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Rohini’s Message During the ChaloGive Fundraiser

Civil Society | Everyday Giving | COVID-19 | May 5, 2020

This is an edited version of Rohini Nilekani’s comments and message during the ChaloGive fundraiser.

The way COVID-19 has restructured all our lives is unprecedented. Nobody expected everything to unravel quite this quickly. We recently conducted some surveys with Omidyar and Dalberg, and 64% of the respondents said that they were facing a serious loss of income. So the situation right now is really dire and needs immediate responses. But I think the philanthropic community also needs to start thinking about the mid and long term response. India has a very thriving civil society, and we have seen this in action because they have been the first responders in many cases. They have been giving us the feedback loops that we need to tweak the State’s decision-making process.

A few of us in the sector have made a public statement about what philanthropists should do at a time like this — we need to operate on trust. All these years working with nonprofits as partners, means that we should be able to trust them. At this point, we must loosen up all our impact reporting requirements, and give them complete freedom in terms of the use of that philanthropic capital for needs on the ground as they see it. We need to come from a place of generosity, so we are revising our budgets and doing what we have to do to respond as quickly as we can. In addition, retail giving has stepped up considerably. Many corporations in India have been giving to all the government schemes as well as to nonprofits. But some are also strategically holding their firepower, so that when donor fatigue sets in, they can come in and give. We have to think about structural things that need to continue to happen, so that people are not left to struggle with things like loss of livelihoods or water security. So the philanthropic community is thinking at these two levels – how can we give more flexibility to all our partners right now and how can we start planning for the midterm?

In terms of getting the diasporic community engaged in giving, it has been an ongoing challenge. I know from my travels that many people in the diaspora want to give, but sometimes they don’t know how to give and whom to give to. There have been attempts to create platforms that assist people with building these networks of trust, and channels like ChaloGive, where people feel comfortable giving. But we need to create more intermediary organisations that allow for networks of trust to build, not just when there are disasters but beyond that.

We also need to allow nonprofits to communicate what they do more effectively and tell their stories better. There’s nothing more powerful than a good story to keep people engaged. These are the two things we really require in order to reach the diaspora who care so much about what’s happening to the 600 million Indians who are in need. I don’t think any of us want to return to the old normal. The old normal was not a very just normal in India. There was not enough justice and equity. We want to use this opportunity to create a new normal. All of us who have anything to do with India know that all our fates are interconnected. So we keep that story of interconnection alive, and we keep being inspired by this interconnectedness so that we can engage our hearts, and our pockets as well. Our aim is to make things better, not just to return to where we were.

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