How India Inc can craft an effective response to the pandemic

How India Inc can craft an effective response to the pandemic

Corporate India plays a critical and urgent role in mitigating the economic, and health impacts of the pandemic. Industry leaders, public health experts, experienced members of social enterprises and thought leaders such as Nobel laureate Esther Duflo came together for Samhita’s ‘Leaders with a Purpose’ webinar series, to address the need for collaborative partnerships across stakeholders. Read on to find out more about the invaluable role corporate India can play in the arena of promoting behaviour change, providing innovative and technological solutions to secure their own supply chains, microentrepreneurs, hospitals, and rural and distant communities.

Development through community participation

Development through community participation

As part of its CSR services, Samhita Social Ventures undertakes community needs assessment for companies to align the expectations and intentions of the company with priorities identified by the community that it seeks to benefit as a key stakeholder. This is accomplished by conducting door-to-door surveys, interviews with key informants in the village (such as sarpanch, asha worker, aanganwadi workers) and focused group discussions with the residents.

Through our intense and in-depth interaction with communities across the country, we have realized that community participation and acceptance are critical in ensuring the success of CSR programs. While the theoretical discourse on development has always acknowledged the importance of participatory approach (you may have heard of Robert Chambers and Paulo Freier), this takes on a pragmatic connotation for companies beginning to think about CSR in India.

Our work has shown that the aim should be to address social implications of corporate activities by securing community participation in decision-making and consideration of local knowledge and the environment. The community should drive and own these initiatives. Any tendency to superimpose or force CSR or other development initiatives top-down on communities could be disastrous.

So for example, during one such assessment in two clusters of Vadodara District, Gujarat it was observed that 87% people defecate openly every day. While reducing open defecation is a national and international priority, it was most interesting to note that communities in one cluster did not perceive it to be an issue. The assessment found that these communities defecated in the open not only because of the unavailability of toilets but due to low awareness of the potential health hazards, internalized behavior, accustomed practice, perception of high costs of maintaining and constructing toilets, caste based differences in terms of maintenance and cleaning, etc. It was seen that these communities appeared resistant to using toilets because of all these reasons. In this context, CSR initiatives of companies to set-up toilets for such communities to eliminate open defecation, disregarding the voices of the community, would be futile and bound to fail. The company would have, in effect, spent its funds putting up concrete structures with its branding – not used by anyone and soon falling into a state of disrepair and neglect. In fact, this is a very common sight in many villages dotted across India. One of the ways to then incorporate the community’s views and mitigate the risk of failure would be to start a behavior change communication or campaign on a long term and sustained basis. Another example flows from the needs assessment conducted in northern India. The study revealed rampant usage of traditional fuel for cooking. About 83% of people relied on cow-dung and wood as the means of cooking.  It was obvious to our eyes that this was leading to many respiratory problems among women and also causing indoor pollution. Surprisingly, the women did not seem to be too bothered. When we suggested using smokeless chullahs or stoves, most of them thought it to be flippant. Conversations with these women revealed that they preferred these smoke generating stoves because they believed that it kept the house warm, drove away insects etc. They said that they were accustomed to cooking in this way.  It is anyone’s guess as to what the results of a CSR initiative distributing free smokeless stoves to a community like this would be. Promoting smokeless chulhas in such households becomes challenging unless their beliefs are changed.

A similar reaction was observed in another needs assessment study when a group of women said they did not want personal taps and that they preferred community pumps as it was the only activity that gave them a chance to come out of their houses and socialize with other women.

In conclusion, we opine that CSR initiatives by companies or social developmental activities by NGOs should be planned in a participatory manner, in consultation with the community, literally sitting with them, and gauging their basic needs. We must take recourse to “participatory rural appraisal” and other mapping tools to identify the community needs. This, in turn, results in greater outreach and smoother implementation. And thus, a project is born.



There are approximately 8,00,000 pharmacies in India with a compounded  annual growth rate of 10.08% in the organized sector. As per a study conducted on pharmacies by Samhita Social Ventures and the Cipla Foundation  41% pharmacists provide medical guidance to customers and 57% viewed themselves as a ‘supporter of people’s health needs’.  Moreover, 50%  saw an increase in customers seeking medical guidance post COVID-19.  During the COVID-19 crisis, pharmacies have defended the communities on the frontline and have supported them with hygiene essentials, information as well as guidance on maintaining overall wellness.

