As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in India, we are witnessing measures to contain the disease through an extended national lockdown, social distancing norms, hygiene measures, community engagement models, communication and surveillance measures, and increases in the healthcare system’s capacity to screen, diagnose, manage, and contain the increasing number of cases.
The national and state governments are leading and coordinating this work, and mobilizing public and private resources to try to address some of the immediate consequences at scale. Others also have a role to play: civil society, multinational actors, the private sector, individuals—and philanthropy. At its best, philanthropy can supplement government and private sector efforts with flexible and often more nimble investments to advance innovation, fill key gaps, and anticipate and address the challenges that will continue or arise after the immediate crisis is past.
Over the last five weeks, the Bridgespan India conducted a new rapid research project, including interviews with around 50 experts, philanthropists, and Indian NGO and CSR leaders—focusing primarily on the role of philanthropy in the public health response to COVID-19 and addressing its immediate socio-economic consequences. These are the most urgent and important needs of the hour and have rightly been the focus of so much concern and action currently.
Based on our study, we observe philanthropy adding value in six main ways:
- Investingin rapid response, where government and the private sector may take longer. The Omidyar Network’s Rapid Response Funding Initiative for example, is supporting COVID-19 response initiatives that already have traction or have been piloted and can be implemented rapidly. Its focus is on people in the bottom 60 percent of India’s income distribution (including daily wage earners, gig-economy workers, and small businesses), who are among the most vulnerable to health and economic shocks in the wake of this crisis.
- Supporting innovation by advancing the development and deployment of new tools, processes, knowledge, and networks to address the pandemic. For example, Marico Innovation Foundation and A.T.E Chandra Foundation have come together in the Innovate2BeatCOVID grand challenge, to fund existing innovative solutions that can be modified and scaled immediately to combat shortages of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other respiratory supports. A juried competition, the grand challenge seeks to scale the most promising solutions to commercialization with monetary and business support.
- Spotlighting and addressing inequities in pandemic response measures and their consequences. By intentionally funding organizations that work with the most marginalized, be it migrant workers, slum dwellers, women and children, the LGBTQ community, sex workers, or the elderly, philanthropists are elevating some of the stigmatized issues and inequity challenges that the pandemic has exposed. For example, the Ford Foundation is supporting more than 40 organizations across India working on preventing and addressing violence against women and girls, with a focus on vulnerable and marginalized populations across class, caste, and geographies.
- Supporting localized, community-led approaches to aid prevention, detection and containment of the disease, and to enable last mile efforts where government services are not reaching those in need. The Rural Coalition, coordinated by SRIJAN and supported by several philanthropies, is a collective of over 20 grassroots civil society organizations that have come together to augment the government’s efforts by providing food, cash, essential supplies; raise awareness in over 9,700 gram panchayats across 100 districts in 12 states; and advocate to government on rural development needs on the ground.
- Supporting collaborations among multiple stakeholders, including nonprofits, individual and institutional capital providers, and government agencies, to harness networks that will support a larger and more effective response. GiveIndia’s India COVID Response Fund has brought together a network of nonprofits, high net worth individuals, retail and institutional donors, and other sector-building organizations to invest in areas where philanthropy can play a catalytic role. It has also gone directly to the public for support, including with an early May fundraising “I for India” concert on Facebook India featuring such celebrities as Aishwarya Rai Bacchan, Priyanka Chopra, Nick Jonas, and Mick Jagger.
- Advocating for and supporting government efforts to build health systems capacity at all levels—such as through CSR and philanthropic contributions to PM CARES Fund and wider government efforts.
Though COVID-19 offers unique and heightened challenges, several basic principles of high-impact philanthropy remain very relevant: partnering effectively with grantees; leveraging existing infrastructure and networks (especially of government systems and local communities); being accountable for results; and providing flexible, core funding, since needs and opportunities during this crisis can change so quickly. And the ability to correct course will be fundamental to an effective philanthropic response. Donors will need to continually step back and take stock of how they can continue to play an additive role in supplementing and augmenting the efforts of other actors.
Finally, the importance of philanthropic investment will likely increase as the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic in India becomes more widespread. As the response phase gives way to the recovery and rebuilding phase, philanthropists are likely to want to turn their focus to investing in the longer term national and sector development needs, when other sources of capital, such as government budgets and CSR monies, are anticipated to become tighter. Philanthropy must continue be an essential actor, playing its distinctive role in India’s response to COVID and its aftermath.
The full memo of Bridgespan’s rapid research study is available at https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/library/philanthropy/philanthropy-covid-19-response-in-india.
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