portfolio NGOs. Further, a nominal fee will be charged to use the AET’s proprietary impact assessment tool.
  1. Governance & Reporting Standards:
  • AET is a professionally run organisation, this is evident from the growing number of success stories they have had since 2007.
  • The Board consists of four trustees from different diverse fields like finance, media, technology and consultancy. All trustees are actively involved in promoting AET’s programs since its inception.
  • Founding members, both Ms. Hayley (Lee) Bolding from Australia and Ms. Adrienne from the Netherlands have moved back to their respective countries after establishing AET in Mumbai. Both are still involved with AET and are actively managing the international fund raising chapters from their respective countries. AET has a well-defined organogram, which includes Ms. Mary Ellen Matsui (Executive Director), and two other members in the management team, four members each in the portfolio and the resources team and two in the support team. About 200 volunteers across 20 countries have worked with AET so far.
  • The team formally meets every Friday for brainstorming meetings among the volunteers and the management. These meetings serve as a platform for knowledge sharing and finding solutions to challenges faced by portfolio NGOs.
  • AET has done extensive work on developing training modules for its portfolio NGOs. A dedicated team is currently working on developing a proprietary impact assessment tool for in-house consumption and for eventual sharing with others in the system.

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