On-Ground Implementation Partner Vital for Impact in Long-Term Healthcare CSR Projects

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Dr Ashwin Naik

Modern enterprises are actively involved in CSR as companies now believe they are equally responsible and genuinely interested in improving the state of their community and stakeholders. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted profit-oriented organisations to wake up to the gruesome reality of the healthcare infrastructure and compelled them to contribute in whichever way possible to improve the healthcare facilities in the country.

Traditionally, healthcare CSR in India has been focused mainly on the short term, often transactional goals that involved monetary donations, donations of medicines, equipment, etc., with little to no long-term impact vision. Usually, these donations and efforts would go in vain as the equipment remains unused or not repaired, lack of skilled staff to put them to use, and other challenges, including inadequate base infrastructure like access to electricity, etc. Although considered CSR, these were mainly one-time donations made by companies either directly or in association with an NGO that worked in that geography and may or may not have been instrumental in any healthcare-specific due diligence or implementation. 

Healthcare projects can bear results only if there are sustainable efforts in that direction. Having an on-ground implementation partner is one of the best ways to ensure your healthcare CSR initiatives produce the intended results. A good partnership is built on a strong foundation of mutual respect, integrity and, above all, a good rapport between the parties involved.

However, all of that is changing now. Companies are moving from a one-time donation model and striving to elevate the healthcare infrastructure across urban and rural areas – with rural regions being the primary focus for obvious reasons. Healthcare projects can bear results only if there are sustainable efforts in that direction. Having an on-ground implementation partner is one of the best ways to ensure your healthcare CSR initiatives produce the intended results. A good partnership is built on a strong foundation of mutual respect, integrity and, above all, a good rapport between the parties involved. The factors discussed here will help companies focus on the right on-ground partner for their long-term CSR projects.

The pandemic has been a harsh reality check for our healthcare system, with 2021 being one of the most challenging years that witnessed death and loss on a massive scale. The sharp surge in cases saw people scrambling for ICU beds, critical medicine, and urgent medical attention, highlighting the gaps in the functioning of our healthcare system. The Indian Government spends about 1.13 per cent of the GDP on the healthcare system, while citizens bear almost 65 per cent of the healthcare cost. This is a huge financial burden that prevents millions of Indians from accessing quality healthcare facilities. As per a report by KPMG, about 75 per cent of India’s healthcare infrastructure and 74 per cent of doctors are found in urban areas, leaving about 73 per cent of people in rural areas lacking even primary healthcare. Additionally, India has a relatively low patient-doctor ratio of 1:1445 compared to the WHO recommended ratio of 1:1000. With these numbers, India remains largely underprepared to handle any health crisis – pandemic or otherwise. 

Given the urgent need for creating sustainable impact in healthcare infrastructure, a brand seeking to partner with an NGO for healthcare CSR need to outline its long-term CSR goals and identify the area/geography of work. Once this is finalised, choosing an implementation partner becomes easier as one needs to look out for an NGO whose vision and objectives align with it. If the company has an elaborate, long-term vision to augment healthcare infrastructure in a particular geographic area, the chosen NGO must have the required network, capabilities and willingness to execute the same.

Smooth implementation of CSR activities, especially healthcare CSR, often demands collaboration with an on-ground partner. But organisations are often not very well aware of the process or are too sceptical for various reasons. Most of them would only conduct a background check of the NGOs to ensure they have chosen the right partner. However, especially in a sector like healthcare, equal contribution in terms of competence and expertise is required to bring a sustainable change. Simply providing monetary support would not make a real difference either. Companies need to look at much more than the due diligence process when choosing an implementation partner since solid and sustainable results from healthcare CSR initiatives will only come with equally invested partnerships. 

Here are a few factors besides the usual background checks and due diligence processes a company need to consider when choosing an on-ground implementation partner for its healthcare CSR projects.

Alignment of Long-Term Vision                                             

Given the urgent need for creating sustainable impact in healthcare infrastructure, a brand seeking to partner with an NGO for healthcare CSR need to outline its long-term CSR goals and identify the area/geography of work. Once this is finalised, choosing an implementation partner becomes easier as one needs to look out for an NGO whose vision and objectives align with it. If a company has an elaborate, long-term vision to augment healthcare infrastructure in a particular geographic area, the chosen NGO must have the required network, capabilities and willingness to execute the same. They need to be on the same page and work together in a consistent partnership to mobilise their resources and achieve the long term goals.

Analyse the Track Record of the NGO Team

Once the long term goals and objectives are aligned, it is time to do some basic background research to ascertain the choice of the implementation partner. The kind of work they have done in the past, success rate, impact and details of ongoing projects, etc., need to be understood. It is also vital to assess the track record of the NGO to comprehend whether the collaboration would be fruitful in the long run. A company must analyse whether the healthcare programmes undertaken by the NGO in the past were executed on time and had the requisite outputs and impact. Analysing the track record would give insights into the team’s level of commitment, cooperation and skills critical for the project’s success.

In this post-COVID era, the need for a sustainable and impact-oriented CSR outreach has become crucial – and with it – the significance of an on-ground implementation partner has also become vital. With this shift in approach, the on-ground implementation partner also need to be a long-term collaboration that functions in alignment with the impact goals of the CSR outreach, share the same passion and is committed to the result-oriented partnership. 

Determine the Nature of Partnership – Sustainable Intervention or Short-term Transactional Relationship

The nature of the partnership is yet another crucial thing to be considered. If a company has a set of objectives that it aims to achieve through its CSR activities, a short-term transactional relationship with an NGO will not work. Assistance in distributing medicines to the underprivileged or other activities providing short-term relief can be implemented through short-term relationships. However, a company that is serious about creating a long-term impact through a well-planned, extensive project like increasing bed capacity or providing high-end equipment, etc., should ensure the NGO is open and competent enough to handle sustainable interventions. 

Alignment on Impact Matrix

When an NGO and a company unite to achieve a shared objective, there need to be a consensus on key areas where resources and funds are channelled and achieved through an impact matrix. The impact matrix helps identify opportunities, optimise resources and review the impact of actions and strategies executed over a particular period. In case of a long-term healthcare project, the NGO must submit reports that emphasise the goals achieved and those yet to achieve at regular intervals. This helps the company gain a clear understanding of where its CSR initiatives are moving.

Employee Participation in CSR Programmes

Employee participation helps create a positive impact on CSR initiatives. Though the majority of the objectives would be accomplished by the on-ground partner, it is always good to encourage and accept any kind of help from company employees. Employee participation creates a deeper impact as each member is now involved in contributing to the noble cause in some way or the other. A company committed to healthcare projects for a long period should partner with an NGO that can accommodate and optimally utilise the help received from its employees. 

In this post-COVID era, the need for a sustainable and impact-oriented CSR outreach has become crucial – and with it – the significance of an on-ground implementation partner has also become vital. With this shift in approach, the on-ground implementation partner also need to be a long-term collaboration that functions in alignment with the impact goals of the CSR outreach, share the same passion and is committed to the result-oriented partnership. 

Dr Ashwin Naik is the Co-founder of Mission ICU.