DHAN is an NGO with a difference. It was not a charity, or a philanthropy or service organization but a development NGO, which focusses on grassroot development aided by professional management. At the same time, it has a clear vision that it is only an enabling institution rather than a directing agency. Dedicated to the mission of poverty eradication through grassroots development action, DHAN had made a significant impact on the Indian scene. It had already touched the lives of 1.5 million households during the course of its nearly 20-year journey and is poised to reach out to a further one million households over the next five years.
In order to fulfill this ambitious mission, DHAN needed a steady stream of professionals with diverse skills to be trained and deployed pan India, spanning a wide spectrum of cultures, languages and sensitivities, truely a big challenge to contend with. Above all, for Vasimalai, the Executive Director who founded DHAN in 1997, and who is an ardent follower of Gandhian thought, the paramount challenge is to transmit his unique vision and development perspectives to the next generation of leaders, and build these perspectives into the very DNA of DHAN, so that the passion fopr development workwould continue unabated through the years.
Vasi was a leader with a difference. After graduating from India’s top business school, he forayed into the non-glamorous development sector marked by harsh work context and low material rewards. However, he received a greater reward — of responding to a higher calling or Dharma and making a difference to the lives of those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. DHAN being the vehicle he chose to fulfill that larger Dharma.
Vasi's value-driven leadership style and DHAN's noble goal-orientation set them apart from the crowd. Uncannily though, they both seem to echo some of the most contemporary managment thinking, advocating alternate leadership styles and alternative organization paradigms.
This is an ideal case in a course on Strategy in the leadersip module, as well as in a course focused on leadership, to sensitize participants about the new paradigms in leadership. Ideally, it should come at the end of the course after other leadership models and perspectives have been discussed. It can be used in a one-year executive MBA course as well as in the second year of the more common two-year MBA course. It would also be very relevant in leadership modules for executive education for practising managers and leaders of both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.