Neha Panchamia is the Founder and President of RESQ Charitable Trust in India. The organization's mission is to minimize human-animal conflict and provide relief to animals in distress. Neha attended the Governing for Nonprofit Excellence – Virtual (GNE) Executive Education program at Harvard Business School in October. In the post below, she discusses her experiences in the program.
“Are you going to be someone who rants about animal suffering and the absence of emergency services in this country or are you going to proactively do something about it yourself?” I set afoot on my RESQ journey with animals when I asked myself this question at the age of 23, as I helplessly witnessed several animals suffer and die on the streets of my country. I chose the latter and the same year with resolve, I founded RESQ Charitable Trust (RESQ).
Our guiding value has always been - every life matters, species no bar. Since RESQ’s inception in 2007, the work of the organization has changed the lives of over 70,000 wild and domestic animals and improved public health and safety along with preventing human-animal conflict across several urban and rural ecosystems. We broadly classify our work into two verticals, ‘response’ and ‘prevention’ and our core activities include animal rescue, rehabilitation, community education and capacity building. We are powered by human connections and tackle problems hands-on with a smile.
Over the past 13 years, my experiences in working with numerous species of animals and the communities that surround them, especially those that exist in landscapes of conflict, have given me a deep insight into the challenges humans and animals face. It has helped me view animal-related issues without bias and develop implementable solutions to complex problems.
As an organization, we are vigilant and aware of the fact that the world around us is constantly changing. In keeping a close eye on rapid urbanization, shifts in land use patterns and global climate change, we have continued to evolve and ensure that our activities serve the needs of the hour and remain in line with predicting future needs.
Prior to the pandemic, I had just spent two years stabilizing the organizations’ core team and streamlining the processes of its key operations. I would often tell my team in jest, “We run a non-governmental organization, not a non-governmental dis-organization” and thus our operations rely largely on proactive grass-root level work supported by standard operating protocols, citizen reporting, IT, data management and my background in research to develop implementable solutions in our efforts to promote peaceful human-animal coexistence.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, we swiftly modified our operational model and managed to sail through the pandemic without ceasing our core activities or laying off a single employee. RESQ had managed to survive unscathed, but we may have not if conditions didn’t improve under two years from then. As the President of our Board and having played an active role in steering the organization through the challenges presented by the pandemic, I realized that planning ahead for long term financial sustainability and developing higher resilience to a crisis, national or global, needed to be strongly addressed by our organizations’ Board and Executive Team.
On recognizing the above needs, I signed up for Harvard Business School’s Governing for Nonprofit Excellence (GNE) program. As individuals, we tend burden ourselves with the thought that the challenges we face in our field or sector are unique to us. While preparing for the GNE program, I realized that nonprofits across the globe, irrespective of sector share similar challenges. I would wake up at 6:00 am every morning to read one case study a day before the program began. The highlight of my reading sessions would be drawing parallels between the organization I was reading about and my own and making a lists of the mistakes, challenges, or smart strategic changes that we shared.
The GNE program was an incredible experience for me for two main reasons. Going ahead, it has provided me a greater sense of the direction I need to walk in and reassured me of some of the better decisions I made (including signing up for this course).
There is often pressure on nonprofits to show measurable impact. Our main beneficiary is a voiceless animal. It can neither provide us feedback on our services nor thank us for it. While the work we do impacts a large number of animals as well as human lives, I used to find it challenging to demonstrate and accurately calculate how our social impact objectives are being achieved. The GNE program helped fill important knowledge gaps for me by helping me understand data and evidence better in our logic model, frameworks of strategy and how to effectively forge a path towards our theory of change. In my dreams, I envision a world where humans and animals peacefully coexist in sustainable ecosystems. In real life, I’m passionate and practical in equal measure. I often quote Robert Frost and say that I have ‘miles to go before I sleep…’ and thus right after the program ended, I took the weekend to synthesize my thoughts and learnings. There is so much I gained during the GNE program beyond what I expected to learn, but more than anything I feel empowered with tangible skills and concepts that I can integrate and use at my organization RESQ, to lead us into effectively scaling and achieving maximum transformative impact for every human and animal life that we touch - because every life matters, species no bar.
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