How is COVID-19 affecting the Social Sector?

Navigating work from home and the new normal these past few months has been difficult for everyone. The social sector, while overactive now in some ways to provide relief, is also facing a host of it’s own challenges. Carrying on work, while adapting to new challenges is a test of organisations’ and individuals’ innovation and resilience. We spoke to Poorvi Shah, Chief Executive Officer, Katalyst for her input on how the Covid-19 has affected Katalyst’s functioning and how they have been adapting their processes to best suit their students at this time. This is what she had to say!

Locked down but not logged out!

The past two months have been unexpected and unprecedented. It has thrown everyone off guard. We have learnt and adapted to a new way of working and living, the new normal! Fortunately Technology and support of our stakeholders have come to our rescue. Katalyst has been able to carry out all its interventions virtually by overcoming challenges and mitigating the risks.

Overall

The lockdown has affected the social sector as much as any other sector or even more. The organisations and the staff in the social sector engage directly with the beneficiaries and are on the field. The lockdown has taken the very essence and the concept of this working. Organisations have had to adapt to a virtual way of working while ensuring that the outcomes are not impacted. For the NGO world the impact is critical, it’s the impact which gets them, funds and other resources.

NGOs today are more tech enabled and are adopting technology for a digital transformation like many others and any other corporate entity. The difference is that it comes at a cost, whether its upgraded Zoom account, extra data set or bandwidth, access to good quality hardware and even work area.

The affected are the beneficiaries who are dependent on the daily livelihood or education which they can’t access virtually due to limited or no connectivity, and so on. Also the focus for many organisations has shifted to first providing for meals, healthcare, awareness about managing COVID 19 and psychological support. This has put other interventions in the back-burner.

I read that certain states, streamed school content on TV, to mitigate the risk of no or low internet connectivity, and also did away with exams to promote the students to next year. In such cases, who will assess their learning and outcome? The Indian education system struggles to get students college-ready or job-ready to begin with, now it will be even more challenging. 

To top it all, from field work it has become Work From Home and Work at Home. The staff has to adapt to a new way of working yet be expected to deliver. 

For some organisations such as ours, technology has come to the rescue. In addition, the team’s passion, adaptability, resilience and creativity as well as stakeholders’ support have helped us rise to the occasion. Weekly calls and engagement and training / guest speaker / webinar schedule ensures planned and ongoing activities.

 

Challenges :

  • At Katalyst every employee is Working From Home across 4 cities.
  • The beneficiaries (Students) have gone back home.
  • For March, we conducted a few face to face training sessions just before the lockdown and post that we had to cancel some training.
  • Some students have low network connectivity. Students who were enrolled in this academic year do not have laptops.
  • 60% of ours students were already placed. We are hoping that companies will honour these offers after 3 months.
  • Meanwhile colleges also restarted by moving to online classes. Hence we had to work around it to avoid conflicting schedules.
  • Internships got cancelled as face2face was not possible.
  • Two donors’ funds got delayed. One managed to come through in April whereas the other large one is still pending.
  • We have to postpone our Annual Convention, a hallmark of the program, which is normally held at the end of July.


Actions taken : Initially we did face some challenges. But soon we were back on our feet planning for virtual training, mentor-mentee interaction and meeting with students.

  • We spoke to our trainers, some who were adept at it and some who morphed into it. 
  • Students who have prepaid plans and limited data are given top up packs so that they could join virtual sessions uninterrupted.
  • Some students have been facing connectivity issues in their villages hence are either unable to login or keep dropping off. Wherever possible, we plan to share recorded sessions with them so all learning is not lost.
  • Mentors including new mentors were asked to move to virtual mode. Team has been in touch with both and guiding them appropriately. Teams have suggested themes and come up with innovative contests to motivate and engage mentors and students.
  • Center teams meet their students virtually (instead of in colleges and hostels). Whatsapp continues to be a mode of communication as well. They have spoken about Coronavirus to create awareness.
  • We have spoken to corporate partners for online internships.


What is working well :

  • Katalyst got back on track with its interventions in less than a week. We started with soft skills training and have also added technical skills (theory with some application) and will do 1-2 days of face2face practical sessions once we resume. Students are being given some assignments as well.
    • Conducted about 20,000 hours of training
    • We are able to organise some amazing guest speakers / sessions with experts for students across all our locations and especially for 4th years as they prepare to get out in the real world. 
    • We have conducted 2 Webinars for mentors and 1 more will be conducted in May.
  • Our students have come back with creative artwork, poems and cooking. They have also come back with positive testimonial for the efforts taken by Katalyst to keep them engaged and motivated during this period and continue their learning.
  • Masterclass, an American online education platform, has donated 1000 licenses to Katalyst. We have given these to our students, mentors and partners as an incentive. Through this gift, they can access tutorials and lectures pre-recorded by experts in various fields. We have received lovely mails appreciating the gesture.
  • We have done capacity building sessions for the team as well to keep them motivated and help them manage situation
  • Some of our corporate partners are arranging for virtual internships
  • We have also planned a worldwide Alumni Meet
Katalyst is a non-profit that started a decade ago with the intent of liberating women from low income communities, through the pursuit of professional education. The initiative definitively prepares young women for leadership roles, thereby creating a wider talent pool for India Inc and helping bridge the gender divide. Katalyst achieves this objective through a blend of unique development interventions, including a 600 hour proprietary and scientifically researched curriculum.
 
Visit Katalyst | Winds of Change to learn more about the amazing work they do and how you can help!


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