Ashvin Dayal, The Rockefeller Foundation

TITLE: Associate Vice President, Managing Director, Asia Program

FUNDING AREAS: Agricultural development, climate change, natural disaster preparedness, economic development, poverty, and women's rights

CONTACT: ADayal@rockfound.org, 66-2-262-0091 to 95

IP TAKE: Dayal is Rockefeller's influential point man for grantmaking on the world's most populous continent.

PROFILE: The Rockefeller Foundation's Asia program, managed out of its regional office in Bangkok, Thailand, commands a large share of the foundation’s grant funding. The short list includes everything from agricultural issues and climate change to promoting women's economic leadership and poverty.

Ashvin Dayal, who has been managing director of the Asia program since 2008, accepted the duel position of that role plus associate vice-president in November 2013. He has his hands full to say the least, as he is charged with the oversight of all of Rockefeller’s work across Asia. It’s a job for which he has had to master the art of multi-tasking and being in all places at once.

Dayal earned a bachelor’s degree at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. He then went on to further his education at Johns Hopkins University, earning his master's degree from the School of Advanced International Studies. From there, Dayal joined Oxfam, serving in various positions including those in management and senior policy making. He was a program manager for Oxfam in the Middle East and Europe, regions where he oversaw post-conflict reconstruction and economic-development programs in Bosnia, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Next was a move to Thailand, where Dayal served as Oxfam’s East Asia Director, a position in which he led Oxfam’s largest-ever relief and recovery effort in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia. When he was not busy with tsunami relief efforts, he was responsible for the development and implementation of new strategies for inclusion and equality in a variety of different Asian countries including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

His final Oxfam role was in India. Dayal put in a stint as head of South Asia Operations. From Oxfam’s South Asia office in New Delhi, India, he developed and managed initiatives on a swath of ecological and social issues: natural disasters, climate change, business growth, agriculture development, and promoting women’s economic leadership. He also set in motion the creation of Oxfam India, which operates now as an independent affiliate of Oxfam International.

Finally, Dayal ended up back in Thailand to take up his present-day work with The Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation has long-term relationship with Thailand, having been in the country since 1915. (In the first video below, Dayal speaks about the foundation's 100-year anniversary and its commitment to that country.)

As far as how Dayal likes to award grants: Again, the Asia program is big, so we'll give details to you in broad strokes. Climate change, poverty alleviation, health care, and economic equality are four big funding darlings, for both Dayal and for Rockefeller in general. Rockefeller doubled-down on its focus when it announced its 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge in May 2013. Of the first 32 cities it selected, five of them are in Dayal's Asia cluster.

Dayal is both passionate and wonkish for all of his areas of granting, but he remains especially active on climate change. (The second video below addresses that subject.) His present-day workload includes heading up the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), a Rockefeller initiative that aims to help cities build the capacity to cope with the changing climate. He also directs Rockefeller’s Smart Power for Environmentally-sound Economic Development (SPEED), which supports the expansion of decentralized renewable-energy systems for off-grid rural communities.

The Cities Development Institute of Asia, Inc., is one of the grant winners under ACCCRN. It secured a $74,233 grant to work with participating cities in India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam on developing some climate-resilient construction projects and finding financing for them. The Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group is another ACCCRN winner. Its grant of $150,776 went toward helping the Indian cities of Gorakhpur and Bashirat develop community-based, decentralized approaches for water and sanitation for farmers.

Perhaps a natural extension from climate change is Dayal's focus on natural disasters, and nation preparedness for when they strike. It's a relatively newer topic of interest for him, and one that he's taken to discussing extensively on his own entries for the Rockefeller blog.

On the health and development fronts, Dayal puts much effort into helping developing nations in Asia and elsewhere to expand health-care coverage and develop cross-border collaboration on disease surveillance, as well as create financial environments that are conducive to the growth of impact investing and philanthropy. Among the recent recipients is the Bangladeshi medical school Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, to whom Rockefeller gave $250,000 for the university to work with the Bangladeshi government on developing a new department of public health and informatics.

BRAC, a very large nonprofit that’s also based in Bangladesh, is another Rockefeller grant winner. It received $200,000 to launch a program for financing health-care innovations in Bangladesh’s Rangpur district. The Aspen Institute, meanwhile, scored Rockefeller funding for impact investing-related work. It obtained a $400,000 grant and directed it to its Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, which assists small and growing businesses in developing countries.  

Dayal typically award grants to big universities, institutions, and organizations. And those big organizations receiving the largest Asia program grants, meaning those that are $1 million or more, tend to receive multiyear grants. The University of Minnesota is one such organization. Over a six-year period, it received three major grants in succession. The first two consisted of one $200,000 grant and a follow-up 265,870 grant, both to support the university’s involvement in One Health, an international collaboration among health-care providers of all disciplines to maximize health-care outreach to those in need. The university’s received a third award of $122,200 to organize an international meeting on improving global food systems.

As for the smaller grants, the bigger university and institution trend stands. However, there are a few smaller, lesser known organizations that make the list. And by a few, we mean very few. 

So what does an applicant for Rockefeller funding need to do to get Dayal's attention? We asked him, and he told us:

"...we tend to work with grantees who can bridge technical and social perspectives; in other words who are able to locate solutions in a particular social, cultural and political context.  Without this the greatest ideas will fail to take root. And second, we often work with organizations who see collaboration with others as a core value because it increases the quality of their work. And importantly, having grantees naturally inclined towards working in collaborative ways helps the Foundation calibrate its own role and level of coordination appropriately."

And fortunately for would-be grantees, when we asked Dayal if he's welcoming proposals at this moment, he answered with an enthusiastic "Always." 

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