Interview with Deval Sanghavi – Co Founder & Partner of Dasra India

Deval Sanghavi from Dasra India
At The Essentials Story we aim to put a spotlight on issues around the world. Since India is close to our hearts, where our collection is made & shipped around the world, we wanted to share more about what its like on the ground and how you help. 230 million have been pushed back below the poverty line -  issues of poverty alleviation, food security and livelihoods – have been decimated in a single year from the effects brought about the pandemic and lockdown. COVID is now affecting rural areas that do not have the infrastructure to cope with even the slightest of case spikes and are in need of critical support.
We sat down with Co-Founder of Dasra, Deval Sanghavi about what's happening on the ground and more about the #BacktheFrontline campaign they are running to help 100 NGO's on the ground right now.

Welcome to our Spotlight Series on India and the Crisis and what WE can do to help.

It's an honor to introduce you to our special guest for today: Deval Sanghavi – Co Founder & Partner of Dasra India. Deval has a wealth of information working with 100s of NGOs, philanthropists and local governments over the last 20 years.

Salma Merchant Rahmathulla from The Essentials Story: Let's delve right in. May 2021 was the worst month for cases and deaths in India and there is a third wave expected soon. India has 46% of the global cases, 25% of global deaths, these numbers are likely to be much higher and with only 3% of the entire population vaccinated, we will need 3-5 years to be fully vaccinated. How did we get to this point? How will we get out of it?

Deval Sanghavi from Dasra India:  230 million have been pushed back below the poverty line -  issues of poverty alleviation, food security and livelihoods – have been decimated in a single year from the effects brought about the pandemic and lockdown. COVID is now affecting rural areas that do not have the infrastructure to cope with even the slightest of case spikes and are in need of critical support.

People think that Delhi was the epicenter but things actually began in the center of India in Nagpur. A strain of the virus went from Nagpur to Mumbai to Delhi in February. Between the political rallies, lack of testing, vaccinations and sheer numbers of people the situation spiraled out of control - it's going to take years to get out of this.

SMR:  How bad are things currently? What have been some of the repercussions you are seeing on education, health care, women’s empowerment, impact on families’ livelihood, urban vs. rural effects?

DS: Poverty rates have increased by 15-20% across India, resulting in prolonged challenges to so many areas with no relief in sight. 

Children not at school and with no idea when they will open, e-learning being dependent on internet connectivity and children having limited access to ipads/computers/smartphones in so many urban & rural populations, it is an impossible situation. School have always been a way to monitor what is happening at home from a nutrition, health, well-being and educational point of view and we just don’t have these checks and balances in place right now.

- Great strides had been made in reducing child labor and now it will go up significantly as children can’t go to school & families struggling to take care of themselves with no jobs.

- Again great strides had been made in reducing child marriage which will go up as will child trafficking as school is not currently an option.

- There is no proper healthcare system and currently it is completely overwhelmed with no hospital beds and severe shortages of medical supplies. A population struggling with the disease, we don’t see the true numbers but only 3% of a 1.3bn population is vaccinated. There is a mindset that is hard to shift where people are afraid of the vaccine and so much misinformation when it comes to disease and the cure.

- Women artisans had found a marketplace for their skillset but things have truly regressed given it's hard to work from home without a sewing machine for example, impossible to have quality control in place without a workplace setting & in a system where there are no labor rights.

‘With no government – no corporate – no healthcare – how do you solve any problem right now’


- The effects of the lockdown for the unorganized sector have been detrimental, there has been a sudden spotlight on the informal workers landscape whose condition has only been exacerbated with the pandemic and lockdown. Inequities in their housing and facilities have been highlighted.

SMR: How about urban vs. rural landscape? Cash vs. relief kits as a way to help?

DS: There has been a focus on Delhi & Bangalore but rural India is now struggling with no infrastructure to cope with even the slightest of case spikes, they are in need of critical support. There is a severe lack of testing, people not wanting to be alone in hospitals & not being able to physically isolate at home.

- With short-staffed non-profit teams, delivery networks of relief material have been compromised, making direct cash transfers necessary, particularly in dense, urban areas. Given rural communities have limited access to basic resources like ration and medical shops, delivery relief kits are proving to be more effective. Non-profits would like to optimize their efforts by focusing more on delivery kits in rural areas and cash transfers in urban communities. At the same time, donors are becoming weary of direct cash transfers since it becomes difficult to quantify the impact that these create.

 - In April 2021, India Development Review (IDR) put out a call to non-profits asking them to list the areas they were seeking support for. Of the 100+ organizations that responded, 71% said the biggest demand was for food and rations in the communities they work with. Both in rural areas as well as within the metros, there are possibly more people dying of hunger with no access to food, than of the COVID illness itself inside hospitals. These are families of the daily-wagers, the ones who have lost their jobs, the ones going back home to their villages, but because of disproportionate focus on oxygen and beds, the hunger of millions is invisible. There is a clear and urgent need to support more organizations and efforts focused on promoting access to food for vulnerable communities during this time.

SMR: What are some of the other challenges we are seeing on the ground that are making things hard to manage?

