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Strengthening NGOs – the backbone of the nation – during the COVID-19 crisis

In just a matter of a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world to standby mode. In India, the government ordered a complete lockdown on March 25 to prevent the spread of the contagion. While the lockdown has been a step in the right direction and has helped healthcare, systems prep-up to deal with large number of COVID-19 cases, it has severely impacted several vulnerable, marginalized groups.

For millions of migrant laborers living in margins of urban India, income has come to a stop. Most of them decided to go back home to their native places after the lockdown was imposed. In the absence of public transport, they decided to take upon a journey on foot, some walking nearly a thousand kilometers. Many of them still continue to trudge the highways, battling hunger, thirst and the vagaries of the Indian summer with temperatures nearing 45 degrees Celsius.

Essential service providers, frontline workers such as healthcare professionals, police personnel and sanitation workers continue to put their lives on the line to keep the rest of the population safe. The homeless, elderly and the disabled also continue to reel under the aftermaths of the lockdown.   

The government of India has tried its best to provide succor to these groups, but in a country with a population of 1.3 billion, it is highly impractical to assume that the government can offer support and keep each and every citizen safe. The government needs to forge multiple partnerships to ensure each citizen is safe and secure. One such partner is the non-profit sector or the civil society.

Throughout the pandemic, the government had one consistent friend — the non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Thousands of NGOs have reached out to vulnerable groups through community kitchens, ration packets, hygiene kits, protective gear, health and awareness camps etc. The Government’s Empowered Group (created to tackle the crisis) urged around 92,000 organizations to partner with district administrations and contribute to the response efforts.

A crisis, it is said, can bring out the best in us. It certainly brought out the best in NGOs and unleashed their true potential. But at the same time, most NGOs are now looking at a bleak future, in the absence of a consistent sources of funding, brought about by the economic recession.

In its second COVID-19 survey, CAF America polled 880 organizations representing 122 countries to learn how the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact their work. About 92.42 percent of the 78 organizations that responded to the survey in India, reported being negatively impacted by the coronavirus global pandemic.

Close to 80 percent of the respondents have seen a significant reduction in the contributions they receive and had to suspend travel and events. While 20 percent of the organizations were forced to suspend their operations, more than 70 percent reported that they had to eliminate or suspend some of their regular programs and services.

The pandemic certainly will have a long-term effect on the way NGOs work. NGOs will have to redesign their programs taking COVID-19 and its impacts into consideration. Besides this, the respondents in the survey also pointed out that to continue their operations, they required access to continued funding, their team’s commitment and creativity, and access to technology.

In addition to the above, the survival of the non-profit sector also depends largely upon support from the Indian government. 

It is heartening to see that government has given NGOs their due credit. Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, the Indian government’s premier think-tank, acknowledges civil society as the backbone of the country.  ‘There is nobody better placed than the NGOs to understand the pulse at the grassroots and engage closely with communities.’ he wrote in an editorial published in an eminent daily. 

The government must extend a helping hand to NGOs in terms of funding and ease of operation. In an NGO consultation organized by NITI Aayog, CAF India’s CEO Meenakshi Batra, submitted recommendations that would help create an enabling environment for NGOs to respond to the COVID-19crisis.

CAF India recommended that individual donations for COVID-19 should be made 100 percent tax free. Secondly, the government should relook at proposed new amendments in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Act that proposes to exclude Trusts and Societies from receiving CSR grants.

Thirdly, the government should also review the new Income Tax Act requirement introduced this financial year. According to the new law, all NGOs will be asked to renew their 12A and 80G licenses at regular intervals. The 12 A license makes the income of NGOs tax free and 80 G allows donors get a 50 percent tax rebate on their donations.

At this point of time, it will be wise to defer renewals. If we have lived with earlier systems for so long, we can live with them for a bit longer as well. It is strongly recommended that instead the government should focus on enabling ease of giving and ease of operations for NGOs. Most NGOs have to focus on COVID-19 related programs. Rebuilding livelihoods of migrants who lost jobs; reaching out to victims of Amphan Cyclone and people impacted by flash floods in North-Eastern states is their top priority. The recent locust attack in farms of North India has also added to their task list.

In addition to this, their ongoing programs, which already were focused on vulnerable and marginalized communities, also need to be continued.

The efforts of NGOs have been recognized by Government authorities. In the light of this fact, the PM Cares Fund, which has attracted massive contributions from philanthropic, CSR and corporates sources, should also consider a partnership with the NGOs to enable them to scale up their efforts of providing COVID-19 related relief and rebuilding lives. Any such initiative needs to be non-bureaucratic, flexible and can be delivered through an umbrella mechanism.

NGOs are important to gauge the pulse of the nation; to reach out the poorest of the poor at the back of the beyond. There are about 3.2 million NGOs in India, which by a rough estimate must be employing anywhere near 100 million people.  In the west, many countries have announced packages to protect the not-for-profit sector, recognizing its value. While such an ask in India at this juncture might be a tall order, the government can always extend an encouraging hand and make it easier for NGOs help rebuild our society.

India stands at a crucial juncture. The country requires all hands-on-deck. NGOs are willing to work closely with the government and in an enabling environment they will be able to contribute more effectively in combating the COVID-19 crisis and several other disasters that we are experiencing right now.

– Meenakshi Batra | CEO, CAF India

CAF India is a registered charitable trust set up in 1998 to provide strategic and management support to corporates, individuals and NGOs with an aim to ensure greater impact of their philanthropic and CSR investments.

Charities Aid Foundation is a leading international not-for-profit organisation, which works to make giving more effective and charities more successful. CAF India is part of an international network with offices in nine countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Russia, South Africa and the United States of America and distributes funds to over 90 countries around the world.

We promote and support all socio development causes that positions us uniquely to address a wide cross sectoral span of donor interests. CAF India, with its dedicated team of experts, brings development sector knowledge and experience to take ‘Giving’ further.

We have more than a decade long proven track record of conducting due diligence of non-government organizations across India and have gained the trust of many individual donors, national and transnational companies, Foundations and institutions. CAF India has a wide range of ‘giving’ solutions which include Corporate giving, Give As You Earn, Individual giving etc. We have an impeccable record of serving large multinationals, Public Sector Undertakings, Indian commercial giants by delivering their CSR commitments successfully.

The projects pursued by us lends rigorous support to the marginalized societies in order to improve their socio-economic conditions. We provide expertise and the right resources to help our partners and donors identify the right NGO. We have performed due diligence checks on more than 2100+ NGOs, improving their capacity building scope for the future. Robust and impartial validation processes continue to be our competitive edge and this helps us establish trust amongst various NGOs which also facilitates increased engagement with the corporations.



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