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Rewiring generosity in Covid times

GiveIndia's Atul Satija on the transformation in how we give and how to sustain momentum in giving.

May 29, 2021 / 04:28 PM IST
GiveIndia CEO Atul Satija.

GiveIndia CEO Atul Satija.

We are in the midst of a ‘giving revolution’ triggered by a virus; a rare upside of a crisis which has ravaged the world. People across the socioeconomic spectrum have opened up their hearts, wallets and schedules to help each other during this once-in-a-century pandemic. These acts of kindness by ordinary citizens, on the ground and on digital platforms, are rewiring generosity. We spoke to the two-decade-old online donation platform GiveIndia’s chief executive officer, Atul Satija, to understand this transformation in how we give and, more importantly, how to sustain momentum in giving after the pandemic’s most devastating waves subside.

Edited for length and clarity.

Do you believe we are witnessing a transformation in how and how much we give?

Given the nature and scale of this pandemic, it is definitely a time in India when people are the most giving we’ve ever seen. We are also more digitally connected now than ever before. It allows us to see the aggregate value of giving much more easily, which was difficult when the country was disconnected and people used to give in hyperlocal fashion. So the digital revolution and the pandemic’s scale and effects are making people (individual donors) give a lot more than they've ever given. Also, the CSR law which requires companies to deploy 2% of their profits adds to the overall giving numbers.

Despite a higher degree of comfort with online platforms, what are the big barriers in online giving that still exist?


In the online and offline world, there are a few things that people look at.

Trust: People need to trust that their money serves people who need help and goes to the cause they want to support.

Convenience: Giving is discretionary spending. It’s not like paying your mobile or electricity bills, or buying something online. If you don't donate, nothing happens. So, unless you make it very easy for people to give, it's easily something that can slip.

Choice: Every person is individual and what they connect with is very personal. If you don't have a choice of causes, you will reduce overall giving that's happening in the system.

Corporate giving is similar. Obviously, every company has certain priorities as per CSR policies and internal biases based on the businesses they are in. But the fundamentals are the same. It has to be easy and you have to be sure that the money goes to the cause and really creates an impact. But companies also have to be fully compliant with the law, so that becomes an additional dimension in B2B giving.

How do you work with companies to plan smart campaigns to boost overall giving numbers?

We work with corporations and brands in many different ways, partnering with them for CSR giving and enabling them to give faster and better, and in a more impactful fashion. That is one bucket of work. We work with a lot of consumer brands, whether it's on their digital platforms or offline to enable giving through their customers. We also work with corporations to encourage their employees to come forward and donate from their payroll or otherwise. All three models work very well.

On the brand campaign side, we work with Flipkart, Myntra, Pepperfry, Xiaomi and Glance, for example, to have their ecosystem of consumers and users come forward and donate through joint-giving campaigns. We also use platforms with large reach for awareness campaigns.

Many organisations are creating programmes for their employees and community support programmes. Banks and technology companies are creating partnership platforms with us where employees come forward to donate to the causes that they care about.

Besides Covid relief, what causes do Indians care about? How does this inform your strategies?

Generally people gravitate towards the emotional causes that are easy to relate to and to understand as an individual everyday giver. Causes like food, education and helping differently-abled people and the elderly. But long-range impact causes tend to have lower levels of giving. These include livelihoods and skill development. It's not an everyday use-case.

Now, younger generations are starting to look at causes that are more relevant given the times. These are climate change, water, and energy and renewables.

With Covid, obviously, public health is on top of everyone's mind. We are seeing a shift from food, hunger, and education to the public health side. During lockdowns we also see more activity on the livelihood side.

In your view, are there areas/causes where attention needs to be dialed up? 

The platform reflects the country’s giving biases. We have over 2,000 nonprofits fundraising on the platform. And all the causes are available. When we work with corporations during disaster times, we try to raise money for whatever is most important during that time.

This year started with a grave need on the medical infrastructure, equipment and supply side. We worked on physical infrastructure, supporting Covid care facilities, supplying oxygen concentrators, cylinders and setting up PSA oxygen plants. As the need for food and cash support is growing, for the last few weeks we’ve been raising money to provide dry rations and cash relief. We are also focusing on vaccine equity, access and affordability. Because nobody is safe until everyone is safe.

We’re expanding the scope of our work as we learn more about second and third order effects of Covid this year.

We're witnessing an extraordinary outpouring of generosity which is happening in organised and unorganised ways, online and off. How can platforms like GiveIndia sustain momentum in giving after the worst of the pandemic passes?

We’ve always seen that the top of mind worry for a society, for a community, for a country is the disaster. There are always much higher levels of giving during such times. As life goes back to normal, giving numbers come down. And that is OK as long as thoughtful giving from the B2B ecosystem and recurring giving from individual donors continue.

We have to keep conversations and dialogues going and build awareness. As a platform, we try to talk about the long-range impact of disasters and the need to park a certain amount of money for the future.  It’s important to start thinking about the pandemic's long-term impact. People forget the communities destroyed in disasters, who are directly impacted and live a lifelong journey of loss. Most people focus on rescue work and short-term relief. But longer term rehabilitation always suffers because there is usually much less money available for what usually needs the most money.

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Delshad Irani
first published: May 29, 2021 04:19 pm
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