DS: What people don’t realize is that there is a huge Black market when it comes to basic services like ambulances, concentrators, beds in hospitals which means access for many is limited.

Other things people are not thinking about are the actual accessories for concentrators, voltage, refrigeration of vaccines required to make all of this infrastructure work.

We also have to focus on shifting behaviors like the vaccine is dangerous, it causes covid & drinking cow urine as many of the solutions in place to get rid of the disease.

As spread of the pandemic into rural areas intensifies, several organizations have been working on shifting relief efforts to villages. COVID-19 is likely to affect rural communities far deeper than the nations urban centers given families already have been in deep distress for the past year due to lack of livelihoods and reduced income. According to reports, the stress in rural families is expected to only increase during July to September after the monsoon crop has been sown, as the free rations provided by the government are only till June 2021. Coupled with a fragile health system, the need to provide basic necessities to rural communities is more evident than it has been since the start of the pandemic, and much greater investment and support is needed to help them tide through these months.

SMR: We like to shine a light on optimism and in all of this we have really seen humanity coming together & the sheer generosity and duty people feel to help their fellow humans.

Let's talk about meaningful impact and how we can help. Tell us about your #BacktheFrontline campaign $10 million to support 100 NGOs across India : a focus on physical / mental health, changing behaviors, supporting families, aligning with local governments, strengthen the local health system and helping in a way the country really needs right now.

DS: Realizing the intensity of the second wave of COVID and its undeniable implications for communities, Dasra launched its #BacktheFrontline campaign in mid-April 2021 to galvanize a movement to support local, grassroots non-profits that are on the frontlines of this war, often risking their own well-being to save and support lives across vulnerable communities in India

SMR: How do we know where the money is going? We have all these stories of concentrators stuck at the ports, red tape.

DS: We leveraged our wide network of credible, community-based non-profits, ones we have engaged with over two decades, to identify and support 50+ organizations across 20+ states that are serving communities to do both – save lives and support them to simply survive. Interventions include “hyper-local” solutions such as building makeshift healthcare facilities, rapid testing, timely administering of life-saving medication as well as delivering home-care kits including daily cooked meals and basic medicines, training paramedics and healthcare workers to extend the reach of health services; setting up COVID Care Centers in collaboration with village panchayats

We expanded our roster of non-profits to 100+ non-profits, ensuring swift and efficient disbursement to the ground – in addition to funding individual organizations, this phase includes funding to networks and collaboratives of community based organizations (CBOs) such as the Covid Action Collaborative and Rapid Rural Community Response to COVID (RCRC) that in turn support hundreds of CBOs, enabling us to disburse significantly larger grants swiftly and efficiently and expand our impact to over as many states as possible in India, especially those that are particularly remote and with significant vulnerable populations in neglected areas of the Northeast, Jharkhand and Ladakh among others.

Dasra makes allocations and commitment of funds to non-profits only after receiving these non-profits have been approved by the Investment Committee. Dasra’s Investment Committee comprises of key Dasra staff with wide experience in diligence, grant monitoring and non-profit capability building

Generous contributions in the first week of the campaign mainly from Dasra’s diaspora network enabled us to facilitate the distribution of 465 oxygen concentrators to both – public healthcare facilities and communities – through strategic partnerships with Mission Oxygen, The Ministry of Health & Welfare of Jharkhand and 8 non-profits with deep-rooted health programs in urban and rural communities of some of the most adversely affected states – Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka

As state governments ramped up oxygen supply and the need shifted from concentrators to communities, Dasra launched an appeal to its 1000 strong funder network to support 50 local, grassroots organizations. In only 3 weeks Dasra raised USD 5M from 285 funders –foundations, families and corporates mainly from US and Europe.

The increasing needs in communities and the initial overwhelming funding support has encouraged us to raise our own bar – to raise USD 10M for 100+ grassroots non-profits. We have raised USD 7.3M in commitments, and are looking to raise the remaining USD 2.7 M in the coming weeks.

What’s Next for #BacktheFrontline

This is only the beginning, and our work is far from over. With USD 7.3M of our USD 10M target raised, Dasra is continuing efforts to mobilize greater support for its 100+ NGO partners. While immediate relief funding for frontline NGOs leading the fight against Covid-19 will continue to be the need of the hour for at least a few months, it is important that we also begin to also take a medium to long-term outlook that helps better prepare India to effectively address such crises in the future. Over the coming weeks, Dasra will continue to provide emergency support to frontline NGOs, while also seeking critical funding towards programs that:

  • Build awareness and resilience among communities to better respond to such crises and their many corresponding externalities
  • Strengthen India’s health systems to better cope with and manage public health crises such as Covid-19
  • Deepen and widen India’s philanthropy ecosystem to generate greater and smarter capital towards healthcare and other critical development issues

We still have a long way to go, but it is only when we come together to collectivize our resources, expertise and networks that we can even begin to see an improvement in the current situation and start to rebuild towards a stronger, healthier and more equitable India.

Donate and support India's COVID-19 response at these links:


#BacktheFrontline Campaign

Donate to Dasra from US

Donate to Dasra from UK