Realigning CSR post COVID-19
At SoStakes, we have been working from home since Lockdown 1.0 and have had our hands full. We have been supporting Not-for-Profit partners at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in raising CSR funds and also advising our corporate partners in extending support to COVID-19 related responses. The CSR sector has been abuzz as both corporates and implementing organizations are trying to ensure effective utilization of funds in view of the wide swathe cut by the pandemic which, in turn, has left millions of people destitute.
Most corporates were quick to respond to the urgent emanating needs during the lockdown and committed themselves to support relief activities, including the provision of food and essential items for the distressed. Indian corporates have made generous contributions – the Tata Group (₹15,000 Cr), Wipro (₹1,125 Cr), Reliance (₹500 Cr), ITC (₹150 Cr), Infosys (₹100 Cr) – towards setting up and expanding health infrastructure, sourcing, and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), conducting COVID tests, etc. while also making a significant contribution to the Government’s PM Cares Fund. Global companies like Google have found innovative ways of supporting online education, COVID information, and data charting and livelihood support.
We are now in Unlock 1.0, with offices and businesses looking to reopen even though there is no sign of the pandemic assuaging. While many of us prepare to resume work and regain normalcy, we are painfully aware that this new ‘normal’ is one of hardship and distress, especially for the vulnerable groups who have been hit hard. Already existing social inequalities now stand to be further exacerbated. COVID is going to have a significant impact on children, women, migrant workers, daily wagers, and self-employed. The long-term impact will be potentially debilitating for people already in the margins.
It is estimated that 140 million people lost their jobs since the pandemic1 began. Impact on livelihoods and lack of food security are major concerns. The Government’s relief packages under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) including cash transfer to women and senior citizens, LPG cylinders for the poor, food distribution through the Public Distribution Programme (PDS) has failed to reach many sections, one of the causes being the lack of adequate documentation such as ration cards and Aadhar. The Government registered close to 22 lakh migrants in shelters across states amid the lockdown and plans to use this information for a skills mapping exercise to help them find jobs in areas of their location. However, this exercise has already run into problems as registered information is limited to their names, contact details, bank account details, etc.2
Closure of schools has impacted not only children’s learning but also their nutrition intake as mid-day-meals in Government and Government-aided schools are the primary source of nutrition for many children (primary and upper-primary children). Although many states resumed meal provisions, some states lagged. Child and maternal malnutrition are already a challenge in India with 1.04 million under-five deaths reported in 2017 (UNICEF). As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 4) Report, 35.7% of children under 5 years of age are underweight and 38.4% are stunted.3 Children and adolescents suffering from malnutrition are vulnerable to illness and death. Economic distress also caused a surge (50%) in cases of abuse and violence according to Childline India. They report an increased number of forced child marriages in states like Bihar and Rajasthan as families try and deal with the loss of income and employment.4
As elsewhere, in India too there has been a shift to online education due to closure of schools. There is an ongoing debate on the feasibility and affordability of online education, in terms of access to laptops and internet (less than 15% of rural households and 42% urban households have internet services), and also concerning sustainability as both parents and students question the merit of on-line education vis-à-vis learning in a classroom in the physical presence of a teacher. Whichever way, technology-enabled education is an enabler and will continue to be explored post-COVID.
Women have had to bear a greater burden during the pandemic. The National Commission on Women has reported a two-fold increase in complaints of domestic violence, along with increased cases of rape, attempted rape complaints.6 A large number of women are also at the forefront of the fight against COVID. 70% of healthcare and social services staff are women including the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM), who have been critical, especially in rural areas, in spreading COVID awareness.
Preventive healthcare including hygiene and sanitation, post-COVID will be critical. Better awareness regarding public health practices, preventive care including vaccinations, nutrition intervention, and psychological and mental health services will be critical to deal with given the challenges. Supporting healthcare infrastructure (rural-healthcare access, waste management, sanitation, water, etc) in the medium to long term will be the next and logical step towards strengthening the country’s health system’s resilience and, thereby, the ability to respond to large-scale emergencies.
Before COVID, the education sector was the recipient of the largest share of CSR funds – 30-35%, followed by healthcare. Education will likely continue to be a focus area for many corporates. However, rebuilding livelihood, child and maternal nutrition, preventive healthcare, and building community resilience demand equal, if not more, attention. Perhaps it is time to step back and relook at CSR funding patterns and align it to the need of the hour.