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Second wave: Understanding the emerging responses of the CSOs

Excerpt from the report “Civil Society Support to Covid-19 Affected Families: Outreach and Resourcing in the Second Wave” authored by Kaustuv Kanti Bandyopadhyay, Muskan Chawla, S Ram Aravind and Yashvi Sharma, and published by Participatory Research in Asia – PRIA; Unnati; Jagadananda, Centre for Youth and Social Development – CYSD; Samarthan; and Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra:
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The second wave of COVID-19 hit the country even harder than the first wave. The spread of virus was fast and furious. It has caused enormous devastations to hundreds of families across the country whose members contracted the virus. This was particularly excruciating for the poor and marginalised whose meagre resource base hardly supported the long drawn battle against the peril of pandemic.
It was in this context, the CSOs were called into action. The humongous impact of the pandemic on the community required a concerted action of the government, private sector and civil society. However, a lot had changed in the resource and operating environment in which the CSOs were operating at a time when the second wave of pandemic occurred. The amendments to Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act, 2020 had barred the CSOs to re-grant foreign resources to other organisations. It had a colossal effect on the small and medium size organisations which often accessed resources from bigger organisations who were in direct interface with the donors.
The anecdotal evidences suggested that the CSOs responded to the emerging needs and challenges of the community. However, there was no data available to ascertain the extent of support provided by the CSOs to affected communities. On 26 May 2021, 56 CSOs from various parts of the country met online on the invitation from PRIA, CYSD, Samarthan, SSK and Unnati to discuss the situation and how CSOs were responding to the emerging situation. Among other things, the idea of launching a survey was mooted to understand the emerging responses of the CSOs. It was decided that a survey needed to be conducted rather rapidly, so that the results could be analysed quickly aiding the planning for immediate actions.
A survey team was constituted at PRIA and the survey was launched. The online responses were collected from 1-12 June 2021. A total of 583 responses were received from 26 States and four Union Territories. After a preliminary cleaning-up, a total of 577 responses were considered for the final analysis, as some responses were incomplete. The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) participated in the survey were pre-dominantly small and medium size organisations. The survey revealed that they have presence all over the country. More than two-third CSOs work in 1-5 districts with an annual budget of less than 1 Crore1 Indian rupees. Nearly half of them have been working for 16-20 years showing some form of institutional resilience despite odds. Nearly 90 percent of them implement programmes with grassroots communities. The respondent CSOs are also involved in organising campaigns and advocacy along with networking on various issues; undertaking research studies; and training of a variety of development actors including community based organisations such as women’s group, youth, farmers; front line government workers; local government functionaries, and other grassroots CSOs, among others. Approximately two-third of the CSOs (66 percent) have annual budget less than Rs.1 Crore, indicating that these are smaller grassroots organisations. Only one-fifth of the respondent CSOs have annual budget of more than Rs.1 Crore. A few respondent CSOs have annual budget of more than five crore. This category includes bigger CSOs, some with annual budget more than 15 crore.
Approximately, 50 lakh families have received support from the respondent CSOs. The CSOs mainly provided food, personal hygiene materials and medical supplies to the needy families. A number of them also provided emotional support to the families affected by the peril of pandemic. Still a few of them provided cash support to disadvantaged families. Despite smaller in size, majority of the CSOs collectively made a substantive outreach across the States and Union Territories. Access to authentic information was a critical need of community during the second wave of pandemic. Majority of the CSOs acted as info-intermediaries whereby they accessed authentic information from government and other expert institutions, simplified them in local languages and intelligible formats, and disseminated to the community.
As many as 78 percent respondent CSOs distributed food; nearly 91 percent CSOs have provided personal hygiene materials such as masks, sanitisers, sanitary pads, and gloves and PPE kits both to the community as well as frontline workers. Seventy three percent CSOs have provided various kinds of medical supplies including medicines, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and oximeters. A few of them also arranged plasma and blood donors for the patients. Nearly 40 percent respondent CSOs helped in hospitalisation of patients and arranged for COVID-19 tests. Furthermore, approximately one-fifth CSOs helped in organising quarantine centres.

A little more than 200 CSOs have reported that their staff have been sick due to contraction of the virus and more than 50 have reported occurrence of death among staff. These did not deter them to continue community service. The biggest challenge faced by 92 percent of the total respondent CSOs was unavailability of financial resources. The financial crunch curtailed their operations. As the civil society sector generally has been under-resourced for several years now, lack of resources has affected the small and medium size CSOs the most. A very few of them could mobilise additional resources to provide relief and other support to the affected communities. Yet, their ability to reach out to the needy families has been commendable, often with their own resources as has been shown in the survey. The survey revealed that majority of the organisations (42 percent) had to use their own resources to engage in relief and community support activities. Forty percent respondent CSOs were unable to raise any new resources to support this work. Seven percent CSOs managed to receive Indian CSR funding for pandemic disaster alleviation during the second wave. At least 6 percent CSOs reported that they mobilised resources from the local community, which is small but encouraging. Foreign donor contribution, both individual and organisational, Indian diaspora, and other sources accounted for 6 percent only.
This is something to be pondered by all who could have made a difference with their resource and policies – the government, the international donors, philanthropists of all origins and corporate social responsibility programmes. This is going to be a future strategic choice for a lot of resource providers. Is it good enough to find and fund a few largest CSOs with impressive individual outreach or better to work with several small ones to reach out to the farthest and hard to reach communities with similar impressive outreach?
The NITI Aayog, which on behalf of the government had solicited support from the CSOs with deeper gratitude needs to take a relook at financial and legal regulatory frameworks that constrict access to resources by the small and medium size organisations. The question that needs to be asked, is it fair to ignore the constraints imposed by the public laws and policies on the CSOs and still expect them to deliver public good at the time of crises?

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