‘Reskilling: the watchword now in social sector organisations’

Photo used for representational purpose only.

Photo used for representational purpose only.

Many social sector organisations (SSOs) have stepped up to the plate, and undertaken pandemic relief work. During the two waves, a raft of SSOs cutting across focus areas extended help, while ironically looking for help themselves to dodge the curve balls the pandemic had thrown their way. Disruption is the defining word of SARS-COV-2. SSOs had their share of debilitating and niggling disruptions to deal with: reduced fund flow, the need to adopt technology and the demand for a whole new style of functioning.

In the context of the social sector, digital transformation is a sparsely used term.

The pandemic came as a rude jolt to many SSOs, some of which suddenly discovered that some of their hallowed systems were grossly dated, and they had to aggressively upskill their staff to adapt to the new systems.

Azim Premji University launched a study to “understand how the SSOs are adapting their operations and resources to the challenges posed by the pandemic and the kind of changes they anticipate in the social sector in the next few years as they adjust to a world with Covid.”

The study shines the searchlight on “the internal organisational changes of SSOs both in the short-term and medium-term.”

Carried out From January to May 2021, the situation assessment study comes with two parts: “(a) A survey of SSOs followed by (b) qualitative in-depth interviews with senior management of select organisations”, says a press note from the Azim Premji Foundation.

The survey covered 107 organisations. Twenty-eight of them were reserved for “qualitative interviews”.

These organisations were cherry-picked to ensure representation of key domains — livelihoods, health, education, human rights and gender. These organisations were also drawn from different Indian states.

The study notes that 92 percent of the SSOs covered by the survey got its staff and network of volunteers “embedded in the community” to undertake relief measures among vulnerable and marginalised communities at the height of Covid-19 pandemic.

The relief work included “provision of cooked food, dry ration, distribution of hygiene kits, direct cash transfers, and helping migrants with travel facilities and shelter”.

Awareness about SARS-COV-2 was also part of the work.

SARS-COV-2 has a silent middle name — disruption. The study assessed the major disrupters that threw ongoing systems in SSOs out of whack.

Workforce reorientation

The new normal has left no workforce untouched. Many SSOs found themselves pitchforked into a situation where they had to upskill their staff to stay relevant and useful to their target groups. While a majority of corporates (barring those into manufacturing) can quickly unplug their operations and take them online without major shake-ups, many SSOs were faced with the peculiar situation of having to function online while much of their work is field-oriented. A whopping 72% of the respondents indicated that their staff started working online; 52% of the SSOs reskilled their staff to work online.

Among the respondents, 11% reported having to let go of staff due to insufficient funds; 20% that they effected salary cuts in 2020; and 16% reported delays in payment of salaries by a few months.

SSOs rely hugely on these services of volunteers and even part-timers; but the digital transformation necessitated by the pandemic led a good number of them — 18% of SSOs, according to the survey — to hire professionals with new skills.

While 20% of respondents reduced staff salaries in 2020, 16% reported delays in payment of salaries by a few months and 11% had to retrench their staff due to insufficient funds.

Reduced fund flow

A huge number of organisations (68%) reported that mobilising funds for continuing their existing programmes was a challenge, which was closely followed by how physical distancing norms — 64% of them reported this issue — made it difficult to continue with this regular services.

Nearly 60% of the organisations reported that in the initial days of lockdown, obtaining permission from local authorities to start field operations was more challenging than anything Herculean.

Given this situation, many SSOs had to take a tough and quick all — “54% of organisations indicated that they had to stall some of their programmes and adapt the others to the crisis. 60% of the respondents started new programmes in the area of education, health and livelihoods in response to the unfolding situation on the ground.”

According to the study, 35% of the respondents reallocated money from existing programmes to carry out humanitarian aid.

It notes that 42% of the respondents reported reduction in funding for existing programmes; and 24% reported that funding was completely stopped for current programmes.

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 9:03:15 pm |