2021 in Review: Workload Tripled for India’s CSR and Non-Profit Sectors


Pearl Tiwari

COVID-19 and its ensuing lockdowns have taken a toll on people worldwide, but in a country already grappling with vast poverty, the pandemic not only exacerbated extreme poverty but tripled the workload of the very organisations trying to tackle it. Whilst there was an urgent requirement to respond to the needs created by the pandemic, with NGOs quickly pivoting to develop new programmes to tackle the virus and address the needs of the new poor who emerged at this time – existing programmes centred around the provision of basic human needs and rights (water, livelihoods, health, education) could not be set aside.

So, what did that look like for India Inc’s vast CSR sector and the 1.2 million non-profit organisations across India?

The Priority of COVID-19 Remained… 

With the advent of 2021, many hoped to see the back of COVID-19 and move forward to focus on other priorities; however, with the onset of the second wave, that was not to be the case.  CSR arms and non-profits continued in their efforts to support the government and respond – quickly mobilising to address stark gaps in the health sector that were overwhelmed by the demand, and later shifting focus on the vaccination of people in the hope to stop the pandemic in its tracks.

Those organisations that excelled were able to harness people on the ground and mobilise them into action to roll out programmes.  Young people, idle due to the closure of education and skilling institutions; women, who show resourcefulness and resilience in the face of crisis; and those recently out of work, were harnessed to play a pivotal role in filling the human resource gap on the ground in grassroots communities.

Sustaining Existing Programmes 

CSR bodies and NGOs experienced increased pressure in 2021 as they not only had to make sure they responded to the needs generated by COVID-19, but they also could not drop the ball on other important work like water and health, which is equally urgent. These priorities could not be put on the back burner whilst organisations focused on addressing COVID-19 as they too present a matter of life or death.

Of course, this meant increased workloads for CSR professionals and the 19.2 million non-profit staff who work across the country – both hamstrung by the limits of time and often, money, to expand workforces to deal with this increase in workload.

Expanding Programmes to Reach the ‘New Poor’ 

Adding fuel to the fire, India’s uninterrupted progress in reducing poverty since the 1970s was halted in its tracks as a further 230 million Indians (according to a study by Azim Premji University) were pushed into poverty in the last 18 months alone. This constituted a ‘new poor’ who required support and whose needs could not be ignored. 

Whilst the pandemic saw an influx of relief funding into the sector to address this issue, the flipside was that many CSR bodies and non-profits struggled to maintain existing programmes as funding was redirected or channelised into immediate COVID-19 measures.


The pandemic wreaked havoc on the fundamental human rights of people across the globe, but due credit goes to a vast and skilled development sector (India Inc’s CSR sector, and the non-profit sector) which, by harnessing the resourcefulness that they are renowned for, rose to the need of the hour and took on triple the workload to ‘do the needful.’

For this, we all should be incredibly proud.

Pearl Tiwari is the Director & CEO of Ambuja Cement Foundation (CSR & Sustainability) at Ambuja Cements Limited. With 35 years of experience in the development sector, she is a social development professional having worked in this area across diverse academic, NGO and CSR roles. A graduate of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and with an Executive Education in CSR from Harvard Business School, she has led Ambuja Cement Foundation since 2000. Leading a team of development professionals, her efforts have earned Ambuja Cements national and international recognition in CSR.