50 ways India’s last-mile COVID-19 responders are leading the way to a just recovery

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Carolien de Bruin, Head, COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, World Economic Forum & François Bonnici, Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Head of Social Innovation, World Economic Forum & Neelam Chhiber, Managing Director, Industree Foundation & Jayesh Bhatia, Managing Director, Intellecap


  • As trusted local actors, social entrepreneurs have demonstrated that swift action in four priority areas can enhance reach and scale in the difficult to reach ‘last mile’.
  • Their efforts hold vital lessons for other regions battling new waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A list of the Top 50 last-mile responders in India has been launched by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs.

For domestic worker Shayna, the COVID-19 crisis has brought her life to a standstill. Stranded in Bengaluru, she hasn’t seen her children in Kolkata since early in 2020 and there has been no work for months. Along with millions of vulnerable Indian citizens, she has relied on food support, provided by community organisations like Indus Action, to keep her and her family from going to bed hungry at night.

Indus Action is one of 50 social entrepreneurs and 12 ecosystem initiatives on the World Economic Forum’s listing of Top 50 COVID-19 Last Mile Responders. Collectively these 62 leaders reach 171 million people, most of whom are part of marginalised communities and detached from effective support systems. Nominated by the 86 members of the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, they are providing support in four priority areas on-the-ground: Prevention and protection; COVID-19 treatment and relief; inclusive vaccine access; and securing livelihoods.

Their work offers vital lessons on response mechanisms at a time when new COVID-19 surges threaten across the globe. We are showcasing them to keep the spotlight on the millions of people who will be left behind because of the pandemic as well as to forge necessary connections between the work of social entrepreneurs and mainstream response efforts.

Prevention and Protection: A critical first line of defence

“COVID-19 has sharply reinforced the importance of a robust primary health and referral system and the potential of technology-enabled interventions. We work hard to provide that support” says Dr Aparna Hegde, founder of Armman, an India-based non profit organization that leverages technology to create scalable solutions empowering mothers and enabling healthy children. A Top 50 first line responder, Armman was able to quickly adapt its focus to provide over 300,000 women and 800,000 health workers with critical information on COVID-19 via their mobile phones. They are one of many social entrepreneurs on our list that work to preempt, track, and respond to outbreaks early on, helping to slow down ‘reproduction numbers’ (R values) and hospital admissions.

As new surges threaten across the world, their work shows us that taking advantage of the agility of entrepreneurs by integrating their responses into mainstream, public and donor-led, response efforts increases the extent and speed by which the hard-to-reach last mile is brought along.

India’s leading COVID-19 last-mile responders

Each of our Top 50 social enterprise last mile responders and multi-stakeholder initiatives is working across four priority areas of need: Prevention and protection; COVID-19 treatment and relief; inclusive vaccine access; and securing livelihoods. The list was curated jointly with regional hosts Catalyst 2030’s NASE and Aavishkaar Group. Their profiles can be found on www.wef.ch/lastmiletop50india.

Top Last Mile Partnership Initiatives to collaborate with:

#BackTheFrontline – Dasra
Covid Action Collab
Covid Livelihoods Coalition – CoLive
Creative Dignity
Migrants Resilience Collaborative
Rapid Rural Community Response (RCRC)
REVIVE Alliance
Rural Access Coalition
Saath Nirbhar – vartaLeap Coalition and ComMutiny
SAMRIDH
Sanjha Collective – Goonj
Swasth

Top 50 Last Mile Responders to get behind:

