Home Leaders Speak COVIDActionCollab: Collective Action to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic in India

COVIDActionCollab: Collective Action to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic in India

Collaborative efforts were the key to efficient management of the COVID-19 pandemic. One such collaboration is called COVIDActionCollab. In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Shiv Kumar, Co-Founder, Catalyst Group and CovidActionCollab & Sangita Patel, Director, Health, USAID India talk about the role of COVIDActionCollab and COVID Relief Efforts in India.

1. What was the vision and inspiration behind the establishment of CovidActionCollab (CAC)? What role did CAC play in India?

Shiv Kumar, CAC: The COVID-19 global health emergency and its economic and social impacts have disrupted nearly all aspects of life. This has created new needs for vulnerable groups while simultaneously further exacerbating pervasive structural challenges. It is not an unknown fact that the marginalised and vulnerable communities across the country have the most to lose when a humanitarian crisis hits us. At CovidActionCollab, we soon realised that it was now that individuals and organisations had to join hands and come together as a collaborative to decipher actionable solutions to assist people from the vulnerable sections of the country. We recognised that through collaborative action and meaningful partnerships, we would be able to bring relief to individuals in large numbers.
Our vision is to be instrumental in creating a world that is resilient & invigorated. We strive to empower vulnerable communities to survive and thrive COVID-19 and similar humanitarian crises. Since our inception in India, we have been able to mobilise diverse intervention programmes across communities. With a nationwide network of over 350 organisations, CAC has benefitted over 14 million beneficiaries, including sex workers, members of the transgender community, domestic workers, farmers, street vendors, and people with disabilities with access to vaccines, healthcare services, rations, and livelihood support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. What was the modus operandi of CAC in the country? What was the impact of the collaboration?

Shiv Kumar, CAC: Since our inception during the pandemic in 2020, CAC has been working with vulnerable communities toward COVID-19 relief and recovery through health, social protection, and livelihood initiatives. We operate much like the other NGOs in the country but come from a lens of collaboration that we believe sets us apart from India’s wide range of existing not for profit organisations. We bring large scale relief to the country’s vulnerable individuals and communities by empowering them with the capacity of local organisations. In close partnerships and associations with local governments, healthcare workers, small retailers, and street vendors, we put forward our programmes with government and private sector resources.
Our collaborative is 350+ organisations strong and has been assisted by 2000 volunteers. With our work and close partnerships with USAID and other stakeholders, we were able to reach out to more than 10 million individuals with emergency food, rations, vaccines, and other essential relief measures. Some CAC members like SNEHA, Sesame Workshop India, Swasti, Jai Odisha, SIFF, Taaras Coalition, Vrutti, Child Rights Foundation India, SEEDS, FXB India Suraksha, VHA Tripura, Green Foundation etc. work directly with vulnerable communities like fisherfolks, people with disabilities, female sex workers, MSMEs, small farmers, transgender, migrants, and more. Other partners like Vihara Innovation Network, Sirti, Fuzhio, UrbanMorph, and LabourNet among others provide resources, technical know-how, technology, policy, and industry association support.

3. What was the response of Indian authorities and people to the initiatives by USAID? What role did the Indian companies play in aiding the initiatives by USAID and CAC?

Sangita Patel, USAID: The U.S. government has been closely collaborating with India to support COVID-19 response efforts from the very beginning of the pandemic in 2022. These COVID response efforts leverage decades-old, mutually beneficial health cooperation between our two countries. Today, as we face ongoing global challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States and India are leveraging our respective resources to plan for a more resilient future. We must act now to vaccinate the world, save lives, and build back better. Only by working together in pursuit of a shared vision can we defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and help prepare the world for future pandemics.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated that no nation can act alone against a global pandemic. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the economies and health systems, USAID works with public and private partners to establish new initiatives to quickly develop and scale health solutions, while also helping entrepreneurs and informal sector workers recover economically and maintain steady incomes.
USAID is proud to support the COVID Action Collaborative (CAC) to provide relief and recovery and build resilience in the country’s most vulnerable communities. Working with state governments, local institutions, and the private sector, CAC provides high-impact relief packages supporting livelihoods, enhancing social protection, and providing COVID-19 risk prevention and mitigation. These relief packages help vulnerable communities recover from the adverse effects on health and loss of livelihood caused by the pandemic and help build long-term resilience. Together, we have exceeded our collective goal to reach 10 million vulnerable people.
We have found that local authorities and governments have appreciated CAC’s ability to leverage the expertise of its more than 350 member organizations and address immediate and emerging needs, such as PPE, oxygen generation plants, hospital support, and wastewater surveillance systems to help detect outbreaks and new variants. When local governments identified a challenge and shared it with CAC, we were able to quickly and effectively source in assistance to address local needs. USAID helped to expand CAC’s partner base, identify challenges and solutions, and foster trusted connections with the private sector.
Indian companies, in turn, helped to maximize our impact, working with CAC partners to fill gaps in local health systems and improve service delivery. Notably, many of the private companies had not previously been involved in the health sector. Through CAC, USAID support helped companies to apply their innovations to meet the needs of the pandemic, including telehealth, social protection helpdesks, tools to address vaccination gaps, and more. Notably, USAID’s partner, Catalyst Management Services, has established a Caring CEO Forum under CAC, which brings together corporate leaders to share experiences on how they managed COVID-19 in workplace settings and also contribute CSR resources for targeted COVID-19 programs.

