Opinion

How the non-profit sector is helping India respond to Covid-19

Roopa Kudva/Rohan Vyavaharkar | Updated on April 24, 2020

NGOs and non-profit divisions of businesses have in no time mobilised monetary and social support for those affected by the pandemic

It’s been less than three months since India detected the first Covid-19 case on its shores. It took non-profit organisations (and non-profit initiatives by businesses) no time at all to galvanise into action and help India manage the pandemic and its consequent socio-economic impact. These vital efforts are complementing, supporting, and informing government initiatives.

Given limited data, there is no macro picture of the range of initiatives in response to Covid-19. An analysis of the 1,200-plus funding proposals received under Omidyar Network India’s Rapid Response Funding Initiative since its launch in end-March, can serve as an indicative proxy to the mix of initiatives that the sector is engaged in and provide some interesting insights.

Nearly 40 per cent of the proposals focus on community outreach and mobilisation initiatives such as direct relief, awareness building and ground-level monitoring of the virus’ spread. Most target daily-wage earners, especially migrants — those returning home and those wo have stayed put in cities. These local as well as regional awareness campaigns are conducted over multiple platforms: helplines, SMSes, and social media. For example, Jan Sahas and Jan Vikas are both focussed on holistic support for daily-wage earners, particularly those from minority and disadvantaged communities. NGOs are distributing relief packs, including food, medicine and essential supplies. Gaon Connection and Radio Mewat are running interactive campaigns to create awareness of best practices, and broadcasting stories to inform efforts in other regions.

About 35 per cent of the solutions delpoyed are data, apps and other technology-led. These include alternative testing methods and contact tracing solutions. Such solutions are also supporting vulnerable communities eg. to track and address the needs of migrant workers. Gram Vaani is using tech for information sharing between communities, health workers, governments, and health experts. Other efforts include combating misinformation on social media, telehealth-driven triaging systems, and chabots.

Another 10 per cent of the initiatives focus on economic resilience of lower income populations, providing direct relief, supporting access to government and private welfare schemes, and support in livelihoods.

Five per cent of the proposals are for research and fact-based inputs that can inform the thinking of policymakers. Vidhi Legal is developing a data-sharing protocol to help inform the government’s efforts in sharing and management of citizen data for formulating critical health responses. Change.org is helping surface citizens’ concerns and ideas on Covid-19 mitigation and government services delivery.

It is also heartening to see collaborative efforts. Two coalitions are worth mentioning: Action Covid-19 Team, a ₹100-crore grant fund by India’s start-up community; and Rapid Community Response to Covid-19, a national coalition of 20 grassroots NGOs focussed on containing the spread of Covid-19, mitigating against its ill-effects, and supporting resilience efforts in the face of the lockdown. Fundraising collectives represent another form of collaboration. GIVE India — a tech-based retail fundraising platform is looking to raise ₹500 crore through its India Covid-19 Relief Fund.

As we move to the subsequent stages of the pandemic, we can expect to see shifts in the areas of focus of non-profits: building the resilience of the small business sector, mental health support, education support, domestic abuse, increasing use of technology in areas like access to justice, re-opening supply chains, challenges created by extended physical distancing requirements, etc.

Early into the pandemic, myths about the non-profit sector are being debunked. We have seen that non-profits can mobilise and even pivot rapidly to provide cost-effective solutions. They are leveraging technology – traditionally not considered their forte. NGOs are also collaborating with each other, contrary to long-held perception. Above all, they have led from the front showing admirable public spirit as well as courage grit, empathy, and boldness to be in the frontline at great risk. Their efforts strongly underscore their deep commitment to building an inclusive, caring, and more equitable India.

Kudva is Managing Director and Vyavaharkar is Director at Omidyar Network India, an investment firm focussed on social impact

Published on April 24, 2020

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