Aajeevika Bureau
Adhyayan Foundation
Antarang Foundation
ARMMAN
Arpan
Barefoot College International
Breakthrough
Center for Wildlife Studies
Conserve India
Dasra
Society Of Development Alternatives
Dharma Life
Doctors For You
Dream a Dream
Eleutheros Christian Society
Every Infant Matters
Frontier Markets
Glocal Healthcare
Goonj
Haqdarshak
Hasiru Dala
Healing Fields Foundation
Hemkunt Foundation
iKure
Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals
Indus Action
Industree Foundation
Jan Sahas
Just Organik
Karuna Trust
LabourNet Services
Lakshya
Manah Wellness
MAHAN Trust, Melghat
Mann Deshi Foundation
Mission Oxygen – Democracy
People Foundation
Naireeta Services
Nidan
Noora Health
Pink Maharani
Reap Benefit
SaveLIFE Foundation
SELCO Foundation
Sevamob
SEWA Cooperative Federation
Spandan Samaj Seva Samiti
Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF)
Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS)
Transforming Rural India Foundation
Ziqitza Health Care Limited

COVID-19 Treatment & Relief: Filling the gaps for those in dire need

While many organisations saw the new wave of the crisis coming, the magnitude and cross-cutting nature of the surge made it tough for them to fulfill their role on the frontlines. Almost all of our Top 50 first-line responders and ecosystem innovators however have stepped up where traditional services have been unable to care for the sick, and to bring relief. Without exception, these organizations have used their extensive and long-standing networks to rally stakeholders – including governments and corporates. For example, the Mann Deshi Foundation led a collaboration to build hospital facilities and deliver healthcare in record time and Healing Fields Foundation leveraged its existing network of women community health entrepreneurs (CHEs) to lead the COVID-19 response and training efforts in 5,000 villages across Northern India.

These responses show us that a shared ‘early warning system’ and infrastructure for moving quickly is fundamental to countries’ ability to be on time when the next health, environmental, or economic crisis hits.

Inclusive Vaccine Access: Ensuring that no one is left behind

Agility and strong networks have also proved to be invaluable as the focus of the pandemic response has shifted towards vaccine access – increasingly understood as a global good and critical to containing the virus. Several innovators on our list are using their existing expertise and networks to broaden access to vaccines. Their work includes efforts to overcome vaccine hesitancy and build trust with local communities. Top-50 Responder Haqdarshak, for example, is publishing vaccine information in 11 local languages to help drive vaccination registrations. Unfortunately such initiatives are often excluded from globally funded efforts. But with vaccines only estimated to reach the most remote areas by 2023, changing this could prove seminal in ending the pandemic. As one social entrepreneur told us ‘We struggle to gain access to such procurement and funding streams, which is understandable yet also not an option if we want to bring all Indian people along’.

Securing Livelihoods: Standing by those who have lost their jobs

While the COVID-19 crisis has predominantly been a health crisis, it has also delivered a hammer blow to livelihoods; nowhere is this more visible than in India where the IMF estimates more than 90% of the workforce is informal (defined as not having any social insurance). Within three weeks of the first lockdown, most of these people had lost their jobs. Not surprisingly, many of the leaders we are profiling have made this their focus. For example, ecosystem innovator, Creative Dignity, a collaboration of over 2,000 organisations, is providing relief and rejuvination to India’s rural artisans, and the Migrants Resilience Collaborative, the largest initiative of its kind in the whole of Asia, is supporting 10 million migrant workers and their families for the next five years. Sustained attention for these longer-term, yet vital support needs is fundamental to ‘build back better’ and get back to the 2030 sustainable development goals.

“Nothing in history has shown more clearly than the COVID-19 pandemic that society now must rejig its economic, social and governance structures to ‘expect the unexpected’. The goals of decision-making, whether local or global, must now add resilience to the environmental, equity, economic and empowerment criteria of sustainability,” comments Dr Ashok Khosla from the Society For Development Alternatives.

Carving the path to an inclusive, green COVID-19 recovery

Across India, the social entrepreneurs in our Top 50 list and the partnerships they have rolled out are demonstrating that they have an outsize impact. They have the experience and understanding of context as well as the trust of local communities, which allows them to trial new and local solutions, get to hard-to-reach people and places, build coalitions of local actors, and solve challenges at a local scale.

