6 ways social entrepreneurs are saving lives during India’s COVID-19 crisis

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Pavitra Raja, Community Specialist, Social Entrepreneurs – Europe and the Americas, World Economic Forum


  • India is facing a second wave of COVID-19 confirmed cases.
  • Social entrepreneurs are stepping up to help those most vulnerable to the health and economic effects of the crisis.
  • Here are six examples from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

With India bearing witness to the second wave of COVID-19 and one of the most serious health crises of all times, the situation on the ground is grim.

The swiftness and efficiency with which social entrepreneurs have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in India and its impacts have made one thing clear: their on-the-ground presence and ability to act as first responders in support of vulnerable communities are incredibly important to global COVID-19 response efforts.

We must urgently support this under-recognized cohort of leaders who are operating at the forefront of the pandemic response. They have critical lessons to impart on building a more shockproof, inclusive and sustainable economy in its aftermath.

Here’s how six social enterprises from the Schwab Foundation’s community of social innovators are working to save lives during this devastating time in India.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Social innovators address the world’s most serious challenges ranging from inequality to girls’ education and disaster relief that affect all of us, but in particular vulnerable and excluded groups. To achieve maximum impact and start to address root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and in some cases a better understanding of global affairs and access to decision makers.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 400 late-stage social innovators. By providing an unparalleled global platform, the Foundation’s goal is to highlight and expand proven and impactful models of social innovation. It helps strengthen and grow the field by showcasing best-in-class examples, models for replication and cutting-edge research on social innovation.

Meet the World-changers: Social Innovators of the Year 2020. Our global network of experts, partner institutions, and World Economic Forum constituents and business members are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators. Get in touch to become a member or partner of the World Economic Forum.

1. Providing resources to the most vulnerable.

Goonj is an NGO based in New Delhi, India which undertakes disaster relief, humanitarian aid and community development in parts of 23 states across India. The organization views the waste of urban India as a surplus resource and under-utilized wealth. This is especially critical during times of disaster or emergency.

During the crisis, Goonj has already worked with more than 400 partner organizations to extend its reach in both rural and urban areas. It has distributed more than 8,800 tons of rations and other essential items, provided more than 362,000 meals, sourced 2,25,000 kgs of vegetables from farmers, reached out to more than 380,000 families (about 1.5 million people) and produced more than 800,000 face masks and more than 12,00,000 cloth sanitary pads.

Donate here.

2. Helping women in the informal economy

In India, there are 500 million poor and vulnerable informal workers who are daily wage workers. These include contractual workers, casual workers, construction workers, agriculture workers, home-based workers especially in textile and garment manufacturing, beedi workers, self-employed workers including street vendors, waste recyclers, hand cart pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, and many more who are struggling daily to meet their minimum basic necessities through their daily labour. The pandemic badly hit their daily earning and therefore their income to sustain themselves.

The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization that provides support to self-employed women, on behalf of its 1.7 million women workers in 18 states of India, urged the government to declare income support to all the families of the informal economy workers to tide over this crisis, issue a circular to all the states to declare a compensatory package of Rs 5,000/- per month to all registered workers, provide a free public distribution system for ration supply as long as the crisis lasts, and offer six months amortization on repayment of all loans.

Donate here.

3. Providing resources to migrants

India witnessed a large exodus of migrant workers from cities as the COVID-19 lockdown commenced. Aajeevika Bureau, a specialized institutional initiative providing services, support and security to rural seasonal migrant workers, has been intensively involved in providing relief to stranded migrant workers, daily wagers and their households to see them through this period of distress.

Relief included emergency food distribution, cash transfers, health care and help to workers in distress reaching out to us through our Labour Line. They also provided travel assistance to migrants attempting to return home. For those migrants who came back to their villages, the organization played an active role in facilitating their linkages to social security schemes and benefits.

Donate here.

4. Providing healthcare to people in remote areas

Glocal Healthcare was founded in 2010 in response to the vast need for healthcare services in India, especially in rural areas where more than 28 million people living in remote and under-served areas are estimated not to have access to affordable and accountable healthcare services.

Over the past 10 years, the company has built 10 fully functional, 100-bed multi-speciality hospitals in states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. It has set up 250 digital dispensaries, which provide video consultations, examination, investigations and automated medicine dispensing.

Learn more here.

5. Supporting migrant families, survivors of sexual violence and frontline workers

Jan Sahas, with its experience working with migrant workers, construction labourers and daily wage workers for over five years, proactively formulated a multipronged approach to support the workers in meeting their immediate needs as well as to prevent them from the long-term implications of the economic crisis.

Within 100 days of the COVID-19 lockdown, Jan Sahas drew support from more than 30 philanthropic and private sector donors (resulted in more than $2 million) and worked with 42 nonprofits across 19 states in India to address the needs of more than 10,40,000 migrant families, 1237 survivors of sexual violence, 12,480 frontline health workers and state actors through immediate relief support.

Donate here.

Image: Mann Deshi

6. Providing women with access to finance

Mann Deshi is dedicated to economically empowering rural women in India. Headquartered in Maharashtra, it runs the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, India’s first bank by and for rural women, and the Mann Deshi Foundation, which provides women with entrepreneurial skills, training, support and access, as well as other services targeted to supporting women.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Mann Deshi Foundation has been working non-stop to provide relief – including providing food packages, masks and PPE kits. It also partnered with a district government to build a 300-bed COVID-19 hospital by refurbishing an old unused rural hospital and turning it into a free dedicated COVID-19 hospital. The Mann Deshi team is also working with the district administration 24/7 to provide oxygen beds, ventilators, Remdisvir and Tocilizumab to critical stage patients.

(Donate here)

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