Microsoft’s Commitment to Nonprofits and Communities on the Frontline

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Keshav Dhakad

In so many ways nonprofits are first responders, playing a critical role in supporting the health, safety, and wellness of people around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on many such organisations whose employees and volunteers have gone beyond the call of duty to sacrifice their own well-being and safety for the good of the community.

At Microsoft, we believe that no one company is going to solve a challenge like this alone, and it’s going to take the private and public sectors working together to turn the tide on COVID-19. With much of the country working from home, organisations based within communities are facing challenges in delivering impact while keeping their workforce safe. Our goal is to support them with the digital capability required to address these challenges. Over the last month, we have engaged with over 500 nonprofits across the country who are on the frontlines of COVID-19 response. We are committed to better serve this sector each day and I feel fortunate that we can play a part in moving nonprofit missions forward and drive social good.

Enabling Non-Profits to Bridge the Digital Gap

As a company at the forefront of digital transformation, we are committed to bringing the benefits of technology to all. When we step back and look at the challenges facing non-profits, these include a lack of technical capacity, scarcity of resources, and lack of digital technology solutions customised for their environment. For these organisations to make the greatest impact on their missions, they must have easy access to digital technology and the ability to effectively utilise it. We take a three-pronged approach by offering best-in-class scalable, inclusive and accessible cloud technology, nonprofit-specific tailored solutions to improve efficiency and impact, and supporting digital literacy to improve adoption, usage and to increase employability. We believe that these three core pillars of digital technology enablement are key to bridging the digital divide and propel community-based organisations forward to build a strong vision and achieve their mission of driving real-world impact.

During unprecedented times like these, we have been working closely with nonprofits to serve the broader community by enabling them to stay connected, secure and productive. We are also organising regular webinars and training sessions to help them transition from a field to a remote work environment more intuitively.

A great example of innovation, resilience and above all, of transforming through the times is Aga Khan Rural Support Programme India (AKRSPI), which focuses on the holistic development of extremely rural areas. Recognising that vulnerable rural communities do not have access to hygiene products and masks which are critical in slowing down the spread of the virus, AKRSPI collaborated with women entrepreneurs from underprivileged communities in Bihar to make low-cost, triple-layered cotton masks for extremely poor communities in northern Bihar. However, with the nationwide lockdown, the organisation’s mobility was severely restricted. AKRSPI required its representatives across 70+ locations and working in some of the most remote districts of the country to stay connected to serve the community.

The organisation was able to deliver mandatory training to the mask manufacturing entrepreneurs in accordance with the government guidelines, and are well on their way to produce one million masks in the next couple of months serving the rural poor in India.

Apoorva Osa, CEO of AKRSPI, shares, “When the lockdown was announced, we realised that more than 400 of our staff were spread across 70 locations in the country and in the absence of mobility, staying connected on a secure platform became supercritical. Technology has played a big role in helping not just our volunteers stay connected, but also for planning and operationalising relief operations for rural communities. Our teams have played a central role in bringing together field teams across the country, enabling our staff to respond with agility and urgency.”

Similarly, SEEDS India has been working in close coordination with governments to respond to the physical, mental and economic impacts of the pandemic, especially among the elderly, children, and frontline health workers. As part of its COVID-19 outreach, SEEDS has reached out to 1,00,000 economically-vulnerable people in partnership with the Government of India and State governments of Bihar, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttarakhand to offer support.

Talking about how technology is accelerating their efforts as a first-responder, Anshu Sharma, Co-Founder, SEEDS, says, “A major highlight of our work at SEEDS as a humanitarian aid organisation during the COVID-19 outbreak has been how we were able to seamlessly move into an emergency response mode even with our offices shut due to the lockdown. Our field operations had to transform overnight, as we couldn’t take signatures and keep field records and accounts in the usual form due to social distancing norms. Digital technology enabled us to have a live relief distribution dashboard, and GPS-enabled audio-visual recordings emerged as a reliable system to keep our team, donors and local authorities updated on the number of people impacted and locations covered on a daily basis, helping ensure efficiency and transparency in our work. Not only was our data accessible throughout and we could connect across various offices and field teams spread over seven States for work, but we could also stay connected as individual colleagues and support each other in these challenging times, which can often get stressful and overwhelming even for aid workers.“

We are also working with nonprofits like Oxfam on the digital transformation of their centralised operations. Oxfam India has been at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, working round-the-clock to provide relief material and personal protective equipment to first responders across 14 States of the country. For a more efficient distribution of relief material, Oxfam India shifted their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) on Microsoft SharePoint across the entire organisation, creating a swifter and more transparent procurement mechanism. So far, Oxfam’s relief efforts have helped more than 150,000 people across the country.

Oxfam’s staff across multiple locations, some of whom are very remote, have been able to coordinate and connect through our teams even in areas with low bandwidth, ensuring real-time information is accessible to everyone without delay.

Empowering Communities Around Us

To support those economically impacted by the pandemic, we are mobilising efforts for colleagues at Microsoft to contribute through the Giving campaign, with a matching donation by Microsoft. The Give Together campaign channels support directly to non-profits that are serving vulnerable groups in communities around us.

Giving has been part of our culture since Microsoft was founded more than forty years ago. It is one way in which we live our mission to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. This is an opportunity for all of us to pull together to support the needs of our communities during this unprecedented crisis.

Keshav Dhakad is Group Head & Assistant General Counsel – Corporate, External & Legal Affairs, Microsoft India.