There is potential to transcend the one-dimensional approach of viewing pharmacies as a dispenser of drugs to an integral part of the healthcare system, providing primary healthcare services to the citizens. Tapping this potential is the driving force of the Pharmacy Alliance, which is aligned with WHO’s guiding principles, which suggests that “Contribution to improving the effectiveness of the healthcare system and public health” is an important function of pharmacies. WHO has suggested that pharmacies should engage in preventive care activities and services, provide point-of-care testing, where applicable, and other health screening activities. They should also engage in preventive care activities that promote public health and prevent disease.

What is the solution?

The Pharmacy Alliance aims to empower pharmacists with the knowledge, tools, resources, and incentives to become trusted healthcare providers (and not just sellers of medicines) to their local and underserved communities.

With the support of NIIF and Digihealth, Samhita-CGF  has piloted an intervention under the Pharmacy Alliance aimed at empowering pharmacies to become a hyperlocal tier for facilitating healthcare. Through this program, Pharmacists are supporting citizens with easy, quick, and free of cost access to BP and BMI screening that correlates to two of the most common lifestyle diseases  – Hypertension and Obesity. The pharmacists are provided pay for performance incentive for conducting screenings and booking teleconsultations. 

What has been the impact so far? 

A total of 237 Pharmacies have been onboarded as part of this pilot. These Pharmacies are situated across Mumbai, Pune, and surrounding areas of Palghar, Raigad, & Thane. So far, 2,100+ unique customers have been screened and made aware of their BP and BMI status through this pilot with a total of 2,400 BP and 2,250 BMI screenings. The pilot has been able to demonstrate that:

  • Pharmacies, if provided with the right set-up support and incentives, are willing to participate in such programs
  • Customers are open to considering Pharmacies as “points of care” as they are willing to get screened for non-invasive basic lifestyle diseases or concerns
  • The pilot has successfully been able to make these customers aware of their BP and BMI readings that might inform the customer of any potential risks/concerns at a touchpoint wherein the customer wasn’t expecting such care interventions in the first place.

Oxygen for India: SBI Foundation and Samhita-CGF provide oxygen concentrators in critical districts

Oxygen for India: SBI Foundation and Samhita-CGF provide oxygen concentrators in critical districts

Samhita and CGF collaborate with SBI Foundation’s Project Breath Free to provide oxygen concentrators and other equipment to hospitals in Maharashtra, Nagaland and Manipur.

During the second wave of COVID-19, Maharashtra contributed to almost 24% of the cases in India. Other states such as Nagaland and Manipur, with weak healthcare systems, also saw a large number of cases. During this time, states across India faced a severe shortage of oxygen, one of the critical provisions that is needed to support treatment and recovery of affected patients. 

In response to this crisis, SBI Foundation launched Project Breathe India – an initiative to deploy medical equipment including oxygen concentrators and help government run and charitable hospitals meet their oxygen requirements. 

Through Project Breathe India, SBI Foundation, collaborated with Samhita and Collective Good Foundation (CGF) to deploy the equipment in districts of Maharashtra, Nagaland and Manipur. 

Samhita and CGF collaborate with companies, foundations, bilaterals and multilaterals, and social organisations to design and implement impactful social sector initiatives specialise in designing and implementing large-scale development sector projects. This partnership with SBI Foundation contributed to Samhita and CGF’s consistent and multi-stakeholder response to the COVID-19 healthcare crisis. 

In Maharashtra, SBI Foundation, Samhita and Collective Good Foundation supported two districts – Buldhana and Chandrapur. In Buldhana, in collaboration with Hunger Collective, Mahapeconet, and Rise Infinity Foundation, Samhita and CGF facilitated the supply of 35 Oxygen Concentrators to five hospitals. 15 Oxygen Concentrators were provided in Chandrapur.

Samhita and CGF also collaborated with Safe Pro Fire Services to distribute 100 oxygen cylinders and 100 flow meter devices to hospitals in Nagaland and Manipur.

