Covid funding gives NGOs a run for their money in Mumbai | Mumbai News


It’s rarely been more tempting to go cycling than in these pandemic times. Some pedal for recreation, some to stay fit and some to retain sanity in confinement. Come April, hundreds of cycling enthusiasts will pedal around their neighbourhoods for a nationwide virtual marathon called Cycle For Good. While fitness is key, compassion is at the heart of this act that could help fetch a kid in a village the smartphone he needs for remote schooling; give those battling HIV/AIDS another chance at life and prevent underage girls from being married off.
The initiative comes at a time when non-profits in the country themselves are pushing through hard times. Given that donors — both individuals and corporates — have diverted their funds to Covid relief and the PM Cares fund while the Foreign Contribution Regulation Amendment (FCRA) bill in September imposed stiff conditions on bigger organizations and stopped their transfer of funds to smaller ones, many NGOs devoted to causes ranging from food and housing security to social justice and education, are shelving their on-ground projects.
“During the eight-month lockdown, CSR funds to the tune of nearly Rs 12,000 crores were diverted to PM Cares fund. At a time when communities need their attention, many NGOs could resume with only one-tenth of their staff and operations. On top of that the new FCRA bill deprived thousands of NGOs of sub-grants,” said Nishit Kumar, founder-director of Centre for Social and Behaviour Change Communication that in association with YouTooCanRun, a tech-platform for endurance events is conducting ‘Cycle For Good’ as an alternative to traditional fundraising events. “The Mumbai Marathon would have raised around Rs 45 crores in charity but it did not happen this January,” said Kumar hoping that this year-long alternative will help the 25 ailing NGOs on board.
According to a study conducted by the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy (CSIP) that surveyed 50 non-profits across the country last June, roughly one-fifth of organizations said that they had to suspend their on-ground activities temporarily. “Those working on issues like migrant labour were able to successfully increase support. Others kept afloat by reaching communities through digital means. Many, whose domains are perceived as less critical such as arts and culture, sports and LGBTQ causes or lacked the means to adapt, had to shrink operations and cut staff,” rued Ingrid Srinath, director of CSIP. Helpage India, in fact, could not carry out a single cataract surgery for senior citizens between March and June and had to close down their mobile healthcare units in Pune and Nagpur as comporates slashed donations, informed Prakash Borgaonkar who heads the NGO in Maharashtra and Goa.
The steep reduction in corporate support has hit cultural non-profits too. “The artist community is currently facing the threat of losing incomes and livelihoods across traditional and contemporary forms, in both rural and urban areas. Within this larger community of artistes, persons with disabilities who depend mostly on freelance work are further marginalized,” said Arundhati Ghosh, executive director of India Foundation for the Arts, a trust supporting practice and research in arts and culture.
Among those that were able to adapt is Apnalaya that works with Mumbai’s urban poor. It raised Rs 6.46 crores and helped 2.3 lakh people living in the M East Ward. However, their annual budget had to be slashed by 13%. “There’s little money available for social development primarily due to business activities plummeting nationally. Many philanthropists and CSR entities are supporting projects that provide immediate relief but how will the loop from relief to recovery to resilience be completed without rights-based work?” asked Arun Kumar, CEO, Apnalaya.
The impact is being felt the most by grassroots organisations that are usually community led. Praxis, an institute that promotes participatory practices among sanitation workers, homeless persons and migrant labourers among others, reached out to 82 organisations working in over 9000 villages across 13 states over the past year to find that 83% were in fear of survival after the next six months; 52 percent had applied for relief through various means; and 28% did not get any funds for relief work.
Lalita Dhanwate from the Wadar denotified tribe in Maharashtra and founder of Vaijra Mahila Bahu Udeshiya Samajik Sangathan, highlighted the funding issues they faced with funding proposals mostly sought in English. “That’s a big challenge and we received no funding in the lockdown. Being from the same community we cannot afford to personally contribute so we’re unsure of what the future holds,” she said.
On the bright side, a recent collaboration between a workers’ think tank, tribal collective and human rights organisation has led to an initiative titled COLLECT (Community-Led Local Entitlements & Claims Tracker) where research fellows appointed across 100 Indian districts — typically from marginalized communities and organisations struggling to retain their projects following funding cuts — are collecting real time data for local advocacy and flow of information to authorities.


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Elena Johaness

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