The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impeded the progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Asia-Pacific region, which is likely to achieve only 10 per cent of the targets for 2030 (UNESCAP, 2021). Warning against the rise in inequality in the Global South, including India, the report called for accelerated action towards addressing migrant deaths, human trafficking, and loss of income to meet the SDGs considered a cornerstone for human-centered progress growth.
Amid hopes of economic recovery and successful global vaccination campaigns, such reports serve as grim reminders of the fact that the health crisis may eventually subside, but the pandemic-induced economic recession, expected to push more than 150 million into extreme poverty, and its cascading impact on existing social and economic inequities are here to stay (World Bank, 2021). The loss of jobs and intensified poverty will only accentuate the inequalities in access to essential services such as healthcare, nutrition, education and employment, thereby derailing efforts to ensure a life of dignity and social equality for all.
As daunting as these facts may be, another seemingly incongruous set of facts may have the answer to the challenges that lie ahead. Philanthropy in India is growing rapidly. Indian philanthropists spent 23 per cent more this year, amounting to Rs 64,000 crore (Bain, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic response by the Indian civil society has shown us how this dynamic and vibrant force is at the forefront of providing relief and enabling delivery of services to the last mile in times of crises.
Following the reports of the outbreak in India and the lockdown announcement, social purpose organisations in India worked to respond quickly, not only to the medical needs of the crisis but also to the social challenges and concerns that accompanied it.
As we reimagine the post-COVID-19 future and tackle new and intensified challenges that lie ahead, the role of social purpose organisations and civil society in bringing sustainable solutions and ensuring delivery of relief services cannot be ignored.
However, it is impossible to disregard the fact that despite working relentlessly to address complex inequalities funders, civil society organisations, and businesses have not been able to address challenges that limit India from accomplishing its Sustainable Development Goals. India continues to remain in the category of medium human development ranking countries due to increasing regional inequalities in education, health and living standards.
To overcome this, a sector of this scale and size needs exceptional leadership to respond to emerging challenges and have the potential to lead and manage organisations through a development management practice committed to sustainable and enduring impact at scale.
Social sector leaders need to respond to crises with agility and effectiveness and seek new orientations, systemic understanding, and fresh perspectives to rising social challenges in these times. While the response of civil society actors, as first responders through relief and basic service delivery activities, norm-creators for affected communities, and watchdogs standing by their commitment towards rights of citizens for access to food, shelter, healthcare, and livelihoods, was unparalleled, there is a need to shift the ‘goalposts’ as we re-build the society in the post-COVID world.
Developing the theories and frameworks for Development Management, building the ability to create, build and lead vibrant social purpose organisations, that in turn design interventions for systems and sustained impact will accelerate the attainment of Agenda 2030. This will happen only if we collaborate and proactively create institutions and ecosystems that nurture bright, committed, sensitive, and professional development managers and leaders to lead social purpose organisations. The clarion call is for leaders and managers who can co-create and nurture innovative models of collaborative working and resourcing with a nuanced understanding of systemic change and a foundation in universal human values.
Every challenge comes with its window of opportunity, as tiny as it may be. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the need to make communities resilient through investments and policies that are geared towards social and economic equality.
The challenge is enormous, but so is the window of opportunity manifest in a vibrant and growing social sector comprising of bright professionals, innovative social entrepreneurs, an agile and informed civil society, and effective social purpose organisations.
This vibrant social sector needs to be built on a leadership and management practice that incubates dynamic ideas, strong institutions with appropriate knowledge infrastructure, structures, and processes with the capability to nurture and multiply the impact of billions of dollars spent yearly on social change and shifting millions out of poverty and deprivation. If social purpose organisations commit towards employing enhanced development management practice built on a shared vision, collaborative approach, and systemic understanding of issues, a transformation towards justice and equity for all is inevitable.
About the Authors:
Mr. Pradeep Nair is the Regional Director for Ford Foundation’s office serving India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Mr. Ravi Sreedharan is a co-founder and Director at ISDM.
Dr. Aruna Pandey is the Director of Research and Body of Knowledge at ISDM.