Exclusive Sakhipost interview with Santanu Mishra, co-founder and executive administrator, Smile Foundation
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 dozens of people who have been severely affected. Civil society organizations have mitigated the impact of the pandemic on populations by working to address systemic issues and reach out to marginalized populations.
In an interview with Reshmi ARSantanu Mishra, Co-Founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation, discusses how the sector has coped with the challenges of the pandemic and its impact on funding causes other than Covid.
What impact has Covid-19 had on health nonprofits in India? How has the sector prepared for the third wave of infections?
The non-profit sector has played a crucial role at the local level in particular. Demonstrating commitment, resilience and ingenuity during the ongoing pandemic is no exception. The waves shook the nation and the emergence of Omicron once again made health a priority in general.
Non-profit health organizations have played a complementary role in the country’s health service delivery mechanism with much-needed manpower support, mobilizing vital supplies ranging from masks and PPE kits to disinfectants , oximeters and oxygen. The sector also plays a role in creating access to medical services through community engagement. Since the immediate focus of the social development sector must be on mitigating pandemic-induced challenges, nonprofit organizations have had to recalibrate their work accordingly.
Do you expect the non-Covid healthcare work of non-profit organizations to return to the focus as India’s economy is expected to continue to recover in the current fiscal year?
With the onset of the likely third wave, health will continue to be a priority. Most nonprofits have incorporated COVID-19 relief into their health care work plans and continue to work with communities, addressing all health issues.
Many organizations like ours have had to innovate, realign delivery strategies, and organize resources for emergencies. The pandemic was not heralded, but it was also a phenomenon that was much more than just a health emergency.
We have distributed over 27 million meals in the form of dry ration kits to families who have lost their daily wages and livelihoods across India. Some 2,00,000 vital hygiene kits have been made available to vulnerable populations.
Ordinary hospitals were almost inaccessible to the general public and even doctors and paramedics were overwhelmed due to the influx of Covid-19-related patients. We have developed our Smile on Wheels mobile healthcare program and have helped over a million people on their doorsteps in remote villages and clusters of urban slums.
Through innovations such as telemedicine and virtual care, we have served 1,00,000 families in need across the country.
There have been widespread job losses, but we have seen the emergence of a new field of employment. We have trained more than 10,000 young people from deserving family backgrounds as general service assistants. They are now employed in various hospitals, nursing homes and home care.
The education of disadvantaged children was another area that was overshadowed by the scale of the health crisis. Suddenly, school went online, but most parents didn’t own a smart phone with internet, had only one phone to manage their work, or weren’t equipped to guide their children’s studies at the House. By organizing tablets, smart phones, cluster classes, by requalifying our human resources and by guiding parents and communities, we have succeeded in ensuring the continuing education of approximately 50,000 children.
Once things are normalized, many other human development activities will not only speed up, but also reappear in an improved and more efficient avatar. On the positive side, the pandemic has forced us to bring in technology and better mechanisms, whether it’s education, healthcare, or skills.
How have civil society organizations changed the way they operate due to the fluidity caused by the global pandemic?
The pandemic has not only been a global health crisis, it has changed the way we live, travel, work, study and do many other things. Naturally, civil society organizations have had to adapt to the plethora of changes to bring about change on the ground.
Teachers were trained in the dynamic digital learning environment in no time. Parents and children have been familiarized with the virtual and mixed mode of schooling. Telemedicine, advice and virtual care, etc. have been put into practice in health care, especially for communities living in remote rural areas and urban slums. The mental well-being of children, whether from privileged or disadvantaged backgrounds, has suddenly emerged as a matter of concern during the pandemic. Organizations needed to analyze the problem, develop solutions and prepare the mechanism to address it. The employability training program had to undergo a market-oriented transformation. Many related jobs and skills have simply disappeared, while many new job fields have appeared. For example, we have focused on developing courses and training young people on logistics and supply chain management, general service assistant and patient care, digital marketing, banking services, etc. and have had great success in placing them.
Working with communities requires frequent visits, human interaction and travel. The pandemic has restricted many such activities.
Resource mobilization, planning, project management, human resource development, etc. also needed to be redesigned and realigned with the changing environment.
I believe most disruptions are for the best and there is no turning back.
What support do non-profit health organizations expect from the Indian government?
There are three sets of key stakeholders in the field of social impact, namely government, business and civil society organizations. Each of these stakeholders brings with it a unique strength. While the government has scale, businesses bring with them financial resources. Civil society organizations have local and community contacts as well as domain experience in creating a social return on investment.
We believe that these three actors 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 work wonders.
Non-profit health organizations need government support to collaborate on the national mission and play a complimentary and complementary role in achieving universal access to health care. Over the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the need for wide availability of quality health services, especially primary health care. Together, government, business, and civil society organizations can create robust healthcare delivery systems that can be scaled up quickly to tackle the pandemic-like situation and ensure the overall well-being of people. citizens.