As the world battles to get past this pandemic, it is high time that their role in reimagining and shaping a new post-COVID 19 reality is recognized and supported. The members of the COVID Response Alliance have joined hands to stand by the social entrepreneurs in our networks. In India, the top responders are ready to break through the persistent income and opportunity barriers that stand in the way of such a recovery. We call on all sectors to join us in backing them and others on the frontlines of this crisis.

To find out more about our Top 50 last-mile responders visit: India’s COVID-19 Last Mile Responders or go to #BacktheFrontline.

Join us for an Interactive Dialogue with India’s Last Mile Responders ‘Carving the Path to an Inclusive Recovery’, on August 12th (6.30 – 7.30pm IST). Watch our livestream here.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Australia urged to evacuate offshore detainees amid widespread, acute mental distress

Any doubt?

From funders to partners: elevating community expertise to help communities thrive

German opposition win in Lower Saxony felt all over Europe

London is becoming the world’s first National Park City

Yemen consultations have started, insists top UN negotiator

Commission approves emergency measures to protect eastern Baltic cod

How data can help mining companies tackle their trust deficit

From drought to floods in Somalia; displacement and hunger worsen, says UN

From raised fists at the 1968 Olympics to taking the knee: A history of racial justice protests in sport

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

This is how travel hotspots are fighting back against overtourism

Do all you can to resolve climate change ‘sticking points’ UN chief urges South-East Asian leaders, in Bali

Four lessons from Africa on building effective business ecosystems

Australian homes are turning to solar power in record numbers

European research priorities for 2021-2027 agreed with member states

Meeting the basic needs of our healthcare workers

Mental health: a medical school’s demand

Embracing the diversity in a multicultural city of Romania

The EU Commission lets money market funds continue the unholy game of banks

How the power of sport can bring us together and drive social justice

EU Blue Card: Commission welcomes political agreement on new rules for highly skilled migrant workers

Why building consumer trust is the key to unlocking AI’s true potential

Ukraine’s new political order not accepted in Crimea

Protecting European consumers: toys and cars on top of the list of dangerous products

This is how New York plans to end its car culture

Progress against torture in Afghan detention centres, but Government needs to do more, says UN report

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Mandatory food labelling Non-Vegetarian / Vegetarian / Vegan’ initiative’

Is South Korea set to lose from its FTA with the EU?

Anti-vaccers: does the empty can rattle the most?

The role of public affairs in student NGOs

Future Forces Forum: Prague will be hosting the most important project in the field of Defence and Security

Latin America’s cities are ready to take off. But their infrastructure is failing them

Political power of women suffering ‘serious regression’, General Assembly President warns

7 top things to know about coronavirus today

How global trade can save lives and livelihoods – and help protect the planet

EU job-search aid worth €9.9 million for 1,858 former Air France workers

European Semester 2018 Spring Package: Commission issues recommendations for Member States to achieve sustainable, inclusive and long-term growth

COVID-19: Save European culture and values, MEPs tell Commission

Children suffering ‘atrocities’ as number of countries in conflict hits new peak: UNICEF

We need to rethink ESG to ensure access to water and sanitation for all

International Court of Justice orders Pakistan to review death penalty for Indian accused of spying

Rise in violent conflict shows prevention ‘more necessary than ever’: UN chief

Top UN political official updates Security Council on Iran nuclear deal

It’s not summer holidays what lead to the bad August of the German economy

How can the world end viral hepatitis by 2030? 5 experts explain

How to talk about climate change: 5 tips from the front lines

Failure to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is a mistake

Myanmar doing too little to ensure displaced Rohingya return: UN refugee agency chief

Further reforms in Sweden can drive growth, competitiveness and social cohesion

EU-UK relations: solutions found to help implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Statistics show the ugly face of youth training schemes

Croatian Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Media and entertainment in flux: it’s time for the close-up

5 droughts that changed human history

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

European Youth, quo vadis?

China is the first non-EU country to invest in Europe’s €315 billion Plan

EU institutions agree on priorities for coming years: A common agenda for our recovery and renewed vitality

Coronavirus Global Response: EIB and Commission pledge additional €4.9 billion

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s