Five Golden rules to overcome challenges- Problem solving tips for social sector organisations

Five Golden rules to overcome challenges- Problem solving tips for social sector organisations

Every organisation in the social sector strives to solve complex social problems for the welfare of the community. The process begins with Identification of the problem, understanding causality & intervention required, development of a solution followed by pilot set-up to test the solution and finally scaling it to make an impact.

It may sound easy when put in simple steps but the whole exercise of solving complex social problems has always encountered enormous challenges. Each phase may present a set of unique and daunting challenges. They may range from awareness to motivation or incentives. Hence it might not be uncommon to deduce these challenges as failures. But before you give up on what could potentially be an intervention to improve the fabric of society, check out these tips to tackle those challenges.

Learn from feedback, challenges, and success of others.

Many successful solutions are built on failure. In the social sector, it is important to collaborate and learn from each other’s mistakes. For example, MITRA and initiative of Dr.Reddy’s Foundation based one of its facets on a previously tried of Lead Farmer solution. But they have learned from the complications their predecessors faced, incorporated their feedback and made necessary changes to ensure success.

Be eager to share your challenges

None of us would like to accept our limitations let alone eagerly share it with others. But this can be very counterproductive. Problem sharing can lead to problem-solving. It can help you understand what went right and what exactly did not work out. Sharing will help you reflect and feedback from other peer groups might help you resolve the issue instead of abandoning it.

Remember sharing is also crucial to fostering a problem-solving mindset in your organization.

Lean in towards Data-Driven insights

“It is important to know what we don’t know and question all the time what we think we know, so that we can keep discovering what we want to know,” – says Shamik Trehan, CEO-DRF emphasizing the importance of gaining insights into both successes and failures. Every failure tells a story, it helps you build a granular understanding of why things didn’t work out and if failure is a story then data is the text that defines it.

A data-driven approach is quite uncommon in the social sector as it is considered to be a waste of precious resources which otherwise can be used to increase the impact on social welfare and many would argue unlike the  for-profit sector it is difficult to capture and interpret data in the social sector.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Data will make the work of social change agents more effective and will build the case for the support required. Even Pixar which works mainly in the creative field which is considered quite subjective is a big believer of data-based post-mortems.“Data can objectively show things, which can stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions arising from personal impressions,” –  says Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

Derive Learnings from the failures

Like every other thing out there the success or failure of a solution/intervention is not black or white. Every pilot does not need to reach a scale-up point to be a success. The whole point of having a pilot is to draw learning from it. Remember every proposed solution is an experiment.

Imagine if every scientist out there gave up on their scientific experiments with every drawback they encountered. Science would have not progressed at all, Forget electricity and say bye-bye to Mission Mars.

So it is important to have a learning mind-set before you begin and always expect to encounter challenges but instead of fear, approach these challenges with excitement, curiosity, and amazement. One may think it may sound ideal to focus on learning rather than on results, But for organisations in the social sector where their next grant or funds depends on success of their pilot and with scarce resources in the first place, this luxury is just not possible or feasible. But because of these reasons it is quite vital we focus on learning. Remember most of the programs in social sector work in uncharted territory, hence we simply cannot afford to waste vital resources on a solution we don’t understand. However, there are ways to minimize cost of learning. To curb losses and make pilot more of a learning exercise you can take Minimal Viable product (MVP) approaches. Build a program with minimum features just enough to pass your litmus test.

Keep working in spite of setbacks and never give-up

Now that you have learned from the success & failures of others, shared your challenges and derived learning from it. It’s time to list out key activities that have to be done differently and get back right into the game. The reason design thinking framework is perfectly suited for the social sector is because it is designed to be an endless infinite loop of learning and tweaking until desired results are achieved.


Assistant Communication Manager

DRF 25 Years
DRF 25 Yrs