How India's Non-Profit Sector Has Coped With Challenges of the Pandemic

7 Feb, 2022 15:43 IST|Reshmi AR

Civil society organizations have realigned resource mobilization, planning, project management, human resource development practices to withstand the pandemic and work for large-scale social impact, says Smile Foundation’s Santanu Mishra

COVID-19 has been tough on India’s non-profit sector as most organizations have stretched their resources in a bid to provide relief to scores of people who have been affected severely. Civil society organizations have eased the shock of the pandemic on people by working to address systemic issues and provide relief to marginalized populations.

In an interview with Reshmi AR, Santanu Mishra, Co-founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation discusses the ways in which the sector has coped with the challenges of the pandemic and how it has impacted funding for non-Covid causes.

How has Covid-19 impacted healthcare non-profits in India? How has the sector prepared for the third wave of infections?

The non-profit sector has been playing a crucial role at the grassroots especially. Displaying commitment, resilience and resourcefulness during the ongoing pandemic is no exception. Both the waves have shaken the nation and the emergence of Omicron has once again made healthcare a priority in general.

Healthcare non-profits have been playing a complementary role in the nation’s health service delivery mechanism with much-needed manpower support, mobilizing lifesaving supplies from masks and PPE kits to sanitizers, oximeters, and oxygen. The sector is also playing a role in creating access to medical services through community engagement. Given that the immediate focus of the social development sector must be mitigation of the pandemic-induced challenges, non-profits have had to recalibrate their work accordingly.

Do you expect non-Covid healthcare work by non-profits to come back into focus considering that the Indian economy is expected to continue recovering in the ongoing financial year?

With the onset of the presumably third wave, health will continue to be a priority. Most non-profit organizations have integrated COVID-19 relief into their healthcare work plans and are continuing to work with communities, addressing all healthcare issues.

Many organizations such as ours had to innovate, realign their delivery strategies and to arrange resources in an emergency. The pandemic was unannounced, but it was also a phenomenon that was much more than just a healthcare emergency.

We distributed over 27 million meals in the form of dry ration kits amongst the families who lost their daily wages and livelihood across India. Some 2,00,000 life-saving hygiene kits were made available to vulnerable population.

Regular hospitals were almost out of bound for the general public and even doctors and paramedic staff were overstretched owing to the influx of Covid-19-related patients. We geared up our Smile on Wheels mobile healthcare programme and attended to more than 1 million individuals at their doorsteps in remote villages and urban slums clusters.

Through innovation like tele-medicine and virtual care alone we served needy 1,00,000 families across the country.

There was wide-spread job loss, but we found out the emergence of new scope of employment. We have trained over 10,000 youth from deserving family backgrounds as general duty assistants. They are now employed in various hospitals, nursing homes and homecare. 

Education of underprivileged children was another area that was getting overshadowed by the magnitude of the health crisis. Suddenly schooling became online but most of the parents either didn’t possess smart phone with internet, only had one phone to manage their work or were not equipped to guide their children’s study at home. By arranging for tablets, smart phones, cluster classes, reskilling our human resource and orienting parents and communities, we succeeded in continuing education of around 50,000 children.

Once things normalize, many other human development activities will not only speed up but also reemerge in improved and more efficient avatar. On the brighter side, the pandemic has compelled us bring technology and better mechanism, be it education, healthcare, or skilling. 

How have civil society organizations altered their way of functioning due to fluidity caused by the global pandemic?

The pandemic has not just been a global healthcare crisis, it has changed the way we lived, travelled, worked, studied, and did many other things. Naturally, civil society organizations had to adapt to the plethora of changes to bring change on the ground.

Teachers have been trained on dynamic digital learning environment in no time. Parents and children were made to be familiar with the virtual and blended mode of schooling. Tele-medicine, virtual counseling and care etc. were brought into practice in healthcare, especially for the communities living in remote rural areas and urban slums. Mental wellbeing among children whether they are from privileged or underprivileged backgrounds, suddenly emerged as an area of concern during the pandemic. Organizations had to analyze the issue, develop solutions, and prepare the mechanism to address the same. Employability training programme had to undergo a market-driven transformation. Many jobs and related skills simply vanished, whereas many new areas of employment emerged. For example, we put our major focus on developing courses and training youth on e-logistic and supply chain management, general duty assistant and patient care, digital marketing, banking service etc. and achieved great success in placing them.

Working with the communities need frequent visits, human interaction, and travel. The pandemic put restriction to many such activities.

Resource mobilization, planning, project management, human resource development etc. also needed rethinking and realignment with the changing the environment.

I believe that most of the disruption is for the better and there is no looking back.

What is the support that healthcare non-profits expect from the Government of India?

There are three sets of key stakeholders in the social impact sphere namely, government, corporate and civil society organizations. Each of these stakeholders brings with it some unique strength. While the government possesses scale, corporate bring with them financial resources. Civil society organizations have grassroots and community connects as well as domain experience in creating social return on investment.

We feel that these three stakeholders must work more closely than ever and create better convergence. This has been demonstrated during the pandemic and remains the need of the hour. Increased synergy and coordination between the three stakeholders can do wonders.

Healthcare non-profits require the support of the government to collaborate in the national mission and play a complementary and supplementary role in making universal access to healthcare a reality. In the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the need for widespread availability of quality healthcare services, particularly primary healthcare. Together, the government, corporates, and civil society organizations can create robust healthcare delivery systems which can be scaled rapidly to fight the pandemic-like situation and to ensure general wellbeing of citizens.

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