How a global COVID-19 pandemic made us rethink philanthropy

August 05, 2021 2:42 PM

From converting auto-rickshaws into ambulances to setting up COVID-19 care helplines, many individuals became philanthropists through such acts, and we became more accustomed to giving without reservation.

COVID-19 pandemic, charitable, financial support, vulnerable populations, ambulances, COVID-19 care helplines, philanthropistsThe pandemic has caused many philanthropic organizations to create emergency funds and rethink grant-making procedures to get money into the hands of non-profits quickly.

By Shekhar Mehta

We have been living through trying times since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019. From education, to work, to social engagements, all aspects of our lives changed in unprecedented ways, and it seems that these societal changes will continue, now that the third wave of coronavirus is expected to hit later this year. The nature of philanthropy also underwent a shift, as philanthropists went above and beyond to support charities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, charitable citizens– in individual and collective capacities– not only offered financial support, but also came up with unique, creative ideas to provide help to India’s most vulnerable populations. From converting auto-rickshaws into ambulances to setting up COVID-19 care helplines, many individuals became philanthropists through such acts, and we became more accustomed to giving without reservation.

A trend of ‘giving’ more

Although India has faced earthquakes and tsunamis, COVID-19 has been one of the largest crises we’ve ever had to address. Yet, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is the generosity of people who offered both financial and in-kind help. Notably, as per the recent World Giving Index report, India has risen to become the world’s 14th most charitable country, as a result of monetary contributions made by philanthropists, corporations, non-profits, and individuals.

In terms of in-kind support, the power of networks has proven invaluable as they allow communities to rapidly respond to an issue by identifying areas of intervention and deploying resources accordingly. For instance, in March 2020–when people were losing their jobs and depression was on the rise, Rotary Club of Bombay set up a free counselling hotline United Well-Being Volunteers together with Poddar Foundation. To date, the helpline has enrolled and trained 700 volunteers, who along with 50 professional counsellors to help people cope with anxiety and other trauma caused by the lockdown.

The pandemic has seen a rise in collaboration between donors, central and state governments, NGOs and other institutional bodies, resulting in the co-creation of scalable solutions to complex issues that emerged at different stages. For instance, Rotary clubs across India offered unwavering support of central and local government efforts to provide medical equipment, food, masks, sanitizers, and other relief materials to flatten the COVID-19 curve in respective states, under the guidance of Rotary India’s Covid Task Force. These Good Samaritans across cities continue to stand in solidarity with the government and support its efforts to immunize and safeguard citizens from the deadly infection by setting up of COVID-19 care centres, vaccine centres, oxygen plants and securing and distributing oxygen concentrators. Above and beyond addressing the coronavirus pandemic, governments in developing countries are increasingly realizing that they must accelerate these partnerships to not only strengthen India’s response, but also to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on literacy, healthcare, and nutrition.

Even as mitigation efforts continue, long-term recovery goals are also a priority, and Rotary has contributed more than US$37 million in COVID specific grants to fund relief and recovery efforts as well as prepare for potential future strains and ongoing coronavirus impacts.

How obstacles became opportunities-virtual support

From combating illiteracy to improving sanitation, concerned citizens never shy away from offering a helping hand. However, the coronavirus crisis forced us to come up with news ways to offer support, and virtual service in a digital world has flourished.

While thousands of volunteers do step out of their comfort zones to help those in need in person, many mobilise the power of social media by contributing to non-profits to keep the fight on.

The pandemic has caused many philanthropic organizations to create emergency funds and rethink grant-making procedures to get money into the hands of non-profits quickly. For instance, Rotary adapted quickly and expanded existing grant structures so that members could more quickly access resources to take on projects that help their communities address the impacts of COVID-19, and staff have prioritized COVID-19 grant applications to approve them as quickly as possible.

The role of philanthropy in the years to come

Although the coronavirus has negatively impacted the world—and we are still enduring the pandemic—the past year has proven the value of philanthropy. As the continued risk hovers above us, we’re yet to see how philanthropy will continue to progress, but I am hopeful that all facets of society will continue to respond with benevolence and compassion.

(The author is President of Rotary International. The article is for informational purposes only. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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