Not All Superheroes Wear a Cape

Not All Superheroes Wear a Cape

Sole bread-winner Valarmathi Thangaswami, a 55-year-old sanitation worker from Trichy, works to support her struggling son despite all the hurdles that line her path

To the world, Valarmathi Thangaswami is a 55-year-old sanitation worker who lives in a shanty  in Trichy. But at home, she dons the identity of a super-mother. After her husband’s passing, Valarmathi started working with the support of a self-help group to provide for her three young children. 

Today, her biggest worry is her 24-year-old son who is caught in the menace of drug abuse. With a paltry monthly salary of ₹4,000 she is the sole bread-winnder of her household — she has to pay for rent, groceries, medical expenses, and her son’s upkeep. Her daily job requires her to put herself at high risk, as she goes door-to-door collecting and segregating waste. As the situation demands, she often ends up spending extended hours on duty to earn an extra buck. 

Seeing her son make poor choices, she often wonders if he is worthy of her struggle. When such thoughts cross her mind, Valarmathi tries to take each day in her stride. She said, “Be it coronavirus or any other difficult situation, I have to work and earn for my family.” 

Adjusting to the new normal in the wake of the pandemic, Valarmathi complains about the discomfort caused by the thick gloves that she is now necessitated to wear, despite the scorching heat of Trichy. However, all things considered, she feels she has a lot to be thankful for and thinks of herself as lucky: her employer, the Municipal Corporation of Trichy, has been providing immune-boosting medication, training, and protective gear to frontline workers like herself. 

Additionally, IDFC FIRST Bank, in collaboration with Samhita, provided Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs), and facilitated a government-scheme linkages program to benefit 633 blue-collared workers including cab drivers, truck drivers, sanitation workers, women entrepreneurs, and other daily-wage labourers. 

Valarmathi was one of the sanitation workers supported by IDFC FIRST Bank. Following a DBT of ₹3,000 Valarmathi was able to buy a sack of rice and groceries for two months. Appreciative of the intervention, she described how each time she comes across the rice bag, it gives her a sense of reassurance that she will get through this crisis. 

Through the second component of the intervention, the welfare-scheme eligibility-screening camp, Valarmathi has been able to connect to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme and get a PAN card commissioned for her son. The CM’s health-insurance scheme is designed for underprivileged families that have low annual income. This scheme provides a cover of ₹5,00,000 to each family for every policy year. 

Having connected to it, Valarmathi is now confident about meeting medical expenses, especially for her son’s health. In the future, she hopes that her income and benefits from the medical insurance will help her sustain her son through the de-addiction. Also, with her son’s PAN card made, he can gain access to other social-security schemes in the future — Valarmathi hopes this will enable him to stand on his own feet in the future.

This story was edited by Raveena Joseph

Collaborating against COVID-19: Rallying global support to vaccinate India

Collaborating against COVID-19: Rallying global support to vaccinate India

Through strategic partnerships, Global India Fund, Samhita, and Collective Good Foundation fight to ensure equity in the world’s largest vaccination drive

When India’s COVID-19 case count surged in April 2021, the devastation horrified the world — healthcare systems collapsed, cremation sites were overcrowded and morgues worked around the clock. The crisis was unprecedented. 

The second surge put the spotlight on the need for collective action. Immediate critical healthcare requirements such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators and hospital beds were in extremely short supply. With the fear of subsequent waves already washing through the population, it was necessary to increase long-term efforts to end the pandemic — i.e: Vaccinations.

Yet, only 3.5% of India’s 1.4 billion population was fully vaccinated at the start of the second wave in April 2021. Burdened by wastage, supply constraints, and accessibility barriers, India’s vaccination drive has been slow and staggered. To create long-term solutions to end the pandemic and supplement government efforts, Global India Fund (GIF), in collaboration with Samhita and Collective Good Foundation (CGF), launched the Together for India | #VaccinateIndia Campaign, an international fundraising initiative to support vaccination of the second-most populous country in the world.

