Our commitment for nonprofits and communities on the frontlines of COVID-19

A volunteer from an NGO conducting a training session for women entrepreneurs from rural India on making masks amid the COVID-19 crisis

By Keshav Dhakad, Group Head & Assistant General Counsel – Corporate, External & Legal Affairs, Microsoft India. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Keshav Dhakad, Group Head & Assistant General Counsel – Corporate, External & Legal Affairs, Microsoft India.In so many ways nonprofits are first responders, playing a critical role in supporting the health, safety, and wellness of people around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on many such organizations whose employees and volunteers have gone beyond the call of duty to sacrifice their own well-being and safety for the good of the community.

At Microsoft, we believe that no one company is going to solve a challenge like this alone, and it’s going to take the private and public sectors working together to turn the tide on COVID-19. With much of the country working from home, organizations based within communities are facing challenges in delivering impact while keeping their workforce safe. Our goal is to support them with the digital capability required to address these challenges. Over the last month, we have engaged with over 500 nonprofits across the country who are on the frontlines of COVID-19 response. We are committed to better serve this sector each day and I feel fortunate that we can play a part in moving nonprofit missions forward and drive social good.

Enabling nonprofits to bridge the digital gap

As a company at the forefront of digital transformation, Microsoft is committed to bringing the benefits of technology to all. When we step back and look at the challenges facing nonprofits, these include a lack of technical capacity, scarcity of resources, and lack of digital technology solutions customized for their environment. For these organizations to make the greatest impact on their missions, they must have easy access to digital technology and the ability to effectively utilize it. Microsoft takes a three-pronged approach by offering best-in-class scalable, inclusive and accessible cloud technology, nonprofit-specific tailored solutions to improve efficiency and impact, and supporting digital literacy to improve adoption, usage and to increase employability. We believe that these three core pillars of digital technology enablement are key to bridging the digital divide and propel community based organizations forward to build a strong vision and achieve their mission of driving real-world impact.

During unprecedented times like these, we have been working closely with nonprofits to serve the broader community, by enabling them to stay connected, secure and productive. We are also organizing regular webinars and training sessions to help them transition from a field to a remote work environment more intuitively.

A great example of innovation, resilience and above all, of transforming through the times is Aga Khan Rural Support Programme India (AKRSPI), which focuses on the holistic development of extremely rural areas. Recognizing that vulnerable rural communities do not have access to hygiene products and masks which are critical in slowing down the spread of the virus, AKRSPI collaborated with women entrepreneurs from underprivileged communities in Bihar to make low cost, triple layered cotton masks for extremely poor communities in northern Bihar. However, with the nation-wide lockdown, the organization’s mobility was severely restricted. AKRSPI required its representatives across 70+ locations and working in some of the most remote districts of the country to stay connected to serve the community. We stepped in to help.

The organization was able to deliver mandatory training to the mask manufacturing entrepreneurs in accordance with the government guidelines, and are well on their way to produce one million masks in the next couple of months serving the rural poor in India.

A woman from rural India making masks amid the COVID-19 pandemicApoorva Oza, CEO of AKRSPI, shares, “When the lockdown was announced, we realised that more than 400 of our staff were spread across 70 locations in the country and in the absence of mobility, staying connected on a secure platform became super critical. Technology has played a big role in helping not just our volunteers stay connected, but also for planning and operationalising relief operations for rural communities. Microsoft Teams has played a central role in bringing together field teams across the country, enabling our staff to respond with agility and urgency.”

Similarly, SEEDS India has been working in close coordination with governments to respond to the physical, mental and economic impacts of the pandemic, especially among the elderly, children, and frontline health workers. As part of its COVID-19 outreach, SEEDS has reached out to 1,00,000 economically vulnerable people in partnership with the Government of India and state governments of Bihar, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttarakhand to offer support.

Talking about how technology is accelerating their efforts as a first-responder, Anshu Sharma, Co-Founder, SEEDS, says, “A major highlight of our work at SEEDS as a humanitarian aid organization during the COVID-19 outbreak has been how we were able to seamlessly move into an emergency response mode even with our offices shut in midst of a lockdown. Our field operations had to transform overnight, as we couldn’t take signatures and keep field records and accounts in the usual form due to social distancing norms. Digital technology enabled us to have a live relief distribution dashboard, and GPS enabled audio-visual recordings emerged as a reliable system to keep our team, donors and local authorities updated on the number of people impacted and locations covered on a daily basis, helping ensure efficiency and transparency in our work. Not only was our data accessible throughout and we could connect across various offices and field teams spread over seven states for work, we could also stay connected as individual colleagues and support each other in these challenging times, which can often get stressful and overwhelming even for aid workers.“

We are also working with nonprofits like Oxfam on the digital transformation of their centralized operations. Oxfam India has been at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, working round-the clock to provide relief material and personal protective equipment to first responders across 14 states of the country. For a more efficient distribution of relief material, Oxfam India shifted their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) on Microsoft SharePoint across the entire organization, creating a swifter and more transparent procurement mechanism. So far, Oxfam’s relief efforts have helped more than 150,000 people across the country.

Oxfam’s staff across multiple locations, some of whom are very remote, have been able to coordinate and connect through Microsoft Teams even in areas with low bandwidth, ensuring real-time information is accessible to everyone without delay.

Empowering communities around us

To support those economically impacted by the pandemic, we are mobilizing efforts for colleagues at Microsoft to contribute through the Giving campaign, with a matching donation by Microsoft. The Give Together campaign channels support directly to nonprofits that are serving vulnerable groups in communities around us.

Giving has been part of our culture since Microsoft was founded more than forty years ago. It is one way in which we live our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This is an opportunity for all of us to pull together to support the needs of our communities during this unprecedented crisis.

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