Shiva Foundation’s Theory of Change by Jessica Best

A Theory of Change is a tool that assists in the design of a project to make sure that goals are met in the long-term. Shiva Foundation’s Theory of Change was developed over a six month period. This Theory has become a crucial part of who we are and what we aim to achieve. Although the approach we have adopted is flexible, it seeks to achieve the following outcomes:
Increase collective impact, engage individuals and influence systemic change

Adopting a Theory of Change

There has always been a lot of criticism around the idea of private philanthropy, and as a foundation we are keen to dispel these notions. We often ask organisations to give us a clear idea of what they’re working on and what results they expect to achieve in the short, medium and long term. We believe that if we can’t answer these questions ourselves, it is hypocritical to ask others to. Foundations can often be obscure about who they are and what they want to do. Through the process of clarifying our Theory of Change, we have become more transparent and pushed ourselves to reflect on our own practices.

When we started this process, we wanted to understand the main issues linked to human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK. Through meetings with key stakeholders we started to form a clearer picture of the current response and by engaging directly with practitioners we were able identify potential gaps. We then assessed how our expertise and resources could be employed to respond to these problems. We identified lack of collaboration, engagement across sectors and systemic change as areas that tied in with not only our capabilities but also our values.

Influencing organisational strategy

As a living document, our Theory of Change has given us a lot more clarity both internally and externally. We are able to communicate our values and objectives with consistency. It helps us pinpoint our relevance in the sector, whilst giving other stakeholders the opportunity to establish possible overlaps.

By developing our Theory of Change relatively early on, we were able to shape the way that we work and the projects we chose to support. With each project we try to take a step back to understand where it fits in the bigger picture in addition to scrutinising it in detail. The problem of human trafficking is pervasive in our society, and in order to tackle it we need to aim to have maximum impact.

By working in this space we are constantly learning and improving our strategy, especially in regards to influencing systemic change. We hope that in time our work will become more focused and we will have a clear vision of how to use our resources in the most efficient way.

Preventing institutional failures

Out of all the tools and methods we have come across, adopting a Theory of Change seems to be the most intuitive way of taking high level ideas and passions and turning them into something concrete. It is a very effective method of turning emotional reactions into a structured response that guides us in a way that log frames and business plans don’t always achieve.

In our opinion Theories of Change work very well with small organisations, that need to define themselves but also want to stay flexible. Small teams will usually have limited resources and therefore it’s crucial to determine what their aims are and how they intend to accomplish them. For instance, one of the best things about Theories of Change is that you to work backwards by identifying your final goal and objectives first. This sends a very strong message to all social impact organisations, because it forces them to realise what they need to do to get from A to Z.

To find out more about our Theory of Change, visit our website.