By The Bridge Correspondent
Prayas responds to COVID-19
NGOs rise to push the envelope for the third wave
By The Bridge Correspondent
Hero of Humanity
“This is war time and wars are won by strategy”
What started as a small journey is now a movement. The idea is simple but path breaking. Use urban discard (clothes, utensils, books, toys, stationery and more) to help alleviate poverty and give dignity to the poor. In turn, the poor work on neglected issues (say a broken road, a dry pond) to get the material as reward.
It has been this very ideology that has been the forefront of change at Goonj since its inception in 1999.
At the helm of the organisation is the Founder and Magsaysay award winner, Anshu Gupta. He has won several national and international honors like Ashoka and Schwab Fellowship. He also found space in Forbes Magazine which listed him as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs.
Anshu Gupta spoke to Prachi Raturi Misra on how Goonj adapted to Covid challenge, power of civil society and the road ahead. Excerpts of the interview
Q: What were some of your big learnings after Covid’s first wave?
A: I guess it came as a shock and lesson for each one of us, to the entire world. We plan ahead for the next ten years and suddenly out of nowhere a virus throws everything off gear. It showed everyone the shallowness of so much. Think of the largest, fanciest airports in the world, big shopping malls, huge buildings– everything was closed.
We saw how the most robust health systems over the world failed. It showed all of us that the priorities we created were all wrong. It was like a slap on the face of humanity to show us the kind of societies we have created.
The good thing it brought to fore was how one of the most undervalued thing in our country is the role of civil society.
What is needed is a drastic change where leaders need to lead from the front. We need to review systems. This is a war time and wars, I always say are won with strategy.
Q: How did Rahat Covid start and what were the initial challenges?
A: We had to change our strategy overnight. In flat three days our Covid strategy was ready and rolled out as Rahat Covid. The need of the country had changed and we had to change as well. We couldn’t work with the old strategy because the need of the hour was different.
What worked for us is the simple fact that we have reach in the deepest pockets of the country, we understand logistics, we understand material management and most importantly we have the trust of people.
We began buying vegetables directly from farmers and used them in relief kits. Food and material came in, people pitched in every possible way. I am so touched to see how everyone has been doing their bit. Like I said, civil society is highly under rated.
I have always been proud of Goonj’s work but in this unforeseen time, all the more. I am extremely proud to be a part of the social sector.
Q: Rahat Covid has eight different work areas through which you reach marginalised communities. How did these evolve?
A: I guess we learnt along the way. In the first wave, we involved women with making masks and cloth pads, supporting frontline workers.
We also saw how dhaba owners were suffering because dhabas were closed and there were no people out. Second wave saw us start khichri dhabas. Here we support dhaba owners to make khichri which we then supply to people who might be in need of food. We bought vegetables directly from farmers and used them in food kits. Another thing we began in the second wave were ‘Not alone centers’. For entire families living in as single room, social distancing is impossible. These centers filled that need. These are ready for the predicted third wave as well.
Q: The worst hit in COVID have been poorest of the poor. Did your work in rural areas and communities come in handy to help reach them?
A: Absolutely, yes. Over the years, we have built a grid of relationship, of know how of how logistics work. We have 900 plus members. All we needed to do was make use of these.
Everyone pitched and it has been an extremely rewarding experience.
Since dignity for work is always at the core of our work, it is brilliant that we managed about 1000 activities with people, despite COVID. Roads were built, bridges repaired, the work went on because people who got help, came back to do their bit when they could.
Q: Any anecdotes from your Covid experience of Goonj?
A: In the past 15 months our lenses changed completely. This is the first time we looked at communities like the differently abled, HIV+, sex workers, devadasis. We also worked with artisans, musicians, transgenders, and lepers. The missed out communities face challenges even in normal circumstances, Covid only made the situation much more challenging. So we did our bit to reach out to them.
Q: There is a talk of a third wave. How well prepared are we, as a country for another wave?
A: As a country, I am not sure how prepared we are. We all saw the horrors that unfolded.
As an institution, I would say we are prepared to keep doing our best. Each one of us in fact after the second wave needs to ask a few questions. Do you have a job, do you have food on your plate and did you survive the second wave? If you say yes, it is time to give back in whichever way possible. Look at your strength and give back. If you are a singer, sing, if you are great at conversations, talk to the lonely people at home, if you can cook, give a meal to someone who needs it.
Q: Over two decades of Goonj how has the journey been?
