Nagrik Dialogue

ICAN Exclusive Interview with Nagrik Dialogue

Ravi Pokharna,
CEO , Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Joint Coordinator, Standing Committee on CSO, NITI Aayog

ICAN – India Cowin Action Network a platform run by Volunteers & Voluntary Organisations to Connect Help Seekers with Help Givers .

As we speak, India Co-Win Action Network and its team of volunteers continue their work throughout the country, to assist those needing immediate relief and support.

ND :Great initiative at this time of distress, Tell us more about the initiative .

RP : India Cowin Action Network (ICAN) is now operational for more than one year.It is a platform to channelise the efforts of the Voluntary sector and Civil Society members towards COVID 19 relief and sewa activities.

It was promoted by Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini Trust, a Mumbai based leading training and research academy. However today, ICAN is completely run by volunteers through its National, Zonal and State level coordinators and around 3500 registered NGOs and around 4000 registered volunteers.

Currently when the nation is grappling with the unprecedented and massive second COVID wave, ICAN is leading a task force with support from NITI Aayog to mobilise Voluntary Sector and Civil Society efforts to build Covid Care Centres (CCCs) across the country. ICAN responded to a recent appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi where he asked the Voluntary Sector to come forward and support the medical staff to ease their work burden. In cities and regions where medical infrastructure is under maximum pressure due to huge caseloads, we are trying to help NGOs open and operate 50-75 bedded small CCCs where non critical COVID patients could be kept. Such centres are useful in containing the numbers especially in metro cities where large families live in small homes. In such places when even one family member gets infected, others are forced to get exposed due to the lack of adequate isolation space. Such patients are immediately moved to CCCs or Isolation centres. In most of these cases such patients just need healthy food, regular medication and hygienic environment to recover. Each such centre is connected to a local hospital and the municipal corporation. While the regular care is taken by paramedic staff and the NGO volunteers under the supervision of a Doctor, patients are immediately shifted to the hospital in case of an emergency.

ND: What’s the target coverage and how do you plan to achieve it ,which all states the initiative is on ground and supporting people in need .

RP: The beauty of ICAN is that it is a very flexible platform. The decisions are taken collectively and swiftly in daily team meetings. This makes it an able instrument to respond to an uncertain and unpredictable challenge like COVID. We have to regularly align and map our work with the changing scenario. We have noticed that in the last few days the challenge and severity has shifted from states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat to Kerala, Karnataka,West Bengal. Hence we also have to keep aligning our target regions need basis .

Many Covid Care Centres are already operational and doing effective work in states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka among others.

ND: When did this start ,who all are partners and what’s the coverage as of today .

RP: India Cowin Action Network (ICAN) was launched on 31st March 2020 as a COVID response platform to help those in need in the challenging times of COVID 19.

An important partner in our current task force, Rashtriya Sewa Bharati has alone opened and now operates close to 200 CCCs across the country. Several other organisations like National HRD Network, All India Mayor Association, Fortis Hospital, Manipal Hospital, NASSCOM Foundation, Ramkrishna Mission, Narayan Sewa Sansthan, Jankalyan Samiti, Pune Platform for Covid response are doing commendable work and ICAN is trying to extend all possible support to them.

Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog is a great motivating force behind this. He wrote to all the State Chief Ministers and LGs and appealed to them to connect these NGOs to municipal corporations and local hospitals and take full advantage of their efforts. NITI has also appointed a nodal officer to support and assist this task force.

ND: How does the network connect with Help Seekers & Help Givers .

RP: During the first COVID wave ICAN extended ration, cooked food, medical supplies and other relief to around 4,00,000 individuals and families during the National Lockdown, through its geo-tagging enabled portal. It connected help seekers with help-givers and gave an opportunity to thousands of volunteers and organisations to lead from home and serve.

As soon as a help seeker (or a volunteer, on behalf of a help seeker) would register a request on the portal, an SMS would be sent through geo-technology to the nearest volunteer along with a copy to the state coordinator. An elaborate response and follow-up mechanism was then followed to close that request. All these requests and their status could be viewed by anyone on the portal. Hence it’s a very transparent and inclusive platform.

After the national lockdown was over and India was trying to return to normalcy, ICAN played an important role while closely working with the Government of India. ICAN wellness was launched to offer free mental health counselling for adults and children affected from COVID. ICAN partnered with National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to establish a national counselling helpline SAMVEDNA, specially for COVID affected children.

ICAN worked with the Government of India to train and prepare a team of Atmanirbhar Preraks who further trained Voluntary Organisations across the country on various Atmanirbhar Bharat schemes.

ICAN partnered with NITI Aayog, Tata Trust and Marico to work towards eradication of malnutrition in 15 high burdened districts of Uttar Pradesh.

ND: Key Challenges the Network faces in servicing ,supporting the people in need

RP: Such disasters are often eye-openers. As we are seeing daily, certain people are adamant on profiteering out of this crisis. The propagators of disinformation are also having a field day. Moreover, Unlike the first wave, various pharma lobbies and other vested interest groups are also very well prepared this time to use this chaos as an opportunity to enter and entrench the Indian markets. Hence, a true voluntary sector soldier not only has to fight the misinformation campaign, continue their sewa and relief work but also resist the continuous temptation of being a part of a lobby. Inspiration and motivation in such times is often in short supplyand that is one of the biggest challenges for the frontline workers like social volunteers.

At the same time, I must add, there is also no dearth of people who are outpouring help and support, at times beyond their capacities, rising up to this call for humanitarian support .

ND: Please share key achievements of the Network

RP: In the first wave, during lockdown one particular case became a rallying point for all our motivation and a continuous reminder of the reason for the existence of such a platform. Just a week after the launch, on 10th April ICAN’s mentor Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe got a call late in the night from a Central Government minister, Sh Pratap Sarangi. I followed up immediately with the Minister who was deeply concerned that a number of migrant Oriya people from his constituency were stuck in various states and were hungry for the last several hours. The Minister said that he can’t have his dinner till all of them get food.

I myself was having dinner at that time and had to leave everything in the middle. He had several handwritten notes and lists which he shared with us. There were a total of 2300 people stuck in 7 states. Immediately we formed a task force. At 12.30 midnight we did a concall with the minister with our 7 state coordinators who shared their plans with him. He had his food only once he was convinced. By the next morning 11am food reached all the locations. The Minister later shared with us that he had approached us after speaking to several chief secretaries and state ministers who were preoccupied with other relief work. He posted a video on his social media platforms heavily praising ICAN and its team. We were left in no doubt about the need for the existence of such a platform and there was no looking back after that.

ND: Any additional points you would like to share, also pointers on scale up and impact .

RP:Former Prime Minister Sh Atal Bihari Vajpayee had once said during an All India Voluntary Sector conference that nation building is like a chariot driven by five horses, the Central Government; the State Governments; Panchayati Raj Institutions; the private sectorand last but not the least Voluntary organizations and community-based groups. The chariot will run fast and in the right direction only when all the five horses run in tandem.

These are powerful words with great insight. Collective Action and Solidarity is need of the hour .

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Nagrik Dialogue is the face of Nagrik Foundation’s communication skills that comes in the form of a monthly magazine. It will work as a bridge for those working at the grass roots level and those who support them in any form and manner.