The Together for India fundraising campaign, launched in April 2021 in response to the COVID-19 crisis in India, has rallied Indians, international humanitarians, and the Indian diaspora who want to support the equitable distribution of vaccines in India. For those most weighed down by the economic fallout of the pandemic, the toll on health becomes inescapable. They are also at an increased disadvantage at all stages of access, such as the inability to access the CoWIN portal to register for vaccination, burden on health systems to deliver at scale during vaccinations, and lack of information and healthcare support post vaccination. “We need to take a comprehensive approach to not just recovery, but also resilience and growth. As part of a holistic approach to solving India’s livelihood crisis created by the pandemic, we are focused on efforts to ramp up vaccinations for vulnerable communities. It is important to address problems in vaccine access, to ensure that no one is left behind. That’s the only way India can take a decisive step forward in this time of crisis to truly create a ‘better normal’,” says Priya Naik, CEO and Founder, Samhita.

The fundraiser focuses on marginalised and vulnerable communities and those with poor access to healthcare to tackle vaccine hesitancy; it ensures availability of vaccination material like syringes, needles, etc.; and addresses vaccine barriers like tech illiteracy and information asymmetry. “As people around the world watched the crisis unfold in India, they were eager to help in any way possible. People wanted to help their friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. Amidst the devastation, we knew that vaccinations would offer hope and a way out of this pandemic, but that also hinged on ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines. We know that vaccinations can fight COVID-19, but we also know that everyone needs to be vaccinated — not just those who are educated or have the means. And we know that in some communities, we also have to combat vaccine hesitancy. It is only when a vast majority of India is vaccinated that we’ll know we have won the fight against COVID-19,” says Amita Vyas, Founder, Global India Fund. 

With strategic partnerships forged by Samhita and CGF, the first phase of the Together for India | #VaccinateIndia campaign is kicking off simultaneously in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Support from corporates, philanthropy, civil society, and influencers remain an essential and immediate requirement to accelerate access to vaccines at multiple locations, which will result in an increased adoption of immunisation drives and ensure compliance to COVID-19 appropriate behaviours post vaccination. 

In partnership with the Rotary Club of Pune Central and Jivika Healthcare (VaccineOnWheels), the vaccination drive in Maharashtra will be supported by the Municipal Corporation of Satara City to set up vaccination centres at the community level. The program will accelerate vaccinations in socio-economically challenged communities and free daily doses will also be made available to beneficiaries identified by the government. The vaccination project in Madhya Pradesh, executed in partnership with Transforming Rural India Foundation (TRIF), is expected to have a reach of 1,00,000 people across five blocks to increase awareness and encourage individuals to get vaccinated in nearby government-run vaccination centres. 

These strategic partnerships have gone beyond vaccines — the partnership with GIF has resulted in the donation of 400 5L Oxygen Concentrators to the Government of Punjab and 380 Oxygen Concentrators to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department.  

In the next phase of partnerships, Samhita envisions rolling out vaccination programs across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and other parts of the country in partnership with other strategic partners. The objective is to achieve 1million vaccination doses given to those from the most vulnerable communities across the country. 

As the pandemic reached an incomprehensible scale in India, donors and diaspora from around the world have come forward to fundraise and help alleviate the situation. From corporate donations and celebrities rallying their followers, to individuals hosting fundraising events through yoga and dance classes, the pandemic has fostered collaboration from all over the world to support India. In the same vein, GIF, Samhita and CGF are inviting and nurturing new tactical partnerships to ensure vaccine equity in India — vaccines are our only hope in defeating this pandemic.

This article is written purely for the purpose of gratitude and public recognition of GIF and CGF’s philanthropy

India Protectors Alliance – Catalytic achievements with the support of HUL, BMGF and RBL Bank

India Protectors Alliance – Catalytic achievements with the support of HUL, BMGF and RBL Bank

Over the past two years, we have experienced a unique and unprecedented situation due to the COVID -19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns. The multiplicity nature of COVID-19 needed an all-hands-on approach that saw corporates, philanthropists, civil societies, and individuals come together to support immediate relief efforts and save lives.

Corporate India and non-profit organisations’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the sector at its best to create a better normal, such as The India Protectors’ Alliance (IPA). The IPA was founded in early 2020 with the support of Hindustan Unilever, RBL Bank and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to protect the most vulnerable and at-risk communities. Through this INR 92 Crores Alliance and the collaboration of 59 funders and 52 implementation partners, we have impacted over 5.3 million beneficiaries across underserved communities, vulnerable populations, and frontline Covid warriors such as healthcare and sanitation workers.

