Home Event Reports The Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Non-profit Sector

The Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Non-profit Sector

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Arjun Kumar, Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Mahima Kapoor

The Covid 19 Pandemic has been an unprecedented and disruptive event. Each and every sphere of human activity has been immensely hit and the nonprofit sector as well had to bear the brunt of it. On that line of thought, the Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a  #WebPolicyTalk on “The Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Nonprofit Sector“, on August 10, 2021.

The Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Nonprofit Sector

Impact of FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act)

The event was chaired by Amitabh Behar, CEO, OXFAM India. He opened the session with a brief summary of how the pandemic disrupted the lives of the grass root people. He went on to further assess the overall impact of the pandemic on the non-profit sector. Even amidst the pandemic, the last year’s Union budget actually curtailed the power of these non-profit sectors, by making it mandatory for them to re-register after every 5 years. This was followed by the FCRA Amendment which made the law even more stringent. He raised the pertinent question of finance and funding of these non-profit sectors, with the FCRA amendments and CSR not being able to come in.

He also explained the degree to which civil society activities are welcomed in this country, where questioning and holding the Government accountable can easily push them into the “unwanted” list.

Mr Behar lauded the civil society sector for its stellar service during the pandemic.

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Issues involved

The discussion was carried forward by the main speaker of the event Ingrid Srinath, Director, Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University, Sonepat. She initiated the session by acknowledging the immense contributions of the non-profit sector in standing with the common, marginalized citizens of the country during the pandemic.

  She focused her discussions on the condition of the non-profit sector. To assess the programmatic, financial and organizational impact of the covid crisis on the non-profit sector, two studies were conducted by CSEP. These study reports point out some crucial takeaways for the non-profit sector.

The flexibility of the funding that the non-profit sector enjoys is a key determinant of their ability to respond.

The levels of autonomy in the organization that allows the frontline workers to respond and the promptness of decision making of any organization goes a long way in determining its success and relevance in society.

On that note of discussion, Miss Srinath also mentioned the need to change the norms of funding of these non-profit sectors.  India needs to make some policy changes right now, in terms of a non-profit to determine whether we are going to be a more just and resilient nation at the end of the pandemic. The Indian society also needs to assess what values the non-profit sector adds to our lives and to our society and why it is necessary to ensure that it can continue to do so.

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CSOs(Civil society organizations) & grassroot activities

Ms Medha Uniyal, Program Director, Livelihoods at Pratham Education Foundation, Mumbai, Maharashtra, re-echoed Mr Behar’s arguments. Reiterating Miss Srinath’s study, Ms Uniyal once again pointed out the consistent depletion of funding to the non-profit sector, especially during the pandemic. Organizations that work in the most remote parts in non-metros, serving the marginalized and weaker communities are hit the hardest. She also shared the experience of working amidst the pandemic as a member of this non-profit sector. She also explained how organizations reconfigured during this time.

The quick shifts that were required during the pandemic, were very promptly managed by most of these organizations. Miss Uniyal also highlighted the stupendous work performed by most of the organizations affiliated with the non-profit sector in safeguarding the mental health of their employees as well as for the population in general.

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Financial and associated issues

Mr Binoy Acharya, Founder Director, UNNATI – Organisation for Development Education, Ahmedabad, reiterated Miss Ingrid’s argument. Additionally, he discussed a research study done in the month of May, on the effects of the non-profit sector during the pandemic, with a big sample of 577 NGOs. Some crucial findings were as follows- Most of the non-profit organizations during the pandemic have been understaffed and under-resourced. They remained unrecognized and unprotected despite the laudable works done for benefitting the general populace.

Following Mr Behar’s assertions,  he mentioned the need to increase the number of non-profit organizations working in India, given the large size of the country and the ginormous population. The budgets of the existing CSOs are also grossly low and need to be increased immediately to serve their purpose. He expressed regret, that despite the commendable work done by the people involved with the non-profit sector, in standing with the population in these direst of times, the Government did not recognize them as covid warriors.

The Government support to the CSOs also has been very minimal and insignificant.

42% of the CSOs in India have been using their own resources, however little, due to the stark lack of funding or financial assistance from the Government.  Mr Acharya’s study also pointed out that 92% of the CSOs said that they lack the required financial resources. The pandemic has made this sector completely isolated and changed the resource base drastically.

He mentioned that in India, the best work is done by the small and the medium NGOs, as they can reach every section of the population, which many times big NGOs have failed to carry out. Unfortunately enough, the small and the medium CSOs had to bear the brunt of the pandemic the most, without any collateral support. Mr Acharya in acknowledging the performance of the CSOs also mentioned the need to hold the higher authorities accountable for the lack of basic services like health and food.

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Role of CSOs in dealing with COVID-19

The discussant Mr Jagadananda J, Mentor & Co-Founder, Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), Orissa, acknowledged the role of CSOs in dire times like the Covid 19 pandemic. The innovations that the CSOs brought pertaining to the migrant crisis were commendable. After getting back to their rural villages, it was again these CSOs which provided them with livelihood and also fostered the revival of the rural economy. The correlation mechanism that was supposed to be put in place between the Government and the CSOs at various layers of administration, never really worked out. 

Despite lauding the works of the CSO in fighting the perils of a pandemic the Government never really took note of the frustration and agonies of this sector. The Government should be provided with grassroots feedbacks to properly grasp the damage made by the pandemic so that future policies can be changed accordingly and activities can be fine-tuned.  The CSO provided that much-needed feedback platform, which again the Government ignored.

Mr Jagadananda mentioned the need to recognize the works done by the CSOs.

This can be fulfilled only when the people associated with this sector are properly recognized as the frontline covid warriors.

He also mentioned the burgeoning intermediary CSOs, which got fatter during the pandemic. They have created a new kind of work architecture and deepened the inequalities between the civil society of international standards and local CSOs.

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In the follow-up question session, the first question that was sought to be cleared up was the issue of funds and the need to shift its origination from the north to the global south. In answering the queries raised, Miss Srinath highlighted the need to first clear up the issues related to philanthropic norms. A coherent strategy is needed to shift philanthropic norms among domestic philanthropists who continue to battle on FCRA and related issues. In addition to that, there is an urgent need for better sectoral infrastructure and working together to shape the narrative.

Mr Jagadananda highlighted the efficacy of CSO networking during pandemic times and the beauty of collectively tackling the menace.

Mr Acharya mentioned the need to be transformative in transaction and engagement. Miss Uniyal reiterated once again, the urgency to better the conditions of the CSOs and the support that is provided.

In his concluding remarks Mr Amitabh Behar, summarised the discussions done. Firstly, he acknowledged the need to look at the internal working base of the CSOs, secondly, he mentioned the issues related to large NGOs, and thirdly about the intermediaries that have cropped up and became critical. Lastly, the need to redefine the existing working strategy of the CSOs in tune with the emerging crises.

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In his concluding remarks Mr Amitabh Behar, summarised the discussions done. Firstly, he acknowledged the need to look at the internal working base of the CSOs, secondly, he mentioned the issues related to large NGOs, and thirdly about the intermediaries that have cropped up and became critical. Lastly, the need to redefine the existing working strategy of the CSOs in tune with the emerging crises.

Acknowledgment: Anondeeta Chakraborty is a research intern at IMPRI.

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