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Collaborate to Impact: India’s Social Sector and COVID-19

COVID-19’s impact on India’s underprivileged has been unparalleled.

Amid the chaos, the underprivileged were disproportionally affected, while limited physical contact created hurdles for social organisations at every level. Development sectors across the globe — organisations working to address poverty, inequality and provide social services — faced an uphill battle as they scrambled to continue their vital work. India was one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, and its development sector experienced similar problems. To better understand the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns, Avian WE’s Social Impact practice recently surveyed and interviewed development sector individuals for a report titled, ‘Development Sector: Adapting to the New Ecosystem in the COVID-19 Era’. The report also sought to gather information about new strategies, capacity-building techniques and organisational challenges to enable knowledge sharing within the sector.

The findings highlighted the scale of the impact: 44% of industry professionals said the pandemic caused programme delivery issues, while 38% said planned events were affected as well. Despite the upheaval, these professionals remained resilient. Many development organisations sought new opportunities to increase collaboration and utilised technology to further their goals, amplifying impact in the communities they serve.

Here’s how technology, teamwork and storytelling helped community-based organisations, foundations and international organisations in India adapt to stay on top of the paradigm shift in the world.


Technology for social good

Technology played an important role in ensuring the seamless delivery of community work during the lockdown by serving two functions: maintaining service continuity and increasing reach.

During the lockdowns, organisations that used to conduct most of their services in person were forced to pivot to another avenue of contact. Of the Indian development organisations surveyed, 56% had adapted their communication with those they served, increasing digital communications like webinars, virtual meetings and even rural radio technology to continue their services. Haqdarkshak, an organisation dedicated to helping the underprivileged identify applicable welfare schemes, raced to launch an app enabling citizens to receive scheme information in 11 languages — launching a new digital touchpoint between the organisation and those they served.

Technological adoption also provided longer-term benefits such as the increased ability to target communities, engage people and disseminate information. Digital content’s shareability enabled organisations to widen reach and expand networks, creating a positive influence in their wider community. Consider the Naz Foundation, an organisation that began conducting HIV and sexuality counselling sessions through online platforms. For its Young People’s Initiative (YPI) program — which seeks to empower adolescent girls and young women from economically disadvantaged communities — the organisation conducted online life skill sessions, covering financial literacy, health and peer pressure. By democratising vital knowledge from the limitations of in-person volunteer reach and the constraints of people’s time, the Naz Foundation could communicate with a much wider audience.


Power of partnerships

Most sectors did not have a playbook for adapting and responding to the socially distanced reality of the pandemic. Development organisations in India quickly realised that working in silos would be a missed opportunity to maximise their impact. Instead, the country’s development sector came together, working with panchayats (community leaders), district governments and even brands to better serve their communities. Forty-four percent of Indian development organisations surveyed said they had engaged in cross-sector collaborations and partnerships with other organisations. This collaborative approach enabled different organisations with common goals to share information, support each other and affect positive change in the communities they serve.

Forging stronger collaborations was a key strategy for ChildFund India, an NGO dedicated to early education, and maternal and child health. The non-profit strengthened its ties with other community-based organisations such as youth groups, mothers’ groups and child-protection committees to ensure that children had more local avenues for support. It also worked closely with government authorities and larger platforms such as the COVID Action Collaborative to raise ration support from new donors in the process. By coming together with like-minded organisations and building out each other’s strengths, community impact multiplied.


Focus on authenticity

Finally, an important factor to consider is the power of strong, authentic communication. Telling stories from the heart stands at the core of all else: 84% of the individuals surveyed agreed that authentic storytelling could further an organisation’s vision and mission — reaching out to its network and building allies to improve overall programme efficacy.

iTeach Schools, a community of free schools for underprivileged children, understood this concept well. It communicated its challenges around the structural issues causing India’s education crisis, leading to an increased awareness amongst the government and the public. This, in turn, resulted in advocacy and reform. By sharing its stories, iTeach Schools and other organisations benefited from hundreds of volunteers who contributed their time and talent to considerably reduce the staff’s workload during the crisis. In this case, storytelling led to stronger relationships with its stakeholders and eventually roused them into collective action.


Empowering the development sector — together

As the underprivileged across the world have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the development sector’s work is more crucial than ever. While the sector had to adapt programmes to a rapidly changing context last year, there is an opportunity this year for systemic change and reform. By making proactive choices in technological adoption and remaining open to collaboration, we can unleash the full potential of community action — maximising impact across the world.

March 23, 2021

Attrika Hazarika, Avian WE