A: It has been an extremely beautiful journey. Because it is an organisation we built there was scope to try so many things and learn so much. For me it has also been a journey of self-discovery. I have been extremely lucky to get so many blessings and so much love.
Q: What are some of the dreams you have for Goonj?
A: We want to continue working hard. We want Goonj to keep growing as an idea and pass on our ideology.
India Inc. calibrates efforts to counter Covid-19 challenges
The humanitarian side of the blue chip business houses was lauded when they decided to share financial burden of the affected employees. In a move that inspired many giants of the market, Tata Steel announced they would continue to give last-drawn salaries of the employees who succumbed to coronavirus to their families, till the retirement age of 60 years. The families of the deceased employees would also be offered required medical and residential facilities. Additionally, the company has promised to bear educational expenses of children of its frontline employees who have died due to the infection. “The company has always been a shield of steel, supporting its stakeholders at all times. Tata Steel family stands stoically with all its people, committed to their security and well-being,” the company stated in a statement. Tata Steel, with a force of over 75,000 employees, is one of the largest employers in India to introduce such benefits.
Vaccines are touted as the best weapon to fight future waves of Covid-19, if they arise. As soon as the government allowed business houses to inoculate their employees, the move was put in action instantaneously. Bajaj Auto is in the process of administering the jab free of cost to approximately 20,000 of its ‘employees, off-roll employees, contract workers and their family members.’ The company has already vaccinated employees and their family members above 45 years of age in the initial phase. Special vaccination camps have been set up at the company’s Akurdi, Chakan and Waluj facilities in Maharashtra and Pantnagar plant in Uttrakhand, said the Pune-based company.“With a vaccinated workforce, we will not only be able to significantly reduce the stress on the public health systems but also get back to regular economic activity much faster. We look forward to our employees leaving behind all pandemic-related stress after the completion of this vaccination drive,” CP Tripathi, Advisor, Corporate Social Responsibility, Bajaj Auto Ltd, stated in a release. Shriram Automall has also decided to reimburse all expenses to employees incurred for Covid-19 testing and vaccinations, the CEO told us.
A major wing of Tata, TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) announced last month 118 ‘Covid Vaccination Centres’ in 21 cities to vaccinate nearly five lakh of its employees and their families. This means the company would have to administer a minimum of 1 million doses. It has also tied up with 1,500 hospitals that are part of cashless network and 300 non-network hospitals for their coronavirus treatment of their employees.
When the nation was battling with the deadly second wave of coronavirus, India Inc. was expected to use their mighty resources to navigate the grieving people out, which they dutifully did. In a bid to give back to the society, Shriram Automall supported PM CARES fund, became of a part of ISKCON 200 bed Covid treatment facility and joined hands with Hemkunt Foundation to distribute free oxygen to patients. Tata Trusts developed and handed over four treatment centres to the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, the Trusts-developed centres are at Sangli (50 beds) and Buldhana (104 beds), and Gautam Buddha Nagar (168 beds) and Gonda (124 beds) in Uttar Pradesh. Two more hospitals are being developed in Kekri and Jaipur regions of Rajasthan. Not just this, Tata Trusts and the Tata group tied up with two renowned medical institutions, Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore and Care Institute of Health Sciences (CIHS) in Hyderabad, to assist health care professionals augment skills in critical care in the management of Covid-19. The curated 22-hour on-line training programmes are meant for specific staff chosen by identified hospitals and are provided free of cost. This far, staff from over 2,340 hospitals in 28 states have been trained.
Bajaj Group’s commitment against Covid was reflected by a donation of Rs 300 crore towards various government, local administration and NGO initiatives. It also procured 12 oxygen plants and several other respiratory support equipments since the onset of the pandemic last year.
“During the first wave, we started a 32-bed facility at Akurdi plant that operates from eight buildings and provides free treatment by trained medical personnel. This was in addition to other Covid centres in Waluj (200 beds), Chakan (16-bed) and Pantnagar (15-bed). While a certain proportion of beds are reserved for the company’s employees and its staff, the remaining serves the requirements of the respective communities,” said the company. As per statistics, multiple thousands of patients have recovered at these facilities.
Learning from the bitter experiences of the last one and a half years, the Indian companies continue to observe and evolve strategies to help India emerge global leader, yet again. In Malhotra’s words, “we are now stronger than ever – physically, mentally, technologically and infrastructure wise to tackle third wave of Covid-19, if it occurs.”