IPA’s Approach: what we did & how we did it

IPA was constituted to equip workers in the healthcare and sanitation sectors to pursue their livelihoods safely by protecting them from COVID-19.

Initially, IPA helped fulfil immediate and critical needs like PPE kits and masks for the frontline health and sanitation workers. However, as the body of knowledge about COVID-19 and its management evolved, IPA too evolved to incorporate other interventions, especially during the second wave of the pandemic. We began working on training and capacity building programmes, providing

Key principles followed:

Our Achievements

Total Beneficiaries : 5.3 Million

A) Healthcare Interventions

Strengthening the COVID-19 vaccination drive: We have inoculated over 3.02 million citizens in high-risk and remote areas across 99 districts in 19+ states through our COVID-19 vaccination drives.

Enabling access to critical care equipment & protective gear: Protective gears were supplied to frontline healthcare workers and police officers. Key medical equipment such as ECG machines and maternal monitors were also supplied for regular patients. 30 implementation partners helped supply this equipment across the country, thus helping us reach over 0.35 million people.

Addressing the medical oxygen crisis: In partnership with nine implementation partners, IPA procured and distributed 950 oxygen concentrators and set up four 500 LPM oxygen plants across the country. This helped impact over 0.3 million hospital patients across the country.

Training on COVID and non-COVID skills & knowledge: Through capacity building of healthcare workers and community awareness programs, we impacted nearly 0.13 million lives.

B) Sanitation Interventions

Strengthening community sanitation : Safe sanitation interventions were initiated across Maharashtra to build and improve access to sanitation infrastructures in schools and urban slum communities. Interventions were also planned for women working in informal workplaces. We impacted over 1.42 million lives.

Empowering sanitation workers: With focused sanitation safety, short-term relief and skilling, and entrepreneurial livelihood programs, the IPA has built the long-term resilience of more than 0.082 million sanitation workers.

Key Learnings & Takeaways

1. Collaboration across 59 funders and 52 implementation and knowledge partners quickly proved the potential of a collective impact that can be envisioned for any prospective project.

2. These learnings further underlined the need of building medium to long term infrastructural and training solutions to strengthen the health systems of India.

3. The importance of agility within organisations to take swift strategic decisions and act on them, especially during a crisis, plays a crucial role in effective and timely relief management.

4. Partnerships with the Government are critical and could unlock significant scale-up opportunities.

IPA’s Response to India’s second wave of COVID-19 

IPA Supporting Public Institutions

#PehnoSahi – A corporate mask wearing initiative

Additionally, the Alliance collectively championed mask usage through an online campaign called #Pehnosahi. The campaign was shared by several industry leaders and Alliance members to urge their employees and networks to wear masks correctly for a safe back-to-work transition.


“The team at the India Protectors Alliance has impressed us with their national reach – from Maharashtra, to Delhi, to Kolkata – to support our frontline healthcare and sanitation workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to their guidance, our support for critical hospital equipment and PPE kits across these critical locations was executed in a timely, hassle-free manner.”

– Sandeep Batra – Chief Financial Officer, Crompton Greaves

“India Protectors Alliance was extremely helpful and effective in gathering the COVID-19 needs from our stakeholder communities. Its widespread implementation network and total commitment enabled us to expeditiously support the healthcare workers within these communities through the distribution of PPE kits.”

– Sudhanshu Vats – Chief Executive Officer, Essel Propack

Mahindra Logistics joins the India Workers’ Alliance

Mahindra Logistics joins the India Workers’ Alliance

Samhita Social Ventures welcomes Mahindra Logistics Ltd. as a pillar of the India Workers Alliance to provide immediate relief to its driver community by transferring Rs 3,000 to their bank accounts to enable them to buy essential commodities.

Born out of the Samhita Model, the India Workers Alliance propogates a collective CSR fund for economic support and recovery of India’s workers. Through instant digital cash transfers the Alliance is providing immediate relief and at the same time building resilience of workers to ensure an easier segue into normalcy post the pandemic. The Alliance ensures quick funding to replace lost incomes to take care of basic necessities, facilitates access to government social schemes, micro loans and health insurance products.

These aid solutions are recommended by senior experts like Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Dr. Nachiket Mor to reach aid to the COVID-19 affected – the ones dispossessed and at risk.