CEO Blog 13: COVID-19 Lockdown – Unlocking Opportunities to Serve and Win Hearts

1 May 2020

CSR, Philanthropists, Governments, Foundations, everyone comes forward with greater vigour at this time of need and crisis. Would this mean continuation of business as usual for social enterprises, small businesses impacting local livelihoods & supply chains? The world is rapidly changing and it would further change preparing for post-covid times. Once again, we have to rise up and protect those whom society often neglects the most.

If they will do well, we all will.

COVID-19 is bound to adversely affect the people and the economy; however, both will recover in time and new opportunities will emerge. Social enterprises are bound to become more relevant in post COVID-19 world, as society will together search for new approach to do business. Here is why?

  • In the last decade, many studies on social enterprises have recommended that government & other agencies seeking to tackle most complex, difficult and long-standing employment problems should place social enterprises at the heart of their strategy – and what more relevant times would it be than now to make it happen.
  • Social enterprises tend to operate at a local level, generating employment in local communities where they operate and building long term resilience. Local authorities should engage, involve and work with social enterprises to access innovation, support local business and reach people they cannot.

There are ugly predictions flashing on media channels, fake news and blame-game does not stop targeting spread of negative psychosis – if nothing else there should be united action to bring regulation around this. Many emotions that social entrepreneurs have shared while I have been interacting with them during this time are like conflicted, hopeless, helpless, confused, anger, agitated, impatience, intrigued, stirred and I believe these have to be led to transform into expressions of discipline, focus, determination, rigour, systems, methods, actions.

‘I simply refuse to give up’ is the only emotion that we all need to own, live and spread. And more during the time of COVID-19. Embracing Chaos is an important virtue today, every company no matter how big or small, is facing some kind of difficulty. The critical factor is how are they coping up with it. For some this could be the transition point, now if this was 90s we would have argued that transition point is for those companies which have been in operations for 20-25 years; but in today’s time & technology this could be true for companies in their first year of operations. The question is ‘are you there?’

Many of SSE fellows have sprung into action and have been engaged in actively responding to the pandemic. Some of them continue to work with communities they were already working with even before COVID-19, but many of them have plunged into relief operations and respond to the needs of migrant population affected by lockdown.

Some of the examples are:

Foodshala Foundation, Raadhika Gupta, Fellow 2018

Foodshala’s vision is of a food secure world. Their mission is to enable people from low income communities to meet their basic food and nutrition requirements. They have set-up community kitchens to provide affordable, nutritious meals to children and youth studying in Delhi. During COVID-19, Foodshala is supporting the Delhi Government to ensure that every child gets adequate food and nutrition during the COVID-19 lockdown. Please contribute here: https://risefundraiser.com/campaign/lets-ensure-no-one-sleeps-hungry-in-delhi Also, if you are aware of any child in Delhi in need of food or milk, please report to us immediately. We will try to send the required supplies at the earliest. You can write to us at team@foodshaala.org

Mind Piper, Siddhant Khurana, Fellow 2016 – Mental Health and Psychosocial Support during the COVID-19 Outbreak

Mind Piper believes that every person with a mental illness should be able to seek help without any fear, prejudice, and discrimination. Their mission is to bring about a technological transformation in the mental healthcare services in India and integrate them with primary healthcare setups.

The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), Government of NCT of Delhi and COVID Response have partnered to setup and operate a central helpline to provide counselling to children and their parents. With the implementation of physical distancing nationally to control the spread of the coronavirus, the helpline aims at supporting the children and their parents cope better with the fears, anxieties, stress and the uncertainties; and reconcile with the new reality we find ourselves in. COVID Response is a not-for-profit initiative bridged together by three impact-first mental health organisations who have experience of crisis and trauma counselling: Mind Piper, Aatma Prakash, and I Am.

To support the children and their parents find positive ways to engage and manage their mental well-being, become a part of this initiative by dropping a WhatsApp message or SMS on the following number- Siddhant Khurana: +91-9503588564

Panah Foundation, Naresh Sijapati, Fellow 2016 Panah CovidRelief Fund

Panah Foundation’s focus is to help migrant labour by connecting them with basic services and schemes of the government. Since migrant families are short of information and resources, Panah foundation provides information through its newspaper and supports them through information on job opportunities.

Panah Foundation is reaching out to the most vulnerable communities i.e. migrant, daily wage earners – I work today, I eat today, in these unprecedented times, and you can play a part in our story. Please donate at: Panah CovidRelief Fund – So this work can carry on. 100% of the money being raised goes straight to the beneficiaries. https://gocrowdera.com/COVID2019/

Our fellows across the globe are experiencing slow down, some are almost out of business facing severe cash flow challenges. Their concerns are that demand for social enterprise products and services is there, but social distancing is limiting the delivery. For some even this is not possible. We are witnessing ‘building business resilience’ will be important, and developing self-confidence for the social entrepreneurs would be essential more so during this time.

SSE India is customising its learning programmes to specific needs of the entrepreneurs & their start-ups so that they can ‘be part of COVID response’ through their businesses. What are our fellows expecting from us:

  • Online learning options
  • Access to Funding/grants
  • Business planning for market changes/crises and general resilience
  • Guidance on navigating government support options
  • Mentoring & Handholding

We have already started a Virtual Action Learning Group to support fellows who have expressed the desire, and we are currently raising resources to offer more support to our fellows. #SaveOurSocEnts

We invite CSR bodies, Corporates, Government and Incubators to collaborate with us and support social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs need funding support along with learning resources to build their business under current COVID 19 reality. The ecosystem must respond to the needs of social entrepreneurs at this crucial time, and not allow them to perish.

I recall our interaction with Satyawati Barera, COO, PwC India in October 2019 when she met 17 social entrepreneurs pursuing their fellowship with SSE India. She shared some very interesting life lessons with our fellows and I am sharing some of them here – brilliant lessons to reflect on, so relevant during the current times:

  • Keeping our dreams alive, and having the maturity to understand when you need to ‘spike up’ and where you need to lie low. This is reality.
  • Dealing with the situations in front of us, no cribbing!
  • Remembering to keep learning and reinventing ourselves, taking up new challenges along the way – but also remembering to cultivate a strong support system at home, and nurture talent in others at work.
  • Not expecting everything to always be on the ‘right side’
  • Asking ourselves: What is the hurry? Rather than getting burnt out, it’s better to enjoy what we are doing and pace ourselves for the long journey ahead.
  • Maintaining a measured approach and getting happiness out of what we are doing.

I am reminded of many stories that I have read from the survivors of the holocaust and went back to reading some of them again. Magda Herzberger lived through three Nazi death camps and chronicled her experiences in her biography ‘Survival’ and her statement stays with me ‘You’ll see it’s possible to survive unbelievable tragedies in the face of dire circumstances’. There was once when I was feeling very low, my mentor asked me to read the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl which is one of the best books I have read on ‘hope’.

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally then, any man can, under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually.” – writes Victor in his book, suggesting that when in the prison everything was taken away from them, the only thing that remained with them was the choice on how they would react to any given thought, situation or emotion.

Without losing faith in the future, we must come together as a community and support each other.

This too shall pass.

Social enterprises have the power to present new models of business to the world, and ‘we believe we can’.