Paving the Way for a Stronger, Healthier and More Resilient World – Perspectives from Philanthropy Leaders BMGF & APPI

Strategic Philanthropy | May 27, 2020

The ongoing crisis situation requires stakeholders across the development sector to act with urgency, while keeping the needs of the most vulnerable at the center of their approach. Philanthropy plays a significant role in dealing with this crisis by responding with agility and bringing forth networks, resources and a deep understanding of communities. Given Indias overburdened public system, which is scrambling to meet the needs of a vast underserved population with limited human and financial resources, such a complementary role is not just desired, but necessary. Philanthropic Foundationsare particularly well placed to drive step-change impact during a crisis like this given the sheer scale of resources at disposal and depth of networks built, from the highest levels in the government, down to the very communities experiencing the most severe implications of the crisis. 

Recognizing this unique value-add, foundations in India are showing a strong momentum for action, rallying efforts towards COVID-19 relief and response. In our conversation with 40 domestic and foreign foundations, corporates, UHNIs, intermediaries and others, 61% had already committed INR 1-10 CR to direct COVID-19 relief; 21% were even committing greater than INR 10 CR towards COVID-19relief.


With the hope of driving collaborations that can magnify impact, Dasra has convened the group FundersFlex4COVID19 to initiate dialogues among some of the largest foundations and strategic funders, encouraging coordinated efforts and facilitating an exchange of challenges, learnings and best practices. We hosted two webinars, with M Hari Menon, Director – India Office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Anurag Behar, CEO, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI). Taking the lead in their own distinctive ways – these influential philanthropy leaders are focusing on last-mile delivery in communities as well as the strategic imperative, by taking steps proactively to reimagine futures. 

BMGF is at the forefrontof investing in responsive health solutions,drawing on decades of experience of working in global health issues. The Foundation has committed more than USD 300 million at the global level to help fight the pandemic. It has prioritized research and development in vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to strengthen the system as well as the capacity to respond. Cognizant that much of what the Foundation remains relevant irrespective of COVID-19, it is providing flexibility to partners in being able to move around certain funding towards relief measures, without completely shifting focus of the existing grants. BMGF is also developing an integrated strategy by assessing the COVID-19 impact on all its core areasessential health services, sanitation, womens livelihood and financial inclusion, among others, acknowledging the need to reassess gaps and offer integration. For example, as immunization and nutrition services resume, BMGF will attempt at maximizing delivery and minimizing the risk to community and health care workers. Additionally, the Foundation is striving to contribute towards a response led by the governments of the world given this is a national emergency for every country. In India, BMGF is working closely with the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to align with the regional government needs. 

APPIs efforts have been leading the way towards providing humanitarian aid, healthcare services and building awareness around COVID-19. It is working closely with the government to ensure effective service-delivery and minimal duplication. Given the urgency of the situation, APPI has been proactively encouraging partner organizations to redirect efforts to address the needs arising due to the pandemic. It has even realigned its priorities to humanitarian need for providing food to the hungry.  APPI has also been expediting grants and providing greater flexibility to the organizations extending support to underserved communities during this period. The organization plans to prioritize funding in a phased manner to ensure both immediate and medium-term needs are met. Its strategy is rooted in leveraging organizational strengths through the interconnected networks of partners to build robust on-ground delivery systems. In the early days of the crisis, the organization focused on the most basic necessities. For perspective, in the first 20-40 days, it supported meals for 2.1 million people every day in Bangalore. In the medium-term, it will focus on the massive adverse impact on peoples incomes and try to bring this back towards a reasonable level of parity.  

The work of both BMGF and APPI offer inspiring learnings for all foundations and philanthropists looking to drive impact during this unprecedented pandemic. Largely, the shared lessons visible through their actions are: 

  • Collaborate with the government across levels for effectiveness and ensuring last-mile delivery  
  • Create a trusting ethos towards the non-profit sector to complement on-ground efforts and reach the most vulnerable 
  • Prioritize funding in a phased manner to support sectoral and community needs appropriately 
  • Provide flexibility to non-profit organizations, to enable COVID-19 relief and support their sustenance  
  • Develop an integrated strategy across programs as the organizations pivot towards recovery and reinvention 

There has been a broad consensus that ecosystem actors including philanthropists, non-profit organizations, foundations and governments have to take a systems change approach” to make a marked impact in tackling the audacious social problems of our time. As we find ourselves in the midst of a defining time in the history with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – we must push ourselves to think of the many systems that build our world. We are now realizing that while this crisis may have exposed the fractured public systems – it has also revealed the potential of communities to influence systems by responding innovatively and building solutions from the ground-up. The responses of both BMGF and APPI to the COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrate this power of a community-centric approach, and push us to rethink what it takes to create systems-level change, beyond building synergies with the government. 

Until next time, we will leave you with this reflective question that has been on our minds: 

How do we strengthen local systems and leverage the community to drive solutions ground-up, particularly with broken public systems which cannot adequately respond or protect during a crisis? How has this crisis pushed us to reframe what it takes to create systems change?

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