Why the focus of Philanthropy must be on Children in times of Crisis

A collective and concerted response is the need of the hour to avert large scale humanitarian disasters in India.

By Sumanta Kar

Philanthropy goes by many names. Call it charity or corporate social responsibility, but the underlying idea is about making a financial or in-kind contribution to a humanitarian cause without self-interest. This concept is not new to Indian society. In fact, there is no culture or religion that has failed to emphasize people’s need to contribute for the needy.

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However, it is never about simply setting aside a portion of one’s income for a cause. Philanthropy becomes effective only when the benefactor channels the resources to the right cause, and effective means. More so, in times of crisis, when everything about philanthropy – priorities, pace, and quantum of contributions – can change. For, a crisis situation adds a sense of urgency – as it involves immediate relief and long-term rehabilitation. Philanthropists and charitable organizations therefore must align the flow of their resources with the pressing needs of ground realities.

Creating an equitable society is a collective responsibility of each one of us – business organizations, NGOs, educational institutions, households, and individuals, all must chip in.

India and crisis

Today the entire world is reeling from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regions of the world may get temporary respites every now and then in the gap between two successive waves of the infection. But the pandemic is far from over. Still, when the United Nations chose the theme for the Humanitarian Day 2021 with a foresight, it chose climate change, a comprehensive and multifactorial crisis facing humanity.

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The UN estimates that in 2021 alone, about 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, especially from natural disasters triggered by climate change. It aims to reach out to 160 million people across 56 countries and for which it will require about $35 billion. It urges people around the world to organize activities such as running, swimming, walking or any other activity to press the developed countries to deliver on their decade-old pledge of $100 billion every year for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Thus, the UN has set the direction for global philanthropic efforts in favor of ‘slowing climate change and securing the planet’s future’.

The need for Indian philanthropists to respond is profound, as we are one of the countries that are more prone to natural disasters, owing to our unique socio-economic, and geo-climatic conditions. According to the Climate Risk Index 2021, India is the seventh most vulnerable country in the world to the climate change-induced extreme weather events such as storms, floods, heat waves and cyclones. In over a century, we had our first pre-monsoon cyclone with the Amphan cyclone in 2020, the year that witnessed about 5 cyclonic storms. Amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, during 2021, India has already witnessed two cyclones: Tauktae and Yaas.

India has taken a giant leap forward in the last few decades and has witnessed widespread economic growth. Its trillion-dollar economy the sixth largest in the world by nominal GDP. However, on a per capita income basis, India ranks 145th (source: IMF). Millions of its citizens are below poverty line. It has the world’s richest and the world’s poorest. The disparity is stark. For equitable, just and sustainable growth, this disparity must be reduced. Philanthropy is one of the direct and participatory measures to achieve this. It must a civic responsibility. The funds and resources generated through philanthropy must be invested for breaking the vicious cycle of poverty, not only for improving living conditions, but for investing in children and youth, their education and skilling, and making them employable for bringing a sustainable and lasting change.

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Children are vulnerable

It is vital to understand that in any crisis, especially the natural disasters, it is children and women of vulnerable families who bear the maximum brunt. Globally at least 175 million children are affected by natural disasters every year. With over 40% of its population below 18 years of age, India ends up becoming one among the countries with the highest number of affected children.

Rebuilding families

In this context, philanthropic initiatives at the times of crisis should focus on rescuing children. Distributing food and hygiene kits for vulnerable families and their children must be given priority during the relief phase. But it should be quickly followed by rehabilitation efforts to take care of the emotional well-being of the children. This could be done by setting up necessary physical infrastructure and securing the services of professional caregivers.

The next important area is rebuilding the livelihoods of parents and caregivers, and capacity building of vulnerable families so that they continue to have the means to take care of their children.

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When vulnerable families, especially those of daily wagers and immigrant laborers who form the lower most strata of the society, lose their lives and livelihoods, their children lose quality care, and are often abandoned. Love, care and a sense of belongingness, besides development essentials – education, healthcare and nutrition are fundamental ingredients for a healthy and happy childhood and responsible adulthood. In any society, families are the ones that provide children with a loving home. A caring family results in children being more likely to enjoy all cherishable facets of life: health, education, relations, identity, initiative and self-actualization. Families are key to the holistic development of children. Hence ensuring that no child loses his or her family, and no family loses its ability to take care of its children assumes significance.

A collective and concerted response is the need of the hour to avert large scale humanitarian disasters in India. If philanthropists commit to fund initiatives towards the protection and rehabilitation of children in vulnerable circumstances, it will go a long way in ensuring that the children stand a better chance of building a better future for the country and the world. Philanthropy should be the way of life of everyone. An equitable society is everyone’s responsibility.

(The author is Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India. Views expressed are personal.)

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