4. India was home to the world’s largest vaccination drive during the pandemic. What role did USAID and CAC play in that? How was the experience?

Shiv Kumar, CAC: While it’s true that as a nation India did drive some of the largest vaccination camps, initial programs benefited the rich, able and privileged that were receiving the shots. Most vulnerable communities who needed the COVID-19 vaccines the most were not getting vaccinated and were falling through the cracks in the existing vaccination drives. CAC, USAID and our partners learned that the delay in vaccinating the vulnerable would allow the virus to evolve, create new outbreaks, and cause loss of livelihood and, therefore, poverty. Through ‘VaxNow’, the partners aimed to address this gap by vaccinating over 10 million vulnerable people who face barriers to health access and are at higher risk of contracting COVID 19.
Over the years, we have been working with multiple community partners from grassroots levels for vaccination, pandemic relief and other healthcare intervention programmes. We partnered with the local government health department and arranged mass vaccination drives for women sex workers and transgender individuals.
Our other beneficiaries include informal labourers, urban slum dwellers, farmers, fisherfolk, street children, persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups. With the continued support of USAID, we were able to alter the lives of over 14 Million touchpoints.
The U.S. Government commends the Indian Government’s efforts to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  India’s robust domestic vaccine program – at times vaccinating as many as 5,000 people per minute – has made tremendous progress, and has already administered more than 1.8 billion doses, with several million more each day.
Sangita Patel, USAID: There is a long-term commitment from the United States to continue health partnerships with India which benefit both countries. USAID is supporting the Government of India as it leads one of the world’s largest vaccination campaigns, helping to strengthen vaccine supply chain logistics, establish vaccination sites, address misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, and train healthcare workers to deliver vaccines safely and effectively across India. USAID has deployed innovative tactics to increase vaccination coverage, such as mobile vaccination vans, global learning exchanges, and programs targeting vulnerable populations, helping to vaccinate more than 14 million people in India to date.
USAID is supporting India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign with a focus on “reaching the unreached,” as part of a suite of support that is strengthening India’s overall health systems. For example, USAID has supported CAC to extend support to groups vulnerable to the health and economic shocks of COVID-19, including street vendors, small farmers, fishermen, members of the transgender community, and others.
As the pandemic began, CAC identified the need to support street vendors and reached out to the national welfare associations. CAC, in partnership with the government and private sector, provided training to foster awareness of COVID-19 symptoms, home care, testing locations, and information about the vaccine. CAC also organized vaccination camps in areas where street vendors reside and distributed “I’m Vaccinated” badges to fully vaccinated street vendors, not only improving their health but their businesses and livelihoods as well. This is just one example of many in which CAC was able to provide nimble and targeted support to communities in need.

5. The COVID-19 Pandemic brought forth several issues at once in India. An increasing number of cases, food insecurity, the exodus of migrant workers from cities, and an education crisis are a few. What aspects was USAID addressing during these trying times in the country?

Sangita Patel, USAID: The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges of unprecedented scope and complexity, in India and in the entire world.  Fortunately, the United States and India share a strong foundation of collaboration and trust, built on more than 70 years of partnership as we worked together to strengthen the impact, reach, affordability, and quality of health services in India.  So, when case numbers began to climb, we had a strong base to build from.
Together with the government, private sector, and our partners, USAID’s COVID-19 assistance has provided life-saving treatments, disseminated public health messages, strengthened case-finding and surveillance, mobilized innovative financing mechanisms to bolster emergency preparedness, and linked some of the most vulnerable populations with GOI-supported health and social benefit services. In partnership with the GOI, USAID helped keep India’s brave frontline health workers safe so they can continue to save lives––benefiting more than 100 million people since the start of the pandemic.
Understanding the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the Indian economy, USAID has also established new initiatives to help entrepreneurs and informal sector workers recover and maintain steady incomes.  In the states of Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha,  and Karnataka, our support through the CAC and in partnership with the Migrant Watch India and Coastal Relief Network, helped reach about 1.5 million migrants with food, medicines, telecare, and counselling services. Another example, with USAID’s support, CAC is supporting Trans Kitchens, eateries and restaurants run by the transgender community.
USAID is also focused on the impact of COVID-19 on other sectors as well, such as education. It is estimated that nearly 250 million children in India were affected by school closures due to COVID-19 related lockdowns. When the pandemic began, USAID assisted state governments in developing and distributing learning materials for children and teachers in four Indian states to reduce the learning loss amongst students, targeting vulnerable populations in rural areas, as well as girls, who are less likely to attend school.
The United States will continue to support India’s response to COVID-19 to save lives, mitigate the threat of dangerous new variants, and protect the safety and health of Indians, particularly the most vulnerable.