Partnering with the Government on COVID Relief: Our Learnings and Experience

Ada Grewal

 

The resurgence of the second wave of COVID-19 over the last three months has had a devastating impact on India’s healthcare system. It has also led to further marginalisation of already vulnerable communities – including young people. To help combat the impact of the pandemic and supplement the efforts of the government and civil society, India has seen a surge in domestic and foreign philanthropic aid.   

Dasra too has rolled out multiple relief initiatives to support state governments, civil society organisations and communities. Through our global fundraising initiative, #BackTheFrontline, we have raised USD 7.3 million (of our USD 10 million goal) to support 100 local, grassroots non-profits that are supporting vulnerable communities fight COVID-19 on the frontlines across India. Through our flagship programme, the 10to19: Dasra Adolescents Collaborative – which aims to prioritise adolescents needs and amplify their voices – we have focused our relief efforts on funding Jharkhand-based organisations that are working on prioritising the well-being of adolescents on the ground and providing relief materials at the community and hospital level in tandem with the Jharkhand Government. To ensure that the voices of young people are directly heard, we are also running a citizen journalism leadership programme especially catered to young people in the state. 

As foreign and domestic philanthropic aid has flooded the country, so have questions about its disbursement and distribution. When it comes to reach and distribution, the Indian government is often the most efficient actor to partner with to ensure large-scale distribution and extensive reach of relief materials and aid. While at a smaller scale, we too have had experience in working with the government to direct COVID-19 relief materials where they are most needed, and have garnered rich learnings in the process of doing so. In this article, we would like to spotlight one aspect of our COVID-19 relief efforts – ensuring the successful fundraising and delivery of Oxygen concentrators to the Government of Jharkhand. 

Dasra has had a long-standing relationship with the Government of Jharkhand, and specifically the State’s National Health Mission (NHM). We have partnered with them on multiple projects and campaigns in our shared endeavour to champion the cause of adolescent health and well-being. During the peak of the second wave, the Jharkhand NHM reached out to Dasra to request support in supplementing existing COVID-19 relief and response measures, given that the second wave had swiftly spread across the state, gravely impacting and overburdening the existing health system.   

Reinforcing our shared commitment to prioritise the wellbeing of adolescents and young people, Dasra offered to support the government in fundraising and procurement of Oxygen Concentrators, while also providing support to local, community-based and youth-focused organisations who would be involved in the distribution of relief material at the last mile, carrying out awareness campaigns and training frontline workers.

The Delivery Process: 

The entire process, starting from receiving an initial request for support from the NHM, to finally delivering the Oxygen Concentrators took a total of 3 weeks.  

During this time, we coordinated closely with the NHM office to ensure that there were no gaps in logistics and that they were looped in at all points of time. We received a consignment of Oxygen Concentrators from #MissionOxygen, an initiative that raised funds to procure Oxygen Concentrators through crowdsourcing via social media – of which a subset of the Concentrators was earmarked for Jharkhand NHM on our request.  

Our experience working with the NHM was smooth and pleasant, with the NHM representatives being transparent and proactive during the entire process. The Concentrators were delivered successfully within a short period of time, taking into account unavoidable last-minute logistical delays in travel time. 

The process of successfully transporting the concentrators was made possible by constant coordination among multiple actors. We first received an initial consignment from #MissionOxygen, of which we set aside a number of concentrators for the Jharkhand NHM. Details related to the address and recipient of the consignment were then sought from the NHM, after which a daily tracking of the shipment was conducted to ensure that it reached the right place at the right time. 

As each of these steps needed to happen in quick succession to ensure timely delivery, NHM’s quick turnaround in terms of response ensured that the process was smooth. A designated point of contact was allocated from the NHM office who was always available to address any questions and troubleshoot during hurdles – even after office hours. Additionally, the NHM also ensured that a representative from their office was physically present to receive the consignment and they immediately sent us a confirmation of receipt. This experience has further strengthened our belief in the importance of having champions within the government.  

What We’ve Learned:  

There are of course learnings to help ensure a more streamlined process going forward. We are aware that State and Central government offices are currently overburdened and overwhelmed by COVID-19 and its impact on all sectors. 

  • Through our experience working in this field, we have observed that there are multiple actors (such as donor organisations, companies’ CSR bodies, NGOs and smaller community-based organisations) working across the State – each with their unique ability to support in such a time of crisis. However, there is a need for better communication between the government and these actors to ensure smoother coordination. 
  • We believe that to better support the government in coordinating with multiple actors such as funders, civil society organisations and communities themselves, the National Disaster Management Authority, (NDMA) as well as the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) should take a more active and central role in connecting and coordinating COVID-19 relief and response efforts of multiple civil society organizations across different geographies. 
  • One of the goals of the NDMA is to “promote a national resolve to mitigate the damage and destruction caused by natural and man-made disasters, through sustained and collective efforts of all government agencies, non-governmental organisations and people’s participation” by “adopting a technology-driven, proactive, multi-hazard and multi-sectoral strategy [sic]”.  
  • Centring this ethos in implementation will help different agencies carrying out relief work be cognisant of work being done by others, foster partnerships and highlight ignored geographies or populations. Additionally, this would help these actors leverage the work being done by each other, while not burdening the State Government and allaying the need for duplication of effort from their end.  
  • Leveraging the increasing reach and utility of technology, as seen in the case of the COWIN platform, an online platform or portal could help with coordinating this process, thereby reducing the effort required, as well as the time spent on communication and coordination. 

All these aspects are already included within the purview of the NDMA, SDMA and other governmental bodies, and therefore we recommend that these goals be implemented in practice to ensure relief efforts can reach the last mile and reduce effort on the part of the government as well as civil society organisations.