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LEADERS IN THE FIELD: Paurvi Bhatt and Mission Measurement

December 4, 2009

Photo credit: Brooks Elliott via Flickr.

For some consultants, one of the hardest things you have to do is describe what you do in a very succinct and memorable manner. Mission Measurement’s web site says it best:

“So what?” is the biggest challenge facing America’s social sector…

Every year nonprofits, corporate responsibility programs, governments and foundations spend millions of dollars trying to solve the most complex social problems. We all want to believe our work is making a difference. But someday, someone somewhere is going to ask…“can you prove it?” Maybe it’s your CEO; maybe a board member; maybe an investor.

You are going to have to make your case and that is where Mission Measurement comes in.

Mission Measurement (MM) is a consulting firm based in Chicago that has quickly gaining the respect and admiration of many people in the field. MM helps companies, nonprofits, foundations explain to the world what they do and helps these organizations back up their claims with evidence. In a world driven by results, it’s astonishing that measuring social and environmental programs is often an afterthought.

So we sat down with Paurvi Bhatt, one of MM’s newest staff members who has brought an interesting dimension to Mission Measurement from thought leading companies like Levi Strauss and Abbott Laboratories.  Here’s what she had to say:

Q:  You’ve had an interesting career so far – especially by focusing on the role of CSR in health initiatives.  You’ve worked at a number of major organizations such as Abbott Laboratories and Levi Strauss, what’s your elevator pitch as to why companies should be involved with health?

I think most companies have an interest in improving access to health care for their own employees or together with  their supply chain, connecting health issues with their consumers, or finally, if in the health care industry,  deepening the reach of their products.  It’s just a matter of understanding where they can have the most influence, where they can reap the benefits, and how they can achieve a win-win where business interests and improving health care can come together. Of course, if the company is directly involved with healthcare, it will naturally to be very motivated. It’s just a matter of translating and positioning that interest to also achieve social impact.

Q: Other than philanthropy, how can companies best use their resources to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, education, & treatment – particularly in their business abroad?

Let’s look at it in two different ways. One, where are consumers, employees, and operations located? Is HIV prevalence high or rising? If so, HIV is likely emerging as an issue for consumers and may also be impacting a company’s supply chain and their employees.  Secondly, do they have a product that helps curb HIV transmission, or advances care?

Every company has the opportunity to promote health and wellness of their employees and address HIV/AIDS through education and information – particularly in areas where HIV prevalence is rising.  If the company subsidizes health care for an employee and their family, then they can also ensure that health benefit and insurance plans cover HIV-related tests and illnesses.  They can also utilize their brand power to reach consumers with essential information or influence national policy to ensure that HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care is available.  By doing so, they are normalizing the issue – helping to chip away at some of the stigma. Finally, if the company value chain relies upon suppliers in areas impacted by HIV/AIDS it’s essential that information and resources be shared with partner firms.

Photo credit: Darren Hester via Flickr.

Q: You recently made the move from Levi’s over to Mission Measurement. Why the move? What excites you about working with MM?

I’ve had the opportunity to integrate performance measurement and evaluation into each step of my career. My training in measurement and performance management began at the U.S. GAO. It’s where I started my career and also where I quickly learned the importance of gathering stakeholder insight, analyze information objectively, and utilize key metrics to best tell a clear story of progress.   My roles since that time always required that clear results be captured so lessons could be codified and progress could be communicated.  Achieving results that matter has always been important in each of the organizations that I’ve worked at USAID, CARE, Abbott Laboratories, and Levi Strauss and Co. At each step what was very clear to me is that leaders and decision makers need simple easy to understand results that can inform decisions and guide strategy.

So having an understanding how measurement ties back to strategy and making sure robust data is being used in anchoring down what a program is able to achieve. Being at Mission Measurement allows me the opportunity to further sharpen my own skills  and translate some of what I’ve experienced to help make the concept of measurement less cumbersome and confusing for our clients. It’s important to bring the concept of measurement closer to what different stakeholders need.  As you can imagine, some people can be excited by measurement and reporting, while others tend to shy away from it fearing that it’ll be time consuming and ultimately not accurately reflect what is important.  Changing this perception is essential and one way to do it is to help organizations use the information they already have as part of their work to better communicate what matters to them.

Q: Switching over to your current role, what is it that nonprofits, foundations, and companies don’t get about measurement? What’s wrong with the current approach?

There has always been a lot of energy and focus on tracking  progress against activities. What gets lost in shuffle is answering whether we  are we making progress toward our original intention. Some of that has to do with a mindset of looking at measurement and monitoring and evaluation as separate effort from the core work. Often when people are doing work day-in and day-out it’s hard to take a step back to make sure that the information that they gather and the information they communicate is really communicating what they aim to achieve. But, the organizations that do take that step back, tend to move forward with a renewed sense of strategy, and clarity about how they can proceed with continued success as told by the information they communicate.

Q: Some nonprofits complain about a funder-led push, particularly by foundations, that over emphasizes metrics. Is there a danger in measurement becoming a distraction and burden for nonprofits?

I think they become burdensome when measurement becomes an end unto itself, a process imposed by others to hold one accountable  rather than an essential aspect that drives how to make decisions and improve the success of an organization or program.  It is a shift in how measurement can be perceived, but when we look at every day things we all do – we need markers of progress everywhere to guide a decision.  So donors – public or private – are not incorrect about asking for those markers of progress.  The best donors have an understanding of what markers of success make best sense to capture the value of their programs and their grantee efforts.

Q: What’s your best example about how an organization has taken measurement seriously and due to that truly made a difference?

I had the opportunity to kick off the performance management process for a large consortium program supported by the US Government that focused on the supply chain for HIV/AIDS drugs, tests, and related health products. The project started as a multi-billion dollar initiative to move product from the manufacturers to developing country warehouses and clinics, ensuring that those impacted by HIV/AIDS in the developing world could receive the medicines that they needed.

We had the opportunity to set up a performance management system that allowed for continuous improvements where management could see progress and make midcourse corrections to ensure that their strategies were being executed to reach the end goal – more and cheaper products in places that needed them.  While this may seem quite common to many in manufacturing or in global businesses, using information in this way was a new way of looking at “measurement” for development experts.   Many of these experts perceived measurement as part of a monitoring and evaluation process that was cumbersome, unnecessary, and took money away from the from what was important.  But, when they saw how a measurement process could generate real information quickly and meaningfully – and allowed for an organization to adjust progress routinely – a major shift in understanding occurred.

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