India Shares; Responding to Vulnerable Communities During Covid-19



Smile Foundation, a partner of Change the Game Academy in India launched a campaign dubbed ‘India Shares’ in March following the declaration of the Corona Virus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in the country. This was set up primarily to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable populations in their community during a time when the whole world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Gloria Chemutai caught up with Swatantra Gupta, the General Manager, Corporate Partnerships & Alliances at the Foundation to share more about how they are coping during this time while giving tips of how organisations can emerge stronger. Read on.



Smile Foundation has provided over 15 million meals to vulnerable people in India. How is it conducting the fundraising amidst the pandemic and how different is it from other times?

When the pandemic was declared in India, followed by a lockdown period, we realized immediately that there was a big need from people in small towns and slum areas.  Migrant workers especially lost their jobs and their livelihoods. We had to think fast of a way to intervene and this is how ‘India Shares’ campaign was born so that people in the country could find an avenue to give and share with other people and communities.

This was done in two ways. First, we focused on food distribution. This was because the lockdown meant that people had no work and therefore no means of feeding their families. Secondly, we created awareness around the pandemic and hygiene practices, especially making people aware of the hazards and how they could stay safe.

We set a goal to provide 20 million meals. We created publicity by reaching out through digital platforms such as social media, connecting with our private sector partners and reaching out for support wherever we could think of getting it.  In a period of about three months we have managed to provide over 15 million meals. Our goal was to reach 20 million meals by the end of July and we are on track. So far we have partnered with 35 companies- local and multinational- for the food distribution programme.

Tell me more about your partnerships with companies and institutions in intervening in the community?

Smile already has a strong base of private companies which support our work and we have gotten half the support from those who were already our partners. The other half is from people and companies who saw our campaign and wanted to support. We reached out to them with our proposals and many partners went with us because they believed in our implementation plan. Our plans were well organized, we developed protocols on how to distribute food while observing all the rules and the implementation went smoothly.

The pandemic has disrupted normal operations for organizations across the world and therefore seriously affecting management of operations. What management practices can you say have made a difference in your response during this time?

Management has a role to play in adapting to the change quickly. We started working from home immediately the pandemic was declared in the country and the organisation has kept communication going on a daily basis with staff. The communication is done in a positive manner which encourages the staff. The positivity embedded in this style is appreciated despite the heaviness of the pandemic.  

The pandemic has been around for a few months now and as Smile Foundation, you have managed to swim the tide. What lessons have you been drawing from this?

Our biggest lesson was to stay calm and keep our staff together, so that no one stays behind. A lot of times during a crisis such as this, people panic. We are a large organisation of about 400 staff and we had to devise a way of ensuring that no one was left behind and that people remain informed and motivated.   

We also put systems in place and created mechanisms and good HR practices to capture every day happenings at every one’s level. For example, having daily meetings to know how people are progressing and for them to have a feeling that they are still working is important. At this time, we had to bring in the best technology available in the market to ensure that the transition to working from home did not affect work output. We have also capitalized on the use of social media to the best of our ability to keep people informed and inspired.

Local fundraising skills are integral to much needed interventions during this pandemic. Have you any tips or tricks that you would say work in fundraising locally during crisis times?

Activation of digital platforms cannot be underestimated. We started by creating the ‘India Shares’ campaign on a digital platform and targeting it to the right people. If you are targeting companies, make sure you research well, know your pitch, and write a good proposal. If you are asking for money, it is important to state how you will use the money with efficiency in order to attract donors to your cause.

Let’s talk about CtGA training, what considerations do you have in place to ensure that learning continues even as classroom training is on hold?

We are deliberating to transform the classroom training into virtual modules. Our trainers are involved in creation and conversion. We have also involved our CtGA grassroots partners in the Covid-19 food distribution. We have started facilitating workshops with 50 grassroots NGOs on how they can leverage technology as a platform and how they can fundraise during this period.  We are now conceptualizing the virtual meeting which will be a 7-day event where we will talk about case stories of CtGA and have a half a day conference in August with funders so that they can witness what we are doing and get involved in our work.

What is your advice to organisations that want to engage partners to ensure their work continues during this crisis?

During a crisis, you need to be very quick. Sometimes we miss the opportunity because we did not act fast enough. This is also a time to leverage on digital platforms. Use social media to your advantage to tell your story and market your programs to potential partners.

Lastly, how do you see the coming six to twelve months playing out? How are you preparing for it? 

 ‘India Shares’ is our banner campaign and our immediate effort is food distribution. In the second phase we have reached out to companies and launched a campaign, ‘Help cannot wait’. A large part of our intervention is towards making people aware of health and hygiene measures in place. In the next six months we are also looking at providing health care to the neediest, focusing on education- that is dedicating time to see how well children can study from home using technology. Lastly we will focus on livelihoods especially by identifying areas of training for people who have lost their jobs.