The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the social, economic and healthcare fabric of the country as millions of Indians lost their jobs, and several more were rendered homeless. Almost three years hence, the social sector has played a pivotal role in restoring normalcy and has emerged as the backbone of our society.
In a country as vast and diverse as ours, civil society and non-government organisations helped to extend the reach of reform programs to the remotest parts of the country. One such organisation – The Hans Foundation (THF) – stands out like a shining star for its contribution to support development at the grassroot level and improve the lives of underprivileged communities in rural India.
Shweta Rawat, Founder and Chairperson, The Hans Foundation shares her thoughts about how education and healthcare are emerging as the top priority areas for philanthropy after the pandemic, the current initiatives of The Hans Foundation and the roadmap for the future.
The Hans Foundation’s role in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic turned the table upside down for everyone. “The Hans Foundation has always been at the forefront of relief work when natural disasters strike – working with local administration and NGO partners to effectively assist affected communities,” said Rawat. “When the pandemic first struck in 2020, we worked hand-in-hand with almost 30 grassroots partners across the country to provide needed and emergency support to various vulnerable communities. Since then, we have set up oxygen plants in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Nagaland, which have been essential not only for the response to the pandemic but as part of strengthening the permanent public healthcare infrastructure.”
As per Rawat, The Hans Foundation helped set up 135 quarantine centres that could accommodate up to 10,000 people in Uttarakhand. Besides this, the foundation assisted the local administration in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Odisha by providing a total number of 2,650 oxygen concentrators, 5,200 medical bedding sets and 1,000 oxygen flowmeters at the peak of the crisis, she added. “More than 50,000 hygiene and sanitation kits, around 1,50,000 masks, gloves, face shields and 7,000 litres of hand sanitiser were distributed in Delhi, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh during the peak of the crisis through grassroots partners and via our own field staff.”
The Hans Foundation initiates in India
The need of the hour, as highlighted by the pandemic, led to health and well-being becoming a central pillar of our new phase of existence, even as we continue to work on interventions for disability rights, education, livelihood and climate action.
Within healthcare, The Hans Foundation’s vision is to support people to exercise their right to access healthcare. Presently, The Hans Foundation’s signature programs include the Hans Medical Mobile Units, which provide mobile Primary Health Care in Rural Areas, Hans Renal Care Centres, which provide free dialysis support at district and zonal levels of healthcare, and our Cochlear Implants and Little Hearts programs, which provide surgical and post-surgical support to children born with congenital hearing impairment and congenital heart defects, respectively.
In addition to these health and wellbeing projects, The Hans Foundation is also working on the Himadri Hans Handlooms project, which works with women weavers of Uttarakhand to provide livelihood while also preserving the cultural heritage and crafts of the Kumaon region. “We hope to develop this pilot as a model for women empowerment, livelihood generation and heritage preservation in other parts of the country,” Rawat added.
The Hans Foundation’s priority areas
In first 12 years of existence, The Hans Foundation gained experience working across 26 states in India, through partnerships with more than 150 organisations. “As we started working on self-implementation projects, our personal field presence has also expanded from Delhi-NCR, Uttarakhand and Nagaland to Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Assam as well, with the Mobile Medical Units program leading the way in establishing our presence in the field. Our Cochlear Implant and Little Hearts Program has also been rapidly expanding, working with hospitals in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, and Kolkata,” Rawat said.
Emerging Trends in Philanthropy
The role of private philanthropy has become pivotal for the all-round development of the society. “Contribution from domestic philanthropists including corporations and individuals has grown at a steady pace of 8 to 10 per cent yearly with an increase in CSR contributions. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, CSOs and NGOs have faced a shortage of funds. Supporting CSOs, NGOs and organisations working at the grassroot level has gained a lot of prominence, along with community engagement,” Rawat said. “Education and healthcare have emerged as the top priority sectors for philanthropy and rightfully so as the pandemic highlighted the infrastructural gaps and accessibility issues in these sectors.”
Philanthropists are becoming more impact-driven and setting clear goals based on evidence and data. Collaborative models and public-private partnerships have also seen a huge rise. “The climate crisis that we are facing today calls for urgent action. Several organisations and individuals at the grassroots level are working with communities to build climate resilience,” Rawat added.
Internationally, this is becoming an area for increased philanthropic spending. In India domestic philanthropy can play a vital role in helping build the capacity of local agencies to respond to the ongoing climate crisis as they are uniquely placed to support communities and individuals, and often already working in frontline areas affected by climate change. The impact of climate change is cross-sectoral ranging from health to gender equality. Therefore solutions to these can be easily aligned with the ongoing work of several philanthropic institutions in the country.
How was The Hans Foundation conceived?
Rawat said: “It was a casual discussion around 2004-2005, between me, my parents and Mr Manoj Bhargava, the primary funder of the foundation, that gave birth to the foundation. We were all passionate about making an impact on development in India and started out with three pillars to work on – Education, Healthcare and Disability Rights.”
The Hans Foundation’s vision was to empower marginalised and underprivileged communities across India so that everyone in India no matter their gender, religion, caste, financial or physical ability, has the right to access health care, a right to access education, and in case of disability, the right to those services that give you a better quality of life, she added. “As we have grown over the last 13 years, our understanding of the complexities of this space and new areas where Hans can be impactful has also grown. To reflect this, we added Livelihood and Climate Action to our arenas of intervention.”
The Hans Foundation’s Roadmap for the Future
As per Rawat, The Hans Group wants to continue to expand its reach and interventions. The idea is that The Hans Foundation can be instrumental in India’s journey of development, ensuring that it stays aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and every Indian has access to basic needs that are essential to lead a whole and healthy life, she added
“Since we started the Mobile Medical Units program in early 2021, we have already crossed 150 vans in operation across 5 states in India and we hope that number will continue to increase. We also want to take our Cochlear Implant and Little Hearts programs – where we work in partnership with leading hospitals across the country – to many more cities, so that every child in need can be helped.”
“Mental health, disability rights and climate action are topics which are very close to my heart, and we have also recently started piloting some innovative projects under these larger themes that I hope can go the distance and be scaled up and replicated soon,” she said.
These projects include Hans Wellness Centres which provide both physical and mental health care and counselling in schools for children from underprivileged sections of society. There is also an innovative pilot in the works that will use mobile clinics for early identification and intervention for disabled people, in partnership with National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (NIEPID).
“It is important to invest in improving life outcomes through sustained efforts. Partnerships with corporates, as well as other CSOs, NGOs and philanthropic organisations, are critical in amplifying the scale of social transformation programs implemented by any social sector organisations including The Hans Foundation and in achieving the SDGs of India. Social transformation is a long process, and we must keep evaluating and innovating to help create a just and equitable society.”
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